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Survivor of 2007 attack in Yemen demands inquiry be reopened

Fresh details given by an informant could shed light on the killing of eight Spanish tourists

Hani Muhammad Mujahid gives details about the 2007 attack in Yemen. / El País Live

One of the survivors of the July 2007 Al Qaeda attack on Spanish tourists at the temple of Mahram Bilqis, in Yemen, has asked Spain’s High Court to reopen its investigation into the incident after an informant came forward claiming to have warned authorities about the planned suicide bomb strike.

Esteve Masó, whose 54-year-old wife Marta Borrell died in the attack along with seven other Spaniards, said that Spanish judicial authorities should reopen the investigation based on testimony provided by Hani Muhammad Mujahid, a former member of Al Qaeda who began working as an informant for Yemen’s national security agencies.

“I remember it was very difficult”

Miguel Ángel Moratinos was foreign minister when the attack on Spanish tourists took place in July 2007. “I remember it perfectly. It was very difficult,” he recalls.

“We had a crisis meeting that night in my office. They were very tense hours. It was very difficult to identify the dead victims. Until we were certain who they were, we went through a very bad period because we were under pressure to identify the bodies.”

The information the government had at the time was that a branch of Al Qaeda in Yemen was “targeting Western citizens, but not specifically Spaniards,” who unfortunately fell victim to this attack.

In a joint investigation by EL PAÍS and Al Jazeera, Mujahid said in a television interview that he twice alerted antiterrorist services about the upcoming attack in which a total of 10 people were killed, but that authorities did nothing to prevent it.

A High Court investigation into the matter was shelved in 2011 after Yemeni authorities refused to cooperate in the inquiry.

“The informant’s information is brand new,” said Masó, a 59-year-old teacher from Girona. “This is an authentic bombshell that needs to be investigated.”

Masó blamed Yemen for blocking the investigation as “part of a government plan not to probe the matter much further.”

Mujahid, a 38-year-old father of three, claimed that the attack against the Spanish tourists was planned by Hamza Al Jayiti, Abu Basir (AKA Nasir Al Wahaishi) and Abu Hurayrah (AKA Qasim Al Raimi). The latter two were his closest friends in Afghanistan.

He explained that the government of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh (1990-2012) allowed Al Qaeda to act in Yemen in an effort to receive aid from the United States and its allies.

It could be that there are other possible terrorists involved”

Asked why Al Qaeda chose to target Spaniards, the informant says that the operation was quite simple and that Abu Hurayrah knew exactly what the tourists’ movements would be.

According to Masó, the informant’s new information questions the government’s official version that identified Abdul Mohamed Assad Rahif as the driver of the vehicle that carried the bomb.

“It could be that there are other possible terrorists involved,” said Masó. Other survivors declined to comment to avoid reliving the tragedy.

A former Yemeni ambassador who has been assigned to different Arab countries over the past few years called Mujahid’s testimony “interesting but worrisome.”

Asked about Saleh’s double role in helping Al Qaeda while receiving aid from the United States, the envoy said: “Yes, I knew about that, but he wasn’t the only one in Yemen with those connections.”

Yemeni authorities at the time gave the press a list of names that was different from the list they provided to Spanish judicial officials investigating the case. Yemen assured Spain that all but two were killed in police operations.

Everyone who had anything to do with this attack, even ex-president Saleh, should be investigated”

Another suspect, Ammar Ibadah Masud Al Wali, was sentenced in absentia to 15 years.

Abdurraman Barmen, lawyer for Mujahid, said the High Court must reopen the case.

“I hope that Spain pressures the Yemeni government into investigating the truth behind this case and punish those who participated in the killing of innocent citizens.

“Everyone who had anything to do with this attack, even [former president] Ali Abdullah Saleh, should be investigated.”

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