On the morning of March 23, 2008, an Easter Sunday, a massive blast rocked the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. Eight kilometers away at Forward Operating Base Marez, the US Military Transition Team for the 6th Brigade, 2nd Iraqi Army Division, prepared for the worst. The blast was so large many thought incoming rounds landed close by inside the base. But a large plume rising in the distance in the northwest made it clear a very large suicide vehicle attack just occurred inside Mosul.
The US adviser team, led by Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Meeker, immediately spun up and accompanied Brigadier General Taha to the blast site – Combat Outpost Inman in the western sector of the city. The team, accompanied by this reporter, arrived at the scene of the attack within one hour of the bombing.
The devastation of the attack was visible immediately upon entering the combat outpost. An al Qaeda suicide bomber drove an armored dump truck with an estimated 10,000 pounds of explosives through the gate and detonated it directly in the middle of the compound.
The ambulance blocking the gate lay on its side. The facades of three buildings that served as the command post and barracks for the Iraqi battalion based there were shattered. Humvees, fuel trucks, ambulances, and even a mine-resistant ambush-protective vehicle were shattered or heavily damaged. A massive crater sat between the three buildings. The Iraqi soldiers were laying out their dead and treating their wounded in the wreckage.
Thirteen Iraqi soldiers were killed and 43 wounded in the attack. Civilians in buildings adjacent to the outpost were also wounded. Windows in buildings thousands of feet away were shattered from the resultant pressure wave.
The suicide attack was part of an al Qaeda offensive designed to break the will of the Iraqi security forces in Mosul in an attempt to main a foothold in the northern city. Dozens of such attacks against Iraqi Army and police bases and checkpoints have occurred in Mosul.
Al Qaeda has reached to its cadre of foreign recruits to carry out the suicide attacks. Ninety percent of its suicide bombers are foreign recruits, the US military estimates. The attack on Combat Outpost Inman was carried out by a notorious al Qaeda operative – a Kuwaiti who was captured at Tora Bora in Afghanistan, held in the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and released to the Kuwaiti government in 2005.
An ex-Guantanamo Bay detainee carried out the attack
In early May of this year, news organizations reported a Kuwaiti carried out suicide attacks in Mosul just weeks prior. The reports were based on information from the US Department of Defense and reports from the family. Abdullah Salih al Ajmi, a former detainee at Guantanamo Bay was reported to have conducted a suicide bombing at the Umm Al Rumman police station in Mosul on April 26. Seven policemen were killed and 26 Iraqis were wounded in the attack.
The report created a stir, as Ajmi is the first former detainee confirmed to have conducted a suicide attack against US forces.
Video clip from Al Furqan’s latest tape, “The Islamic State is Meant to Stay.” The video shows the attack on Combat Outpost Inman and images from The Long War Journal of the aftermath of the attack.
But an al Qaeda in Iraq propaganda tape released on June 23 cast serious doubt on the report that Ajmi was involved in the April 26 attack. The tape, titled “The Islamic State is Meant to Stay,” showed footage of several suicide attacks in Mosul. Towards the end of the tape al Qaeda highlights the attacks of two Kuwaitis, Ajmi and another al Qaeda bomber known as Badr Mishel Gama’an al Harbi.
Ajmi’s image is shown just prior to footage of the attack on Combat Outpost Inman. Video is then shown of the attack from a distance. Images of the aftermath of the attack taken by this journalist are displayed. Al Qaeda in Iraq is clearly stating Ajmi was behind the March 23 attack on Inman.
Nibras Kazimi, an Iraq expert and a Visiting Scholar at the Hudson Institute who first reported on the tape, confirmed the footage proves Ajmi was behind the March 23 attack in Mosul. “The tape makes it clear that Ajmi performed the Harmat Apartments [the location of Combat Outpost Inman] attack,” Kazimi told The Long War Journal. “Harbi was given credit for the Umm Al Rumman attack on a police station.”
The reason for the confusion of the identity of the bomber is unclear, but Kazimi speculated the family was in the dark on the exact date of the attack, and a name change may have added to the confusion. The press accounts reported Ajmi’s family said he was killed “weeks prior” but they did not give an exact date.
“I think the confusion arose when al Ajmi’s family received word that their son had been ‘martyred’ in an attack in Mosul,” Kazimi said. “The family did not specify the date of the attack, maybe they didn’t know themselves and people assumed that it was the April 26 attack that they were talking about.”
Ajmi also “changed his pseudonym from Abu Hajer al Muhajir to Abu Juhaiman al Kuwaiti, while the pseudonym of the April 26 attacker was Abu Umar al Kuwaiti,” Kazimi said. “So, the military folks could have heard that some ‘Kuwaiti’ was behind the April 26 and added this to what al Ajmi’s family had said, and erroneously reached the concluded that al Ajmi performed the April 26 attack.” The blast at Combat Outpost Inman was so large that the bomber’s remains were never recovered, so a DNA test was never performed.
Abdullah Salih al Ajmi, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, was behind the attack on Combat Outpost Inman.
“A Taliban operative” who fought at Tora Bora
US military’s summary of evidence memo used at his hearing at Guantanamo Bay states Ajmi admitted to being a Taliban operative who went to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban. Ajmi admitted to going absent without leave from the Kuwaiti military after he was denied permission to travel to Afghanistan. Ajmi “wanted to participate in the jihad in Afghanistan.”
Upon his arrival in Afghanistan, Ajmi was “issued an AK-47, ammunition and hand grenades by the Taliban” and fought against the US-backed Northern Alliance in the Bagram region. As the Taliban suffered defeats, Ajmi “retreated to the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan and was later captured as he attempted to escape to Pakistan.” The battle of Tora Bora was the last stand for al Qaeda and the Taliban. The terrorists covered the retreat of the senior leadership cadre, including Osama bin Laden.
“Committed to Jihad”
The US military determined that Ajmi was “committed to Jihad” due to his past statements, his behavior while in detention, and his activities in Afghanistan. The US military said Ajmi was “a continued threat to the United States and its allies.”
Ajmi told his captors at Guantanamo that before his case went to trial, he wanted it to be known that “he now is a Jihadist, an enemy combatant, and that he will kill as many Americans as he possibly can.” Ajmi was “constantly in trouble” due to his “aggressive and non-compliant” behavior while in detention, the military said.
Despite the assessment that Ajmi was still a threat, the US transferred him to Kuwaiti custody. When asked to provide the “primary factors favor release or transfer” the US military responded “No information available.” This determination is “highly unusual,” said al Qaeda expert Tom Joscelyn, who is working with The Long War Journal on a project that analyzes the history of the known detainees at Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Detainees who are released or transferred always have information in the primary factors that favor their release or transfer from Guantanamo section, Joscelyn said.
The Kuwaitis promptly tried Ajmi, and he was acquitted and released from custody. Three years later, Ajmi traveled to Iraq via Syria along with a fellow Kuwaiti, and subsequently murdered 13 Iraqi soldiers in Mosul.
Denying links to al Qaeda
Despite admitting to fighting with the Taliban and al Qaeda at Bagram and Tora Bora and his vow to kill Americans, Ajmi denied any links to terrorist groups during his tribunal session. Instead, Ajmi denied he went AWOL. He claimed he was never in Afghanistan, but went to Pakistan to “learn and memorize the Koran.” He said he only made the statements “under pressure and threats.”
In letters sent to the Guantanamo tribunal, members of Ajmi’s family said he “is a valued member of the family and his community, and as such does not pose an ongoing threat to the United States or its allies.” He was described as a valuable member of his family who loved animals and cared for others.
But Ajmi’s denials and claims of abuse and torture are directly out of the al Qaeda handbook, an “18-chapter manual that provides a detailed window into al Qaeda’s network and its procedures for waging jihad – from conducting surveillance operations to carrying out assassinations to working with forged documents.” One section of the manual directs captured operatives to “insist on proving that torture was inflicted” and to “complain of mistreatment while in prison” in order to discredit the captors.
Ajmi’s lawyers and supporters claim he was driven to jihad after his detention and “torture,” which has never been proven. But his supporters never answer the question as to how purported mistreatment at a US military prison justified Ajmi’s decision to carry out a suicide truck bomb attack against fellow Muslims in Iraq. Nor have they addressed Ajmi’s admission of fighting alongside the Taliban at critical battle of Tora Bora. Instead, the word of a known suicide bomber and avowed jihadist is taken at face value while the US military is blamed for the actions of a known terrorist.