Ali Soufan Article in The Atlantic: ‘I Will Die in Yemen’
December 5, 2017

‘I Will Die in Yemen’

The Atlantic
By: Ali Soufan


From the first time I met Ali Abdullah Saleh, at his sprawling palace in the hills above Aden, I could tell he was a force to be reckoned with—but one that would never be fully understood. Saleh famously likened leading Yemen to “dancing on the heads of snakes,” and indeed, his career resembled an intricate ballet in which it was never quite clear where the dancer would put his feet next. Outwardly reserved, inwardly shrewd, he worked all the angles: Saudis and Iranians, Sunni militants and Zaydi Houthis, the United States and Russia, the United Arab Emirates and the Muslim Brotherhood. Ultimately, it was this flip-flopping that sealed his fate.

In the 1990s, after using Islamic militants to win Yemen’s civil war and unifying the country under his rule, Saleh turned a blind eye to their activities, even allowing their sympathizers to work in his intelligence services. Shortly before the USS Cole was bombed by al-Qaeda in Aden’s harbor in 2000, Saleh gave a speech supporting jihad against Israel by its neighbors and railing against the United States for its support of the Jewish state. When U.S. agents, myself included, arrived to investigate the attack, Saleh promised cooperation, only for elements of his intelligence services to stymie our progress at every turn …


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