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Our Man in Yemen
April 26, 2010 1:37 AM   Subscribe

Her Majesty's Ambassador to the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen Timothy Torlot survived a suicide bomb attack earlier this morning. The explosions which occurred approximately 800m from the British Embassy on Thaher Himiyar Street occurred at around 08.10 local time. Tim Torlot has been in the media in recent months due to his somewhat surprising personal affairs – namely moving his pregnant mistress into the official residence. To add flames to the fire Jennifer Steil - an American journalist has done what journalists do and written a memoir covering her time in Yemen and the affair. This in a deeply conservative country where adultery is punishable with death by stoning and the human rights record is poor. Yemen is deemed a high risk country and it is known the ambassador travels with an armed British Protection officer and an armed Yemeni Protection officer whenever he leaves the residence. Yemen recently namechecked in the second Live leaders debate by the Prime Minister as another territory of concern will come under the spotlight once again.
posted by numberstation (23 comments total)

 
Not to underrate at all the seriousness of this incident, but it is normal for a British ambassador to travel with an armed protection officer and/or armed local protection officer(s) even in some low-risk countries.

And Torlot is not the first British ambassador to move his mistress into the official residence.
posted by aqsakal at 2:02 AM on April 26, 2010


aqsakal: I know the Craig Murray background very well indeed and the difference is Karrimov is running a secular government with hardline repression on islamic forces within his borders (in essence anyone who does not toe his line). Unlike Yemen where Sharia law is in operation, Uzbekistan abolished Sharia Law. Also if you read the excellent Murder in Samarakland you will note the Craig travelled around without armed protection.
posted by numberstation at 2:24 AM on April 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


..namely moving his pregnant mistress into the official residence. To add flames to the fire Jennifer Steil - an American journalist has done what journalists do and written a memoir covering her time in Yemen and the affair.

I can think of 95,965 to 104,682 reasons why the British government is unpopular in Yemen.

Adultery would seem to be less of a reason than any one of these.
posted by three blind mice at 2:26 AM on April 26, 2010


numberstation: You're right about Uzbekistan (I've been there). Murder in Samarkand certainly tells the story behind the tourism facade. But that was back in 2002/04, and I strongly doubt the UK ambassador would travel there without armed protection nowadays. As a former FCO employee, I'm not going to say/write anything which might be construed as confidential, but I still stand by my statement that protection is used even in some low-risk countries. A (sad) sign of the times we live in.
posted by aqsakal at 2:36 AM on April 26, 2010


Yeah, I have to say that I can think of many other reasons for a bomber to be disgruntled with the UK Ambassador, and no one seems to have claimed responsibility or given a reason yet.

On the other hand, given the "morality climate" of the country, Torlot's living arrangements don't seem all taht diplomatic....
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:57 AM on April 26, 2010


On top of recent transgressions in the Middle East, Britain has a long and complicated history in Yemen, explored as part of this fascinating article on that unfortunate country.
posted by WPW at 3:20 AM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


On Britain's colony at Aden, southern Yemen, from the above Tariq Ali piece (which I really can't recommend enough):

The civil war caused many left-wing nationalists and Communists in North Yemen to flee to Aden. There, British soldiers, French veterans from Algeria and Belgian mercenaries were recruited by Colonel David Stirling’s company, Watchguard International Ltd, for operations behind enemy lines. In the South too the nationalists were divided, with Cairo backing the Front for the Liberation of South Yemen (FLOSY) and more radical groups congregating under the banner of the National Liberation Front (NF). Both were determined to expel the British, while the British, determined to hang on as long as they could to a strategically important base, increasingly resorted to imprisonment without trial and torture. In 1964 Harold Wilson had said that British forces would remain in the region but that power would be handed over in 1968 to the so-called Federation of South Arabia, in which he hoped that the Adenese would be kept under control by sultans from the hinterland.

The plan backfired badly after whole villages were bombed into oblivion by the RAF. As Bernard Reilly, a long-serving colonial officer who had spent most of his life in Aden, put it: ‘Pacification of a country unaccustomed to orderly government could not be effected without collective punishment of collective acts of violence such as brigandage.’ The leaders of these tribes were unwilling to be pacified. A ferocious struggle now began in the streets of the Crater, one of the oldest areas of Aden. By 1967 the NF were using bazookas and mortars in Aden and targeting military and RAF bases. The Labour government decided to cut its losses and withdraw. ‘Regretfully,’ a letter from the Colonial Office informed its native collaborators, ‘protection can no longer be extended.’ The Israeli victory in June 1967 did not help the British since the NF was not an Egyptian pawn, unlike FLOSY, which was gravely weakened. An NF-led general strike paralysed Aden and guerrilla attacks compelled the colonial administration to cancel the celebrations scheduled to mark the queen’s birthday. Six months later, on 29 November 1967, with the closure of the Suez Canal depriving Aden of much of its value to the British, the British finally left, after 128 years. As Humphrey Trevelyan, the last high commissioner, waved a hurried farewell from the steps of the plane returning him to London, the Royal Marine Band from HMS Eagle played ‘Fings Ain’t Wot They Used To Be’.


A little forgotten war at the end of Empire. Forgotten by us, that is.
posted by WPW at 3:25 AM on April 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


Thanks for the tariq Ali link. Another word you might be looking for is Radfan "So often we underestimate the enemy" (pdf)
posted by adamvasco at 3:42 AM on April 26, 2010


Forgotten by us, that is.

Forgotten - or more likely willfully ignored. It seems to me more than a little bit racist to conclude that the motivations of these murderers is aways some inexplicable religious extremism (e.g. "they hate our freedoms") and not simply revenge. The latter would make these people perhaps uncomfortably too much like us.

No doubt, religious extremism is sometimes the motivation (Danish cartoonists who hurt no one), but it surely cannot be the only one.

Note: an explanation is not an excuse.
posted by three blind mice at 3:54 AM on April 26, 2010


To add flames to the fire Jennifer Steil - an American journalist has done what journalists do and written a memoir covering her time in Yemen and the affair.

I don't understand the inclusion of this sentence. Is Steil the mistress? Also, I can't imagine moving the pregnant mistress into residence is very popular inside the house either.
posted by DU at 4:29 AM on April 26, 2010


I don't understand the inclusion of this sentence. Is Steil the mistress?

I didn't either. The telegraph link makes it clear though, your inference is correct.

While his wife Bridie, 51, has gone back to Britain, his mistress Jennifer Steil, 40, has caused even more ripples in the usually conservative foreign office circles by writing a book about her relationship.
posted by JeNeSaisQuoi at 4:57 AM on April 26, 2010


Is Steil the mistress?

Is.... or was, I can't imagine wrapping your book around your lover's career and pulling the pin was too popular inside the house either.

From the 3rd link: While his wife Bridie, 51, has gone back to Britain, his mistress Jennifer Steil, 40, has caused even more ripples in the usually conservative foreign office circles by writing a book about her relationship.
posted by three blind mice at 5:00 AM on April 26, 2010


One classy lady.
posted by leotrotsky at 5:44 AM on April 26, 2010


I seem to recall that the Foreign Office (unofficially) has no issues with an Ambassador having a mistress, as long as the wife is aware of it - the logic being that if the wife knows then the mistress isn't a blackmail vector.

I can't remember where I learnt that, so it could be complete balls.
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 5:44 AM on April 26, 2010


Reading the leaks from Washington, you can tell we’re gearing up to do something in Yemen.
posted by The Whelk at 6:24 AM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, this is shocking. Not the attack on or the social life of the ambassador so much as the fact that 2010, people are still using an idiotic term like "mistress."
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:42 AM on April 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ambassador Tim Torlot is safe, UK officials confirmed. One person - believed to be the attacker - was killed, say Yemeni security sources.

Doctrine question: Does he still get 72 virgins for trying?
posted by Brian B. at 6:59 AM on April 26, 2010


From The Whelk's link:

There was a truly glorious kill last week in Yemen, when a Hellfire launched from a CIA Predator RPV managed to vaporize a half-dozen Al Qaeda guys who were driving around Yemen in their SUV. I wonder if any of the surviving relatives tried to collect on the insurance. “Sorry guys, Toyota Landcruisers are not warranted against the impact of a Hellfire missile.” The Hellfire warhead was designed to penetrate the turret armor of a 55-ton tank, so you can imagine what an easy time it had annihilating an SUV.

Did you see the pictures of the kill-scene? That’s my idea of good porn.


Another Anniversary Americans Have Long Since Forgotten (warning: small graphic photo, the text is far more gut-wrenching.)

Those who fired that Hellfire missile into an ambulance "claimed that it was owned by a member of Hezbollah and was carrying a Hezbollah guerrilla". Six people were killed, including three children. Not one terrorist among them. Just innocent people trying to get out of the way.

Imagine this was your family Brian B - would your motivation be 72 virgins?
posted by three blind mice at 7:25 AM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


the fact that 2010, people are still using an idiotic term like "mistress"

It's better than "baby mama".
posted by JaredSeth at 8:14 AM on April 26, 2010


I wish people would get over the 72 virgins thing. People are prepared to die for causes they feel just, whatever their personal beliefs about the afterlife; knowing that you are bringing honour on yourself and your cause by hurting the enemy is enough. More than enough.

Which is not to say that dying for God is never a factor. Far from it, on all sides and in all conflicts. And were there to be a just God, then one hopes they would reserve something special for those who use religion to persuade others - especially those who are young, mentally ill or otherwise susceptible - to do things that are not noble or honourable. But in waving away all suicide bombers as misguided zealots in the thrall of medieval fable, we are fooling ourselves in a most dangerous fashion.

If they had Western war machines, they'd be happy to use them instead.
posted by Devonian at 9:32 AM on April 26, 2010


"namechecked" is such a pointless fake word. Try "named" or "mentioned".
posted by w0mbat at 9:49 AM on April 26, 2010


The Whelk's link is a re-print from 2002. Was the article updated for today?
posted by spicynuts at 10:07 AM on April 26, 2010


Imagine this was your family Brian B - would your motivation be 72 virgins?

72 virgins would then be enticement for those who didn't lose a family. Or both. I wouldn't be too quick to conflate honor with anything a zealot does, though many are socialized to see a rational motive behind everything; and there might be, but it's probably the guy making the bombs, not wearing them.
posted by Brian B. at 3:57 PM on April 26, 2010


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