The following is the sixth in a series of profiles about Bureau of Diplomatic Security employees, contractors, military personnel, and host nation security personnel who lost their lives providing a secure environment for the conduct of American diplomacy.
Currently, 137 individuals have made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty throughout the Bureau’s 100-year history. They are honored on the Diplomatic Security Memorial at DS headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. For more information, visit www.dsmemorial.state.gov.
“We are deeply saddened by the killing of Qassim M. Aklan, a longtime employee of the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a,” read an official U.S. Department of State statement regarding his death on October 11, 2012, in Sana’a, Yemen. “We condemn this vicious act in the strongest terms possible and extend our deepest condolences to his family and friends at this difficult time.”
On the morning of October 11, 2012, Qassim, the embassy’s senior Foreign Service National Investigator was shot and killed near his home in Sana’a. It was believed to be an assassination related to his role supporting the investigative and security missions of the U.S. Embassy Sana’a Regional Security Office.
According to eyewitnesses, Qassim and another family member were in a stopped vehicle near their home in Sana’a when two men on a motorcycle drove up beside them. One of the men asked for Qassim by name through the open window. When Qassim responded, yes, the man on the rear of the motorcycle shot five times. Qassim was struck twice and died.
Qassim joined the embassy in 1999. During his 13 years there, he served professionally and was a friend to all. Throughout his career, Qassim was honored for outstanding service to both Diplomatic Security and to the larger U.S. Embassy community, receiving multiple “Extra Mile” and Meritorious Honor Awards.
Diplomatic Security Service Special Agent Thomas McDonough, then-Regional Security Officer, Sana’a, Yemen, worked with Qassim every day from May 2011 until his death in October 2012. He remembers him as a kind, calm man who was respected in the embassy community. “He was my strong right arm in helping set up relationships with the Yemen police and office of the Yemeni president,” said McDonough, who also recalled that they went on many trips together, including to Jordan to attend the graduation of the Yemeni police from an Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) course.
“On the terrible day Qassim was killed I rushed to the hospital and saw him on his deathbed. In the days and weeks that followed I did everything I could to investigate his death and identify his killers. It was my honor to see that his family received all benefits due to them,” said McDonough.
“I had the pleasure of working with Qassim,” said John Skerry who was an Assistant Regional Security Officer in Yemen at the time of his death. “He was greatly respected by everyone at the embassy—and went about his job quietly, professionally, and with unquestioned dedication.”
“I think Qassim’s reputation, especially for new hires and recent arrivals, was of the sage grandfather who had been around and just knew what he was talking about,” said Skerry. He added that the Regional Security Office would hold regular meetings with senior Foreign Service National supervisors, and Qassim was at the center of that group. “He didn’t need to speak often, but when he did, everyone listened. Qassim was a good man, and I will always remember him that way.”
Special Agent McDonough summed up the life and dedication of the man who ultimately sacrificed his life to promote diplomacy between his country and the United States: “Qassim risked everything, including his life, to try and strengthen relations between Yemen and the United States. He was an outstanding citizen of his country and a stellar Foreign Service Investigator.”