tv Our World BBC News April 17, 2022 3:10am-4:00am BST
i think if mohamed had lived another 20, 30 years, yemen would have been a totally different country. five bullets were fired from this car that landed in my grandfather's chest. it was exceptional why it would leave him alive. . my grandfather's life was ended when he was only 41. i often wonder what our lives would be like, if the bullets had missed his heart, and i wonder if the man who pulled the trigger knew what he would be stealing from my family.
to understand the circumstances surrounding my grandfather's death, we need to peer back into history. in the 1960s, yemen was two countries, north and south. the kingdom in the north was ruled by religious leaders, known as imams, who went to great lengths to isolate yemen from the rest of the world, but, in 1962, the kingdom ended, and, in its place, the only republic in the arabian peninsula was established. five years later, the south gained independence from britain and became the only marxist state in the arab world.
my family played a role in the events that took place in the north. none more so than the man who shaped my grandfather's politics. his own father. he was probably one of yemen's best—known political reformers from the 19305, and he advocated for modernisation, modern schools, economic developments and, importantly, the rule of law. he was always sceptical of the military. cynthia met my great—grandfather a decade after his son's death. he was still greatly mourning his beloved first—born, who, ithink, he felt would be his political heir. for many years, i've wanted to understand the events that led to the assassination of my grandfather, north yemen's former foreign minister, whose life ended before i ever got to meet him.
lebanon was a second home for my family, and it's where my grandfather was assassinated. it's a stop i had to make, to find out more about the man i knew very little about. i'm at the american university of beirut, where they have audio recordings of my grandfather. i only found out recently that these existed. i'm quite excited about hearing what he sounded like. i'm actually quite surprised, he sounds younger than i had built him in my head and clearly, i mean,
away from authoritarian rule. he was the most known yemeni outside yemen. he's yemeni, coming from a country that doesn't exist in the minds ofjournalists. he made it matter to them? yeah! he made yemen in the spotlight. a yemeni diplomat himself, mustafa understands how different his brother's dream was to yemen's reality. before he was... he left to beirut and being killed, he was calling, he said, "why don't we listen to music, "yemeni traditional music, more than listening "to the shots of rifles in the streets? "why shouldn't we just enjoy the music?" but nobody wanted to.
we know from american intelligence reports that the us saw my grandfather as a man who wanted to build an independent and united yemen, but this was an era of high drama. to place the story globally for you, in the early �*70s, the world was still polarised by the cold war. the oil crisis spurred by the arab—israeli conflict was fuelling tensions between the arabs and the west. the embargo, as was previously decided, will continue to apply i to the united states and palestine. - and the post—colonial era gave way to the rise of arab nationalism. amidst all this was yemen, an impoverished nation, weakened by decades of civil war, exacerbated by foreign
interference, trying to find its place on the international stage. do you think yemen ever mattered to the outside world? no. we are very important and very crucial, because we are next to 12 million barrels a day, to saudi arabia, and this is why the world is looking into yemen as part of the saudi dilemma. it's not because we are yemen. yemen's history is marred by conflict and turmoil with only short—lived periods of peace. those who knew my grandfather say he believed dialogue was the way to fight for change, but i'm also now learning that his tenacity often rubbed people the wrong way. do you remember your first impression of him? i was scared. oh, really? why?
because he was such a violent... i mean, not physical... ..but in his talk, the way he talks, his words, his language. i mean, he was... ..full of revolutionary ideas. we used to call him, and i don't agree with this terminology, al ghawba. al ghawba is when the sky is dark, because so much sand in the air, meaning that mohamed, when he comes to a meeting, whatever the topic is, he is going to be the centre. i'm slowly piecing together
an image of a determined man, who pushed hard for the vision he had for yemen, despite the trail of enemies he left behind. in a politically volatile region, a switzerland—like neutral state might sound ideal, but i can't help but wonder if his vision for a newly—established republic, still emerging from decades of oppressive and isolating rule, ever stood a chance. my grandfather talked about yemenis determining their own fate, but in this very divided era of east
versus west, all parties had to choose a side. in ancient times, yemen was known as arabia felix, or "happy yemen", for the wealth it gained from its fertile land and the famous frankincense trail. but much has changed. during the 20th century, yemen's neighbours grew rich from oil, while yemen seemed stuck in power struggles over the little resources it had. do you think he disagreed in general with yemeni culture? he accepted it as a sick child. what to do with your sick child? you try to cure him. or her. that's all you can do. and then this is your mission. so you think he saw yemen as his own child? of course, because he himself, he lost his mother, he suffered, so he was so concentrated and fully
involved in what he's doing since his childhood! and this what gives the maturity of the personality, when he reaches the 20 or25 or30 or40, until he was assassinated. two weeks before my grandfather was assassinated, key events took place in yemen. this is what i know. june 11th, 1974. mohamed noman leaves yemen on an official trip to iraq, carrying with him important documents. but first, he makes a stop in lebanon to see his family. two days later, a military coup takes over rule in north yemen. colonel ibrahim al hamdi is now president, and my grandfather
is no longer in government. now out of office, my grandfather never makes it to iraq and instead spends the next week meeting arab leaders to discuss recent developments. onjune 21st, my grandfather returns to beirut. retracing my grandfather's steps has brought me closer to him in many ways, and closer to the truth, but i still need to unlock the key moments of his final week. i'm trying to be very, very careful here, because these are very old newspapers. i see the mention of his name, whether it's in the coup or other news...
..and, as it's leading up tojune 29th, 197a... ..i'm sort of hoping that there's a different ending to this. it's not realistic. anyway... there's a mention in an article about witnesses, who said they couldn't identify the shooters, because they fled in a car in the opposite direction. i know the chances of finding witnesses who remember an incident from 50 years ago are very slim, but i'm at the scene of the murder and, incredibly, ifind a man
who was here that day and witnessed my grandfather's assassination. he doesn't want his face to appear on camera, as he's still scarred by the interrogation that followed. but does he remember anyone from that day? my aunt was in the car with my grandmother and grandfather when the bullets penetrated his body. it's a fact i only found out about recently. this is the first time she's ever spoken to me about it.
what i really remember very well, his smile. as if he wanted to send the message that he will not be broken. he was strong, but i know he suffered. until his last days. as i got to know my grandfather, i started to feel his presence and influence on my life. i find myself for brief moments entertaining the idea of "what if? "
i think if muhammad had lived another 20, 30 years, - yemen would have been l a totally different country. the whole question of political assassinations in the middle east and the waste that they cause, both kind of at a familial level, but also at the national level, is really something that i think we should all be concerned about. most assassinations have something in common — a lack of accountability. in my grandfather's case, i haven't been able to find a trace of an investigation file. there is, however, a small but significant detail that emerged from witnesses i spoke to. we know that a silencer was used in his killing, back in 1974, so what does that tell us about the assassins? it says that they were, uh, not your average mercenaries,
that they were highly trained, and silencers, even amongst militias, are hard to find or come by. this says that there might be a state behind this operation, or at least a state—sponsored militia. so, this is a sign of how organised and sophisticated this whole thing was. if my grandfather was executed by a well—trained militia, who, then, gave the order? during this investigation, i've uncovered many theories, but it always came back to three leading political figures. ibrahim al hamdi is the man who took over the presidency of north yemen, after the military coup that kicked my grandfather's government out of power, just two weeks before his assassination. on paper, he was the most likely person to point
the finger at. my grandfather's nephew, lutfi, has been asking who killed mohamed noman since he was eight years old. military rule was against everything my grandfather had worked for, but he wasn't the type to give up. general al masswari is the only yemeni official from that period who agreed to speak to me on the record about my grandfather's assassination. after al hamdi's coup, he was one of the last people to meet with my grandfather.
to find out what my grandfather did after the coup, i'm going to a university in the south of france, where my family archives are held. there are a lot of archives, so, please... there are hundreds of old documents here, which my father has been helping to sort, but only a fraction have been categorised so far.
among these documents are my great—grandfather's diaries. mohamed's father was very diligent at keeping detailed records. here, ifind entries from when al hamdi took over north yemen. june 17th, which is four days after the coup. my great—grandfather, ahmed, writes, "i received a call from the minister of interior. he complained in the name of president ibrahim al hamdi "of mohamed's activities in the media." now, clearly, ibrahim al hamdi was threatened and felt that mohamed was moving against him in the media, where he was really influential. i can see why the motive and the timing make al hamdi a logical suspect, but that theory was quickly dismissed at the time. those who hated ibrahim al hamdi put the blame on him, because he was not in good terms with mohamed.
the us also didn't seem to believe that theory at the time. al hamdi is a popular reforming figure in yemeni history, and carrying out assassinations were very out of character for him. he came to power in a bloodless coup and ruled north yemen for three years, before he himself was assassinated. and, like my grandfather and many others, his murder was never resolved and his family never found justice. so, if not the most obvious, then who? it's probably helpful at this stage to remind you of an important detailfrom earlier. two weeks before his assassination, my grandfather was meant to go to iraq
to present the president with a confrontational letter. but the coup in yemen meant he was no longer in office to make that trip. i can't believe i'm holding the letter that my grandfather was carrying with him. the letter that never made it to iraq. ifound this among my family archive. this could be the reason why my grandfather was killed. the letter accuses iraq of meddling in north yemen's affairs and threatening its stability. iraq, at the time, was ruled by the arab nationalist ba'ath party. in 1974, al—bakr was the president and saddam was the vice president, but who was in power? saddam was completely in power in 1974.
so, why would saddam hussein have wanted to kill my grandfather? if, like we think, that the message was being carried to iraq, then we have to expect that saddam was trying to intercept the message before it found its way to al— bakr. and, of course, saddam wouldn't want to kill someone on his own turf, because that will be all on him. so, that's what makes beirut an ideal spot for that crime. what i don't understand is, why would saddam have the motive to kill him, if my grandfather was no longer in power at that point? one thing you need to always remember about saddam was that his claim to fame was violence. if anyone threatened him by half a percentage point, he'd take them out. my grandfather was tasked
with delivering this letter with one other colleague. general al masswari believes that al hamdi and others made up a story about iraqi meddling to distract from their own coup. the third theory points at the man who ruled south yemen. my grandfather, who stood on the other side of the socialist ideology,
played a key role in several negotiations, which the southerners believed threatened their strategic interests. his involvement in one particular case would later be used against him. this border treaty between saudi arabia and north yemen was endorsed by my grandfather almost 40 years later to continue the peace between the two countries. but endorsing this agreement seemed to anger the southern leaders. they said that they believed that yemen will one day be united and, as such, any border agreements affected their future as well.
abdullah al—hagri was another yemeni politician who endorsed that same agreement. he was shot in a car in london, three years after my grandfather's assassination. there were speculations that tied the two murders. abdulbari tahir is one of yemen's most highly regarded independent journalists. he remembers the events from that period clearly.
i tried to reach out to southern officials from the time to find out more about their relationship with my grandfather, but none would agree to an interview. i've exhausted all the leads, but i still can't find evidence to come to a conclusion. there is, however, one person i have yet to find here in lebanon. but i haven't been able
to find a trace of him, which makes me wonder whether he survived the attack. i thought lebanese newspapers might have followed up after my grandfather's assassination, but despite his murder having made the headlines, i was surprised there was nothing further on any investigation. but, curiously, a week after my grandfather's death, a prominent lebanese journalist and close friend, michel abu jaude, was kidnapped. michel's articles had huge influence and sway across the region. he was eventually released and immediately after gave this interview. did the kidnappers find i criticism with your articles that you had written? yes, and they were asking me about mohamed noman... michel passed away 30 years ago. i've come to meet his family to ask them what they might know. and before he was kidnapped, he was trying to find out
we know michel followed up on my grandfather's assassination, but did he leave any clues? his family are giving me access to his old documents. it's here. oh, my god. this is the investigation file, investigating my grandfather's assassination in beirut in 1974. we've been looking for this for months and months and months. we found what we've been looking for, but it doesn't carry many answers. just more questions. and how did they close
this investigation? what was the conclusion? that doesn't seem to be in the file. i spent hours sifting through old handwritten documents. there were many details that didn't add up to much and an investigation that seemed to wrap up with no conclusion. but i did find one statement that i've been looking for. remember the friend who was driving the car when my grandfather was shot? i haven't been able to find him, but here in front of me is his police statement from that day. i found an old address of his — not an exact one, but enough to start searching for him. we've been driving for a while now, trying to find the building. it's a bit difficult. the general darkness
in the city. we've found the building where shakir nassif used to live. we're not sure if he's still in the country or if he's abroad, but we're trying to find the numberfor any relative of his. it's me, mai noman. i spoke with the building manager and explained to him why i was searching for shakir. this is it — the interview i came to lebanon for, only to find the person i've been searching for all the way in canada. i'm hoping he will be able
to say i feel frustrated is an understatement. i had hoped to get closure, but it feels like the truth has been denied to me and my family. our history is full of half—truths, and these gaps in our narrative can be dangerous if we fill them with assumptions instead of facts. so, where does this leave families like mine? in an uncomfortable place,
and his voice echoed beyond the borders of yemen. in the end, a bullet was the only way to silence him. i don't know if yemen's future would have been different had my grandfather lived. but what is certain is that for us, his family, the short life he lived mattered and his absence is still deeply felt. hello. saturday was a day of more widespread warmth across the uk, and for many, easter sunday is a repeat performance. for many, not all, because this would suggest there is some different weather on the way
the further west you are. and that initially the case in northern ireland and in north—west scotland, with cloud and some outbreaks of rain as the day begins. it will be coolest in east anglia, down to two or three degrees in places. for most, it is clear to begin with, there will be a few mist and fog patches around. but we do have this atlantic weather front with cloud and outbreaks of rain in northern ireland, initially in the western counties in the morning, slowly moving further east into the afternoon before it gets into belfast, and affecting parts of western scotland initially the north—western western isles butjust edging a little further east going through the afternoon and into the evening, though glasgow could well stay dry until then. and some rain into cornwall and westernmost counties of wales. cooler with the rain, but elsewhere, 20, maybe 21 degrees in plenty of sunshine. more of wales, the western side of england, western scotland seeing the rain in the evening, there will be clearing to showers in northern ireland. it does push east overnight and into monday morning,
but look how it weakens, so if you do want some rain in central and eastern parts of england, you are likely to be disappointed. now, as the weather front clears on through into easter monday and it is behind it, well, still perhaps some spells of rain towards north—west scotland where it will be quite windy, and windy, too, in northern ireland. but there willjust be a few showers moving on behind this front. it is, though, ushering in cooler air, not cold, just temperatures closer to average for the time of year on monday. but as it has gone through, there will be quite a bit of fine weather around on monday, still. broken clouds, sunny spells, the chance of a shower, more especially in the north and west and mainly for northern ireland, and into western scotland. north—west scotland could well see some longer spells of rain. it will be blustery across north—western parts, breezy elsewhere, and, yes, those temperatures are closer to average, though still above in the east and south—east of england. a greater chance for showers on tuesday in wales and the southern half of england. some could be quite heavy, we could see some rain into parts of northern ireland and western scotland. and then beyond that as the week goes on, an easterly wind moves in.
this is bbc news. i'm rich preston. our top stories: the siege of mariupol may be nearing its end — russia claims it's taken control of almost all of the city. president zelensky warns if his remaining troops are killed peace negotations with moscow will be over. the mayor of kyiv urges people to stay away from the capital as further missile attacks could take place. the death toll rises in south africa following heavy flooding, with a warning more rain may be on the way. orchestral music. james bond theme. and, shaken and stirred — the orchestra trying to raise spirits on the streets of ukraine.
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