Yemeni authorities on Thursday expelled without explanation an American journalist who for years has used his singular access to show the gritty realities of the country’s counterterrorism struggle, from profiling casualties of US drone strikes to revealing the US interception of Al Qaeda’s internal communications.
Adam Baron, a freelance reporter who’s contributed to The Christian Science Monitor, McClatchy, and other news outlets from Yemen since 2011, confirmed his deportation in an email after he arrived in Cairo.
Mr. Baron’s expulsion drew outrage on social media among fans who looked forward to his dispatches from a place where few foreign journalists operate, much less reside. With Baron’s deportation, just one resident foreign journalist is believed to remain in Sanaa, Yemen’s capital.
Even the spokesman for Yemen’s embassy in Washington, Mohammed Albasha, tweeted his support for Baron, writing that he has “touched many lives in Yemen & left a positive footprint & I strongly object to the authorities decisions to deport him.” The Yemeni government offered no explanation and no official comment beyond acknowledging that the expulsion came from the “Passport and Naturalization Department.”
The English-language Yemen Post reported that government officials had told the paper that “Baron was seen very often roaming Sanaa for reasons not related to work and authorities were worried he could have been a kidnap victim.” The report said officials wouldn’t comment on whether Baron was suspected of any legal violation.
Baron’s reports often called into question official versions of events in Yemen. In his most recent dispatch, published Monday by The Christian Science Monitor, Baron noted that Twitter and other social media prevented the government from misrepresenting the results of drone strikes and other fighting.
“Last December, an airstrike targeted a wedding convoy, killing roughly a dozen civilians,” he wrote. “The government initially identified the casualties as militants, but locals soon began posting photos of the dead on Facebook and tweeting the names of victims, directly challenging the government’s obfuscation.”
In his most recent dispatch to McClatchy, Baron wrote April 29 that Yemeni security officials had noted a surge in foreigners, including Brazilians and Europeans, fighting on behalf of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Last summer, Baron’s reporting for McClatchy angered Obama administration officials by revealing that the United States had intercepted a communication between Al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri and AQAP leader Nasir al Wuhayshi, leading to a US decision to temporarily close diplomatic facilities in 21 countries. US officials had revealed that detail to reporters for The New York Times, but had asked that it be kept secret, a request the Times agreed to. But Baron learned the same information in Sanaa, where it was widely known.
US officials are looking into Baron’s deportation, but had no immediate comment. The expulsion comes a day after the State Department announced it was temporarily suspending public services at its embassy in Sanaa because of security concerns.
Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday swore in a new US envoy to Yemen, Ambassador Matthew H. Tueller, a career Foreign Service officer whose previous postings include Kuwait, Egypt, and Iraq.
A call at midnight
Baron’s ordeal began at midnight Monday with a phone call from a security officer ordering him to report to an immigration office the following day because of missing papers in his residency file. Fearing that he was being set up by Al Qaeda – the phone call came a day after a French guard was killed in Sanaa – Baron’s friends refused to let him go. Instead, they sent a Yemeni to check the validity of the request; he found it to be true and said Baron had to report to the authorities.
At about noon on Tuesday, Baron appeared at the immigration office, where he was promptly stripped of his passport and cellphone and was told, “You’re no longer welcome in Yemen.” He was then kept in a holding cell and was told he would remain there until his associates could bring a plane ticket for his exit.
Baron’s friends immediately began calling officials on his behalf, but the politicians and sheikhs turned out to be powerless to reverse the order. A senior military figure told Baron’s friends that the deportation was because officials were worried about his safety, an explanation they dismissed as untrue. Close to midnight on Tuesday, the authorities agreed to release Baron to a Yemeni custodian who had to sign a written agreement taking personal responsibility for Baron leaving the country within 24 hours. Baron went back to his apartment in Sanaa, packed a few items, made travel arrangements on Wednesday and was on a plane to Cairo by 4 a.m. Thursday.
Baron and his friends were instructed not to make public comments on the case, but the news spread quickly via Twitter, where Baron has more than 5,700 followers. Thursday evening, he sent a series of tweets:
Baron moved to Yemen to study Arabic, but began reporting when the 2011 uprising against then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh erupted. He became a fixture on the Yemeni political scene, counting many highly placed political, military, and tribal leaders among his contacts.
Jonathan S. Landay contributed to this report from Washington. The Christian Science Monitor also contributed reporting.