Mohammed Dahlan, the former security chief for the Palestinian Authority who lives in exile in the United Arab Emirates, brokered a deal for a firm founded by a Hungarian-Israeli security contractor to use American mercenaries to conduct targeted killings in Yemen, on behalf of Dahlan’s host country, Buzzfeed News reported on Tuesday.
Spear Operations Group, founded by Abraham Golan, began its contract killings of clerics and Islamist politicians at the end of 2015, according to the report.
“There was a targeted assassination program in Yemen,” Golan told BuzzFeed News. “I was running it. We did it. It was sanctioned by the UAE within the coalition,” he added, referring to the Saudi-led, nine-country alliance fighting in Yemen. He told the news outlet that Spear Operations Group was responsible for some of the high-profile assassinations during the war, but that his team only killed terrorists identified by the UAE government.
Golan said he was told in his first meeting with Dahlan to help “disrupt and destruct” the Islamist political party Al-Islah, which the UAE sees as the Muslim Brotherhood’s branch in Yemen. Dahlan agreed that the team assembled by Golan and Isaac Gilmore, his partner in the venture, would receive $1.5 million a month for their efforts, according to the report. Golan and Gilmore also insisted that the team be incorporated into the UAE Armed Forces and that the weapons and target list come from uniformed officers “for juridical reasons.”
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The team consisted of a dozen men, including three American special operations veterans and several former French Foreign Legionnaires. The latter were later replaced by Americans. They reportedly received a set of cards featuring 23 targets, with Golan and Gilmore saying that at the top of the deck was Anssaf Ali Mayo, Al-Islah’s local leader.
Asked by Buzzfeed News about the legality of killing political leaders and not armed terrorists, Golan said: “I think this dichotomy is a purely intellectual dichotomy.” He further said that his assassination business is modeled on Israel’s targeted killing program. And while Golan said he could tell if a target was a terrorist after a week or two or surveillance, he admitted: “There is the possibility that the target would be someone who [UAE Crown Prince Mohammed] bin Zayed doesn’t like. We’d try to make sure that didn’t happen.”
The team’s work did not go unnoticed. Gregory Johnsen of the Arabia Foundation said clerics’ deaths “appear to be a targeted campaign,” noting that there were 25-30 assassinations (although ISIS may have been responsible for some).