The photograph above is taken from The Daily Express during the so-called ‘Aden emergency’ of July-November 1967, when British troops came under sustained attack from armed elements of the Front for the Liberation of South Yemen (FLOSSY).
The assault, inspired by Nasser’s Arab Nationalist movement in Egypt, eventually led to the withdrawal of British forces from that part of the Arab world and was a key way-point in the post-war decline of the British empire.
The importance of the photograph is that it shows British troops using a tactic which three or four years later they would employ in Belfast against the IRA in an effort to identify militants.
The three Arabs in the photo are hooded, presumably to reduce any possibility of being recognised, and behind a cloth screen they are being asked to identify people who took part in an armed attack which killed a British soldier the day before.
A similar practice was commonplace in Belfast in the early days of the Troubles when intelligence on the IRA was scarce and unreliable, and military commanders had only scant information on the identity of IRA activists.
A variant of this ploy was, according to Dolours Price, the fatal mistake which led to the identification of Jean McConville as a spy only days, apparently, after the late Brendan Hughes had let her go on the understanding she would not return to her old ways.
According to Price, a blanket – with peepholes – placed between her and IRA suspects as they were allegedly paraded in front of her in Hastings Street Military/RUC barracks, failed to cover her lower legs and she was recognised by virtue of her distinctive house slippers.