Like hundreds of other Yemenis of his generation, Nahdi had traveled to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets in the 1980s, and toward the end of the war he joined Osama bin Laden’s new organization. Not long after he returned home, in December 1992, bin Laden tapped him for a job…
When the U.S. dispatched troops to Somalia in December 1992, as part of Operation Restore Hope, some of the Marines used Aden as a staging ground…
On Dec. 29, 1992, Nahdi put bin Laden’s plan into motion. Nahdi wanted a pair of simultaneous bombings: one at the Aden Mövenpick hotel and another at a second resort hotel, the Gold Mohur, where his intelligence suggested the Marines were staying. Nahdi and an assistant planted a bomb at the Gold Mohur and then moved across town to the Mövenpick. But as he was laying the charges something went wrong and the bomb detonated prematurely, ripping off most of his left hand.
Minutes later the bomb at the Gold Mohur went off on schedule, tearing through the hotel and killing two people. But Nahdi had picked the wrong hotel. The Marines weren’t there and his bomb managed to kill only a tourist and a local hotel employee. Al-Qaeda’s first attack on the U.S. was a dud.
Today Nahdi has moved on… to becoming a Yemeni security official after the shakeups of the disastrous Arab Spring.
Last summer a man with an artificial hand walked into a security office in eastern Yemen clutching a letter. This was his second attempt. Months earlier, in late 2012 shortly after President Ali Abdullah Salih’s government collapsed in the face of widespread protests, he had walked into the same office with a letter requesting that he be named deputy security director for Mukalla, a large port city on Yemen’s southern coast.
That time, security officers had ignored him. They knew exactly who he was and they wanted nothing to do with him, according to one of the officials who saw the letter. But this time the man with the missing left hand was better prepared. He had lowered his sights, asking only to be named “assistant” to the security director, and lined up support in the capital, Sanaa. The local officials had no choice. They had to give him a job. Jamal al-Nahdi was now a security officer.
According to security agents, members of parliament, and government officials similar scenes have taken place across Yemen in recent months.
This is Obama’s New Middle East. Or is it Al Qaeda’s new Middle East?
Although it is unclear to what degree Nahdi’s views on violent jihad have evolved over the past two decades, his new position — as a high-ranking security officer in Yemen’s Interior Ministry — raises questions as to the extent that jihadis and al-Qaeda sympathizers have infiltrated Yemen’s security services at the same time the U.S. has been pouring millions into the country in an effort to combat the terrorist group.
When contacted by BuzzFeed, Nahdi said he was doing a great job confronting insecurity and denouncing al-Qaeda. But he refused to discuss the 1992 bombings. “I’m now a colonel in the Interior Ministry and was appointed as an assistant to the director of security for Mukalla,” he said.
Nor is Nahdi the only militant to find a second career as a Yemeni security official. In the two and a half years since Salih stepped down, Yemen has been in the midst of a messy military transition that appears to have been exploited by elements of the old regime helping jihadi sympathizers secure jobs within Yemen’s security establishment.
Abd Rabu Mansur Hadi, the new Yemeni president, accepted help from all sides. He welcomed U.S. advice and aid which had dried up during the bloodiest days of the uprising. (Aid that had dipped to $147 million in 2011 more than doubled when Hadi took office in 2012.) At the same time, he formed a coalition government with local Islamists, handing them several coveted government portfolios.
And now you know how that worked out.