22-24 Sept 1997, Yemen: When asked about visiting New York, I repeated my 9/11 warning

Nicholas (the Italian Bielloni engineer) left YemPak on the Monday morning but not before he’d come over to me in the factory to say there was something suspicious about this customer, the second person to have said so, the first being Jerry Stevens about the machine purchase in Chicago. Not only didn’t YemPak know anything about printing he said, they didn’t have any product to print or package either. Perhaps Nicholas could see YemPak was a front for something else but I thought it was just a business adventure funded by some philanthropic financiers who did their shopping in Chicago. I naively dismissed Nicholas’s caution. 

As operator training progressed so did my conversations with the two Pakistani graduates. They asked about my travels and specifically about my visits to the US; I told them that I only saw airports, hotels and factories during my business trips. One asked about visiting New York as a tourist and I repeated my travel warning, referencing:

 the 1993 World Trade Centre (WTC) bombing —  the lack of airport / aircraft security,
the likelihood of another attack by the same group, using a hijacked civilian airliner as a missile. 

I told him not to visit the WTC and to resist any hijacking attempts whilst flying in the US. I remember a surprised and interested reaction but I don’t recall them passing comment. The next day, Tuesday 23 September, the other guy I was training asked me about my travel warning: 

What if they couldn’t smuggle guns aboard an aircraft? 
I pointed to the box cutters in my tool kit, highlighting their use as a weapon,
saying I’d accidently carried them on several flights 

Where would they put the bomb?
 A fully fuelled 767 was the bomb I said.

And that was the end of that conversation, I don’t remember discussing it with them again. I spent an hour or so with Dino on the Wednesday, showing him maintenance tasks, ecetera, but we never discussed travelling or my warning. Dino said he was Arabian and I found him polite and professional, with a subtle sense of humour. But the Pakistanis were again demeaning to him, enough for me to stand in Dino’s defence. They mocked his young age and ‘lower’ position. I said he was the most competent technician and likely the maturest of us all too. I asked if they worked for the same employer, but they said an emphatic no - I think a clear separation of roles. Dino* stressed he was just the factory mechanic, and the Pakistanis were working on another project. The significance of the Pakistanis being chemistry graduates is that in August 1996 the US embassy sourced industrial quantities of chemicals for the HSA Group in Taiz, including Toluline and other key ingredients for making TNT explosives.

I asked about the out-of-bounds office area of the factory and was told they were installing printing plate manufacturing equipment. I said I’d be very interested to see that but was told it was too dangerous - Dino explained “There’s wires everywhere”.

In our continuing conversations the Pakistanis corrected me on the name of the company, saying it was YemPak, an abbreviation of Yemen-Pakistan. They told me the security guards were Pakistani too, that this was a bi-national collaboration and they were all students at a school inside the onsite mosque too.

A one-day service visit to an existing machine in a nearby factory was booked and paid for but despite having lots of spare time at the YemPak factory and several prompts by me, it didn't happen. The training was complete but the customer had paid for my time and seemed intent on getting their money’s worth. As one operator practiced the techniques I would chat with the waiting operator or be entering info in to my Psion palm-top customer database.

Dino - Ahmed al Darbi - was arrested in Azerbaijan in 2002 and quickly transfered to Guantanamo Bay military prison. After turning state witness in 2014, al-Darbi admitted to being an operational member of al Qaeda as part of his plead deal. After over fifteen-years in Guantanamo al-Darbi was transfered to Saudi custody where he was expected to serve a four-year sentence in a rehabilitation centre before his final release. He was due for release in 2022 but I can't find any reports on his status. I'm concerned for Ahmed al Darbi’s welfare.  

photo contact sheet — diary entries — YemPak customer database entries
Satellite images of the HSA Group HQ & YemPak and the view from Taiz to Al Qa’idah town
 Google Maps HSA Group HQ at PO Box 5302 Taiz  Route from HSA Group HQ to Al Qaidah 


Truly, for some of us nothing is written, unless we write it 
© Anthony C Heaford - The Quiet Mancunian