Saudi Arabia’s most-wanted

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Eighteen of the 85 terrorists wanted by Saudi Arabia. Reuters photo.

Yesterday, Saudi Arabia released a list of 85 “most-wanted” terrorists. The list includes 11 former Guantanamo detainees who were placed in Saudi Arabia’s rehabilitation program. One of the terrorists on the list operates a major al Qaeda network on Iranian soil.

According to an anonymous Saudi security official cited by the New York Times, Abdullah al Qarawi is a Saudi who has been operating inside Iran for more than three years. Qarawi is reportedly known as “the Star” and has “more than 100 Saudis working for him in Iran, where they move about freely,” the Saudi official said. Qarawi “is in charge of al Qaeda’s operations in the Persian Gulf and Iran, and of bringing new members into Afghanistan.”

The Times report does not say that Qarawi was a detainee at Guantanamo. But, the unclassified files created by the U.S. government at Guantanamo contain dozens of details concerning the al Qaeda network operating inside Iran. The Long War Journal reviewed the files and identified more than 50 current and former Guantanamo detainees who had some association with Iran. Most of these transited al Qaeda’s facilitation points in eastern Iran. In addition to Tehran, the eastern Iranian cities of Mashhad, Zahedan and Tayyebat were regularly identified as al Qaeda transit points in the unclassified Guantanamo files.

As The Long War Journal previously reported, one of the terrorists on the Saudi list was allegedly responsible for running al Qaeda’s transit hub inside Mashhad. Said Ali al Shihri is a former Guantanamo detainee who recently appeared in an al Qaeda propaganda video as the deputy leader of al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch, which has merged with al Qaeda’s Saudi wing.

According to the U.S. government’s unclassified files, al Shihri was an “al Qaeda travel facilitator” who would brief “others in Mashhad, Iran on entry procedures into Afghanistan utilizing a certain crossing” prior to his detention at Guantanamo. In fact, al Shihri is “on a watch list for facilitating travel for Saudis willing to go to Afghanistan through Iran by providing fake passports to those unable to get one.”

Based on the reports that are publicly available, it is not entirely clear who all of the 11 former Guantanamo detainees on the Saudi list are. Al Shihri and his fellow member of al Qaeda in Yemen, Abu Hareth Muhammad al Awfi, are two of the former Guantanamo detainees on the list. The Long War Journal has contacted the Saudi Press Agency, which published the list of 85 most-wanted terrorists and is one of the Saudi regime’s official media outlets, in order to find out who the other 9 former Guantanamo detainees are. As of this writing, The Long War Journal has not yet received a reply.

Eighteen more of the 85 terrorists wanted by Saudi Arabia. Reuters photo. Click photo to view.

The Long War Journal has identified 8 men on the most-wanted list who have the same name as Saudis who were repatriated from Guantanamo. This matching process is not perfect, as some of the men listed have common Muslim and tribal names. Translations of the men’s names are not consistent either, as there are multiple ways to translate their Arabic names into English.

The three examples offered here are, therefore, preliminary and we will update this analysis as more details are confirmed.

One of the names on the Saudi most-wanted list that matches the list of Saudis repatriated from Guantanamo is Yousuf Mohammed Mubarak Al Jubairi Al Shahri. In the U.S. government’s files, one of the repatriated detainee’s names is given as Yussef Mohammed Mubarak al Shihri. Yussef allegedly traveled from Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan using al Qaeda’s Mashhad transit hub. Once in Afghanistan, he was allegedly trained at the notorious al Farouq camp and fought against the Northern Alliance. Yussef’s brother is a “known al Qaeda operative.”

If the Yussef Mohammed Mubarak al Shihri identified in the U.S. government’s files is the same man who is now one of Saudi Arabia’s most-wanted, it is no surprise that he returned to the fight. The U.S. government identified Yussef as a hardcore ideologue who “hates all Americans because they attack his religion.” The U.S. government’s unclassified files note: “Since Americans are his enemy, he will continue to fight them until he dies.”

Another of the names on the Saudi most-wanted list that matches the list of Saudis repatriated from Guantanamo is Murtada Ali Saeed Mukram. In the U.S. government’s unclassified files, one former detainee’s name is given as Murtadha al Said Makram. Makram was allegedly a fighter on the front lines in Bagram, Afghanistan, where he fought against the Northern Alliance. In late November of 2001, Makram then moved to Tora Bora, where he was identified as a fighter. Makram then fled to Pakistan and was captured.

The U.S. government’s files note that Makram’s name was found on multiple lists of terrorists that were recovered in Pakistan at al Qaeda guesthouses in Karachi and Rawalpindi. The government alleges that Makram “wanted to be a martyr for the cause” and did not care if the Taliban won or lost the war in Afghanistan because “he fought for the glory of God.”

Another of the names on the Saudi list that matches is Turki Mashouy Zayed Assiri. In the U.S. government’s files, one former detainee’s name is given as Turki Mash Awi Zayid al Asiri, which is phonetically equivalent. Turki allegedly trained at al Qaeda’s al Farouq camp and has ties to various Islamic charities that operate as fronts for al Qaeda. His name was also found on multiple lists of terrorists recovered at al Qaeda safe houses.

The Long War Journal will provide a more complete and updated list of the former Guantanamo detainees on the Saudi most-wanted list when more details are confirmed.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for The Long War Journal.

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26 Comments

  • IK says:

    It would be impossible for Iran to help al Qaeda. Just impossible. For they are from different sects of Islam. Don’t the Saudi’s know anything about Islam? They should consult such expert as Juan Cole and the NY Times editorial board for a full understanding of the alliances in the Middle East.

  • mako says:

    HA! LOL! Good one IK!

  • Tim Sumner says:

    Two of those eighteen actually murdered an American girl during the September 17, 2008 attack upon our embassy. What no one has reported (besides me) is she was the cousin of Jaber Elbaneh, the fugative seventh man from the Lackawanna Six plot, and the FBI has a $5 million “bounty” on his head.

  • arcticredriver says:

    IK makes a very good point. It is worth noting that, in spite of Bush’s saber-rattling, Iran quietly transferred a half dozen foreigners suspected of an association with Sunni militancy to US custody in 2002.

  • arcticredriver says:

    I am disappointed by the use Mr Jocelyn makes of the allegations leveled against the Guantanamo captives. I had just reviewed Said Al Shihri (captive 372)’s documents. So, as I read Mr Jocelyn’s selection of allegations I was very concerned he was giving his readers a distorted view of what the public record states about Mr Said Al Shihri.

    Mr Jocelyn selection included the worst sounding allegations, without noting that they were just allegations –rumors — what would be called hearsay evidence in a real court.

    Mr Jocelyn did not think to inform his readers how inconsistent those allegations were. The allegations state that Said Al Shiri told fighters on Afghanistan’s western border with Iran where and how to surreptiously cross that border. But they also state he openly crossed into Afghanistan from Pakistan. They state he entered Afghanistan by air, and that he entered in a jeep with members of the Red Crescent.

    The allegations state that he was wounded in Afghanistan, and was captured from a bed in a Red Crescent hospital in Quetta, Pakistan — and that another captive stated he had snuck into Iran, eventually successfully escaping to Bahrain.

    The record shows that the Guantanamo equivalent of “thirty pieces of silver” was a Big Mac or a slice of pizza from the bases fast food outlets. Some captives denounced close to a hundred other captives. And, sadly, what the record shows is that the analysis staff at Guantanamo were unable, unwilling, or lacked the authority, to do the essential sanity checking, and dismiss the denunciations of the known confabulators among the captives.

    I would urge Mr Jocelyn, if he ever repeats the allegations against Guantanamo captives, to warn his readers that many of the alarming allegations are based solely on the untested, unsubstantiated denunciations of fellow captives. Sanity checking is absolutely essential with these allegations. And, if the US military couldn’t supply that sanity checking Mr Jocelyn should supply it himself.

  • mako says:

    Wow, looks like this site is hitting a nerve.
    The extremist propaganda machine (‘arcticdriver’, ‘bill longly’) is in full gear…..
    Excuses, excuses……….
    At least have the balls to enter your islamic name.

  • arcticredriver says:

    I am going to ignore a personal attack from another reader, except to state that if we want to make public safety a high priority we have to decide how to use our limited counter-terrorism resources using our best, sober, professional, un-emotional, intelligent manner.

    Calling for a sober, professional, un-emotional risk analysis enhances public safety. When our counter-terrorism resources are allocated on based on shoddy analysis, analysis tainted by emotion, analysis bereft of sanity checking this guarantees the public will be less safe, because we will squander resources on will-goose chases.

    Calling for the intelligence flowing from Guantanamo to be sanity checked is reasonable. I have read those documents, as has Mr Jocelyn. I think the public record shows the allegations captives faced contained inconsistencies — some of them wild inconsistencies. I think the public record strongly suggests those responsible for Guantanamo have put the public at much greater risk. I think the public record shows by failing to dismiss the unsubstantiated information that could easily have been refuted or confirmed resources have been squandered.

    The case of Abdul Razzaq Hekmati is a good example of resources being squandered. He died of cancer in Guantanamo thirteen months ago. Guantanamo analysts were unable to figure out who he was — couldn’t even get his name right. There was a grain of truth in the allegations against him He was accused of planning to rescue Taliban leaders from our prisons. He did rescue leaders — Northern Alliance leaders from a Taliban prison in 1999.
    Carlotta Gall of the New York Times interviewed one of the men he rescued, Ismail Khan, Afghanistan’s Minister of Energy. Hekmati’s public testimony showed he spent years trying to get the Guantanamo analysts to confirm his alibi. Gall was easily able to do so. Why couldn’t Guantanamo analysts make that effort?

    Mr Jocelyn repeated the assertion the DoD used to make, that the former captives who are suspected of engaging in hostilities, or actual terrorism, following their release, are “returning to the fight”.

    Can the public rely on that characterization?

    If one reads the transcripts, as Mr Jocelyn and I have, one will routinely come across captives who the officers reviewing their cases realized may have been sent to Guantanamo in error. They don’t ask them any followup questions, after listening to their answers to the official justifications for detaining them. Instead they say (essentially): “We know you have been held in this unpleasant place for years, and we know that you have spent the last years next to tough, dangerous men who hate the USA. We can’t recommend your release unless you convince us you haven’t been radicalized here, and you now hate us too. If we think you are now a threat we will recommend you stay here, without regard to whether we think you were initially captured and held in error.”

  • Thomas Joscelyn says:

    articredriver,

    First, I specifically wrote “allegedly” and “according to the U.S. government’s unclassified files” in my write-up of Said Al Shihri. So, your claim that I did not note that these were allegations is wrong.

    Second, these allegations are not based on “rumors.” One of the allegations I cited is that Al Shihri is on a foreign government’s watch list (probably Saudi Arabia’s) for his role in facilitating Saudi al Qaeda members through Iran. Either he is on the watch list or he is not. This is an allegation that is verifiable, and no one has disputed it. Other verifiable allegations include that his name showed up on a list that was recovered at a military-training camp in Afghanistan, as well as in the pocket litter of an al Wafa executive. (Al Wafa is a designated front for al Qaeda that was itself involved in transiting fighters through Iran to Afghanistan.)

    Third, I do not just cite the “worst sounding allegations.” I make no mention in this piece, for example, that it is alleged that Al Shihri was “issued a fatwa to assassinate an individual” and then “instigated two others to attempt the assassination.” I probably should have included that allegation, however.

    Fourth, the government’s files include abundant evidence from myriad sources that, while not perfect, should be weighed but unfortunately has not been in the public discourse.

    Given that Al Shihri is now the deputy of al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula, it would be wise to take those allegations, and the evidence they are based upon, even more seriously.

    Tom Joscelyn

  • Render says:

    “The record shows that the Guantanamo equivalent of “thirty pieces of silver” was a Big Mac or a slice of pizza from the bases fast food outlets.”

  • IK says:

    Does the ACLU know you’re using their computer to post rubbish like this? Or is this part of their total war stragey, where even sites like this are under threat of being trolled to pointlessness?
    The point of the comment section is to further our knowledge of what goons are out there, and where they are hiding so we can best kill them. Not to whine about Gitmo and how innocent all these Yemni and Saudis who were picked up in A-stan while building a road, or a school, or a road to a school, or a school about builidng roads.
    My solution would be to hang every single Arab caught in A-stan, as they were all AQ. Afgans and Pakis might be different, but every Arab went there to join AQ.
    Now go scurry back to your law books to figure out how best to free another terroist so he can kill Americans at some later date.
    In real news, the Saudis have done an excellent job in fighting AQ in their own country. I remember in 2002-2003, there was the thought among many that they were teetering on the edge. The compound bombings of 2003 certainly had some inside help from their Nation Guard units.
    But they’ve come a long way since then. Proving that with the exception of P-stan, everywere AQ sets up shop they end up turning everyone against them.

  • mako says:

    Thanks for posting that Render.
    Arcticredriver…..the noose tightens…

  • Tim Sumner says:

    I hope we never again make the mistake of taking Al Shihri alive. If we do, I’m sure his lawyer will claim his client was tortured into making that videotape and claiming to be a member of al Qaeda in Yemen.

  • Neo says:

    “Calling for the intelligence flowing from Guantanamo to be ‘sanity checked’ is reasonable.”

  • flyonthewall says:

    IK: “Does the ACLU know you’re using their computer to post rubbish like this? Or is this part of their total war stragey, where even sites like this are under threat of being trolled to pointlessness?
    The point of the comment section is to further our knowledge of what goons are out there, and where they are hiding so we can best kill them”**********************************************
    Actually, IK, the comment section is accomplishing just that: pulling in the goons, killing their arguments and exposing their pathetic tactics. Well done! If only more of of us were watching and learning.

  • Tantor says:

    articredriver,
    The false enthymeme of your argument is that any innocent people held by the United States as suspected combatants are due to bad will by the USA. In fact, it is due to the Islamist enemy who do not identify themselves as combatants, hide among the civilian population, and lie about their status as combatants. All of this is due to the Islamists non-compliance with the Geneva Convention. In fact, they dispute the authenticity of the Geneva Convention as man-made law not derived from the Koran and therefore blasphemy.
    We never had these problems with the Germans nor Japanese who wore uniforms and targeted miitary assets, for the most part. I’m curious why you have no criticism for the Islamist jihadis who create this confusion rather than their American targets who must untangle it. On the face of it, you are making propaganda for the enemy.

  • arcticredriver says:

    I think it is worth noting that the three men who Mr Jocelyn identified, captives 114, 185, 187 were repatriated to Saudi Arabia in the same group of fourteen men repatriated on November 9th, 2007 that included the two former captives who appeared in the recent al Qaeda video. Like captives 333 and 372, Said Al Shihri and Abu Hareth Muhammad al Awfi, almost all of the fourteen men in this group were repatriated in spite of the recommendation of the officers who reviewed their status.

    We know this because the DoD published heavily redacted copies of the recommendation memos for the captives cleared by their Boards during their 2005 and 2006 annual reviews, and they published all the recommendations memos from the 2007 reviews.

    The repatriation of these fourteen men was politically driven, not driven by security considerations.

    I wonder if Mr Jocelyn could offer a link to the actual Saudi list?

  • sam_broklen says:

    Does the ACLU know you’re using their computer to post rubbish like this? Or is this part of their total war stragey, where even sites like this are under threat of being trolled to pointlessness?
    The point of the comment section is to further our knowledge of what goons are out there, and where they are hiding so we can best kill them”**********************************************
    Actually, IK, the comment section is accomplishing just that: pulling in the goons, killing their arguments and exposing their pathetic tactics. Well done! If only more of of us were watching and learning.

  • arcticredriver says:

    The New York Times recently published scans of every page from the CSR Tribunals of the captives and their 2005 and 2006 annual reviews. Said Ali Al Shihri’s documents are at this link.
    http://projects.nytimes.com/guantanamo/detainees/372-said-ali-al-shihri/documents/1/pages/411#3

    I also reviewed the recently published documents from his 2007 review. His Summary of Evidence memo is on pages 16-18 of this file: http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/detainees/08-F-0481_FactorsDocsBates300-401.pdf. His 2007 Board’s heavily redacted recommendation memo is on pages 116-124 of this file: http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/detainees/csrt_arb/08-F-0481_ARB3DecisionMemos2386-2953.pdf

    When I said I had recently reviewed Al Shihri’s documents, those are the documents I meant.

    No offense, but I continue to believe it is important, when commenting on these documents, to recognize, and point out, when they are internally inconsistent.

    Mr Jocelyn, one interpretation of your comment above is that you have been allowed access to some of the classified documents from Guantanamo. Is that is what you really meant?

    I have had no access to classified documents. I arrived at my conclusions by reading the documents that are on the public record.

    Some of your other readers seem ready to kill every captive who was not from the area Afghanistan/Pakistan area. There is no question. Guantanamo does contain actual combatants and some guys who were actual terrorists, wannabe terrorists, or active supporters of terrorism, when they were captured. Leaving aside that to do so would be a war crime, but to kill them all would make them less safe, because it would mean we would never know if the allegations against those men were real, and implied a real on-going threat that required guarding against — or whether they were based on a false denunciation to earn someone another slice from the base’s pizza joint.

    My conclusion from the public record is that the public would have been safer if the USA had confined itself solely to legal methods of detention and interrogation for all the captives — even KSM.

    If KSM is executed his revenge will be that confessing to every allegation his interrogators put to him was more effectively screwed up our counter-terrorism efforts than if he had denied everything. Did he falsely dneounce innocent people to screw us up? Why is every confession he made treated as if it were true? Treating every confession as if it were true has not made the public safer.
    Mr Jocelyn, if you have had access to classified documents, maybe you have reason to share the conclusion that being a donor, volunteer for al Wafa, or one of its workers or directors, is tantamount to being a terrorist. But I haven’t seen a lick of actual evidence in the public record to back up that conclusion. I admire the Guantanamo whistleblowers, like Lt Colonel Stephen Abraham, and Lt Colonel Darrel Vandeveld.

    As you know Abraham’s field was Military Intelligence. He characterized the efforts of those drafting the Summary of Evidence memos as amateurish. He wrote that they included junk allegations — unsubstantiated and untested.

    I continue to conclude that treating those junk allegations as meaningful has made the public less safe, because it has meant those out in the field, working on counter-terrorism were chasing chimeras, were on wild goose chases. I want the people guarding against future terrorist attacks to be guarding against the real threats. And, in order to do so, we need to do a competent job analyzing the information about the threat. That means confirming or refuting the questionable allegations.

    I maintain the public record shows that Abraham was correct and that the Guantanamo intelligence effort did not dismiss junk allegations.

    Calling for the dismissal of junk allegations — junk allegations that make the public less safe — absolutely does not make me a some kind of terrorist sympathizer.

    What is the tie between Osama Bin Laden, Al Qaeda, and Al Wafa? I don’t know. One possibility, from the public record, is that all the donors, volunteers, workers and directors of al Wafa, are essentially telling the truth. In that old movie “The Untouchables” the G-men conclude that “follow the money” was they key meme. I don’t question this is a very useful tool. But it has to be balanced by some sober, professional analysis.

    I think the public record shows that Osama bin Laden has some serious weaknesses, which we should exploit. OBL relied on sponsors — rich Gulf area oil barons I would guess. I suspect his sponsors were fickle. They didn’t just donate to Al Qaeda. They donated to support rival training camps. Somebody was paying the bills for those rival camps. And, I suspect, rich oil barons, who a jealous OBL saw as his donors, sometimes donated money to actually do humanitarian work, like build wells, dikes, irrigation canals.

    If a naive analysis of the flow of donations from rich oil barons unfairly implicates people who were basically humanitarian workers, the public is not safer if we treat them as terrorists.

    In addition to his jealousy, what other weaknesses we could exploit does the public record show OBL has? Back in the fall of 2001 a video was captured, showing OBL. It shows a bunch of guys sitting around waiting for him, and all but one of them rises when he arrives. And, after a gap, it shows OBL and the guy who didn’t stand up having a long conversation.

    At the time it was released many commentators concluded the man who didn’t stand must be one of OBL’s donors, someone who considered himself even more important than OBL. It turned out that it was an old comrade from the war against the Soviets, who didn’t stand because war wounds had cost him the use of his legs.

    The translation offered the day that video was released differs markedly from the official transcript. In the translation offered the day of the release OBL brags about how the attack had been greeted, in Europe, by a big increase in conversions to Islam. His evidence? Following the attack there had been a spike in purchases of the Koran. This comment showed a very serious error in analysis on OBL’s part. And this is the kind of weakness we should exploit.

    The other weakness this tape revealed didn’t require translation. It seemed to me that OBL and his buddy were as high as kites. They were giggling like long-time stoners. Well, for crying out loud, if he is a pot-head, let’s exploit that.

  • Neo says:

    “I wonder if Mr Jocelyn could offer a link to the actual Saudi list?”

  • arcticredriver says:

    Thanks to the other reader who offered this press release.

    Let me, in turn, offer this list from June 28, 2005. When the Saudis announced their 2005 list they published the wanted men’s names.

    I can’t find those names this time. But Mr Jocelyn has access to them, or he wouldn’t have been able to match and compare the most wanted mens’ names with the former Guantanamo captives’ names.

    I’d like to do my own match and compare. And if I found additional matches I’d be happy to report back here.

  • flyonthewall says:

    OK, OK, I take it back. The goons are just getting tediously boring. I’ll second IK with the motion that they “scurry back” to the arctic or wherever. Yawn

  • arcticredriver says:

    I promised to return if I found any matches between the most wanted list and the list of former captives. Yusuf Al Shihri is either a match, or a near miss.

    An English language Saudi paper published an article on the range of ages on the individuals on the list — from 17 to 52. The article repeated seventeen names from the list — including Yusuf Al Jebairi Al Shahri. Guantanamo held a Yussef Mohammed Mubarak Al Shihri.

    The Saudi Gazette interviewed the father and wife of Sa’eed Al Shihri, one of the two former Guantanamo captives who appeared in the threatening video last month. According to that article former Guantanamo captive Yusuf Al-Shihri is his brother-in-law. The ages don’t quite match. The DoD records would make Yusuf 23 years old today, but the article on the most wanted men’s ages state he is 24.

    The allegations against young Yusuf Al-Shihri state he was captured with his cousin, in Kunduz, in the north of Afghanistan, whereas his brother-in-law Sa’eed Al-Shihri, the video maker is alleged to have been captured on the Pakistani border — or from a hospital bed in Quetta Pakistan — or that he escaped scot-free.

    For what it is worth, Yusuf Al-Shihri is reported to be the uncle to 17-year-old Abdullah Al Jebairi Al Shahri. Readers might think “Those Al Shihris — that is one bad family.” But, from the coverage in the Saudi Gazette, it seems that Al Shihri is not like the kinds of last names we use in the west, but is a kind of tribal name. So Yusuf and Sa’eed Al Shihri could be both cousins of a kind — and brothers-in-law.

  • Viliger says:

    I kinda agree with flyonthewall…why not jump back in the freezer with the rest of the cubes 🙂

  • Selly says:

    I feel your discussion very useful and smart. Many thanks for give me more knowledge about this issue. Keep work great job.

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