Regime targeted Yemen general, cable says

A dissident general involved in a power struggle for control of Yemen was nearly killed last year after Yemeni officials asked Saudi Arabia to bomb his headquarters, according to a classified U.S. diplomatic cable.

Saudi military forces were helping Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh quell a revolt in early 2010 by launching airstrikes against a rebellious Shiite faction known as the Houthis. But on one occasion Saudi pilots aborted a strike when they became suspicious about the target — which turned out to be the headquarters of Yemeni Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, a political rival of the president.

Details of the incident were relayed to James B. Smith, the U.S. ambassador in Riyadh, by Prince Khalid bin Sultan, the Saudi assistant minister of defense, according to a U.S. cable summarizing the February 2010 meeting. The cable was posted on the Internet by the anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks in December, but its contents have not been widely reported.

Khalid told the ambassador that the Yemeni government had asked his forces to bomb the site but that the Saudis “sensed something was wrong about the information they received from the Yemenis,” according to the cable.

Mohsen is a distant relative of Saleh’s who served under the president for years as one of Yemen’s most powerful military leaders. But he has always been seen as a political rival to Saleh, and publicly switched his allegiance last month by joining the swelling public demonstrations calling for Saleh’s ouster.

A senior aide to the general confirmed the version of events described in the cable. “This was not the first attempt by the president and regime to kill him,” said the aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. The aide said Saleh’s staff gave the Saudis “the coordinates in a way to mislead them.”Mohsen was inside the headquarters at the time, the aide said.

Ahmed al-Sufi, a spokesman for Saleh, denied the allegations and challenged the veracity of the cable. “It has no basis of truth, whatsoever,” he said.

“What do you expect from someone who accused his own brother and uncle of trying to assassinate him?” Sufi said. He was referring to an incident three days ago when Mohsen alleged that pro-government tribesmen tried to assassinate him in the capital.

Raghavan reported from Sanaa, Yemen.

Craig Whitlock covers the Pentagon and national security. He has reported for The Washington Post since 1998.
Sudarsan Raghavan has been The Post's Kabul bureau chief since 2014. He was previously based in Nairobi and Baghdad for the Post.


Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments

Sign up for email updates from the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

You have signed up for the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

Thank you for signing up
You'll receive e-mail when new stories are published in this series.
Most Read World


Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.