Dispatch: Tactical Breakdown of the Saleh Assassination Attempt

6 MINS READJun 8, 2011 | 21:05 GMT
Vice President of Tactical Intelligence Scott Stewart examines blast scene photos from the assassination attempt on the Yemeni President and discusses their significance.

Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

In today's dispatch, we're going to take our viewers through the process that we use when we're evaluating an event from a tactical perspective. In this case, we are going to look at the June 3 assassination attempt against Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. On June 7, we were able to obtain some pictures of the outside of the mosque and the inside of the mosque where the attack happened. And as we've looked at these pictures very closely, it's enabled us to ascertain that it was indeed and improvised explosive device (IED) used in the attack not some sort of military munition like a mortar round or a tank-guided missile. What I want to do now is walk through some of the photos that we have obtained, and I want to describe the types of things you look for as a post-blast investigator when you're looking at the photos. Of course, photos are limited, and there is nothing like being and investigator on the ground where you can actually look, smell and experience the crime scene. But still, there is a lot that can be determined from the photos. The first photo we obtained yesterday was a photograph of the outside of the mosque showing the damage that had been done there. And as we started looking at this photo, one of the things that struck us was, if you look at the way the blocks fell off the building, it really appears that they were pushed outward, and not some sort of impact from the outside. Indeed, when you have an impact of something like a recoilless rifle round or a missile, generally you have a smaller impact on the outside and larger divot on the inside. So, showing this, it really indicated to us that the force of the blast was coming from the inside out rather than from the opposite way around. Of course, also when you look at the window frames that are protruding from these windows you can also see that the force of the blast was coming out, not inward into the building. This photo now is showing a little bit of a closer view of the inside, and one of the things that immediately draw your eye is that small hole, or divot, in the concrete wall there. That is likely the place where the device was planted. And just from looking at the architecture of the things around there, the way the minbar was set up in the mosque, it would appear that what we have was an IED that was placed perhaps behind something that was fixed to the wall somehow. One of the things to remember is that as an explosive detonates, it wants to send an equal force in all directions. We see this is this picture. Just look at the pattern of the residue on the wall there, the black soot and even the debris in the room; you can tell that it is radiating from that point on the wall. Of course, one of the first things we would want to do if we were doing a post-blast investigation here is to swab that residue right there where the hole is. So you would swab that, keep those swabs in an airtight container and get them back to the lab. Just looking at the damage that was done, and the color of the black residue we have on the walls there, it would be my guess that we have some sort of military-grade explosive involved. I would say something like TNT, perhaps Semtex. Another thing to look it is, as we see the damage — and another thing indicates to us that this was a military explosive — is that you have a shattering or a breaking of things instead of a thrusting. The commercial-grade explosive, stuff like ammonium nitrate, dynamite or blasting gels, they have a tendency to shove or thrust and push things, whereas the military-grade explosive has a much higher detonation velocity and tends to shatter things or break things rather than push them. This next photo is interesting in that it shows a more distanced view of the scene of the explosion from the other side of the room. As we look at these pillars, as we look at the walls, I'm not seeing a lot of signs of intentional fragmentation like you would see in a hand grenade or a claymore mine. This was likely not an anti-personnel mine; it was probably a bulk charge of explosives, and it probably didn't have nuts or bolts or ball bearings added to it as shrapnel. We have received reports as well that there had been some sort of accelerant added to the charge, something like napalm or gasoline that then burned the president and injured him that way. However, if we look at the scene, the charring that happens there — that black residue — was really from the explosion itself, and that's explosive residue. As we look at the wood not only at the minbar but also on the carpeting of the floor of the mosque, there is no indication whatsoever that we had any napalm or gasoline added to the charge. Indeed, if there is any burn, it would have been from the heat reaction of the explosives themselves. Explosives burn very quickly, and they do have a heat effect; objects that are in very close contact with the explosives will often times be charred, and the hot gasses that come off the explosives, especially things like military explosives, will often char and pit — even hardened steels. One other thing to consider is, as we look at the placement of this device, it was done by someone who knew Saleh's routine. It was done by someone who knew the compound. Another thing to remember is that there have been hostilities going on now for weeks between Saleh's supporters and his opponents and the protesters. Because of this, because of the exchange of fire that has happened and the hostilities, the guard at this presidential palace compound would have been up. This indicates to us that it is likely that this was an inside job.

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