It's "almost like a murder squad," an incredulous former CIA official told BuzzFeed News. The site had called him for comment as it dug into a potential bombshell of a story: that former elite US special operations fighters were assassinating high-profile figures in Yemen, but not as part of a military operation. Rather, the targeted killings allegedly came at the request of the United Arab Emirates, which had engaged the private US company the former fighters now work for. The CIA official told BuzzFeed this simply wasn't possible. Then he asked around and called back: "There were guys that were basically doing what you said." So what is BuzzFeed saying? Aram Roston centers much of his lengthy piece around what he says was a planned Dec. 29, 2015, hit, staffed by employees of the Delaware-incorporated Spear Operations Group.
Spear's founder is Abraham Golan, "a charismatic Hungarian Israeli security contractor who lives outside of Pittsburgh," whose employees—a former Green Beret and former Navy SEALs among them—were to kill Anssaf Ali Mayo, a key figure in a political party the UAE sees as having terror ties (critics counter this). Roston recounts Golan and his team flying to the UAE and receiving a 23-person hit list while on board; Golan viewed the targets as "legitimate," as Roston puts it, because the UAE selected them, and the US backs the UAE's military efforts. Things went awry with Mayo; they managed to bomb the party's HQ, but had no proof Mayo was dead, and he seems to still be alive. But Roston sees the attempt on his life as an opening salvo, with "members of Al-Islah, and other clerics in Aden [subsequently] dropping dead at an alarming pace." Golan says his team was behind a number of those hits. Read Roston's full piece, which explores the "surprisingly unclear" question of whether Spear's alleged actions are illegal under US law. (Read more Longform stories.)