Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Othman Ahmed al Ghamdi, in a tape released by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
A videotape released by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) earlier this week says that a former Guantanamo detainee is now a commander within the terrorist organization.
The former detainee, Othman Ahmed al Ghamdi, has risen to the rank of operational commander within AQAP as other senior terrorists within the organization have been killed in recent strikes. The tape, which is titled “America and the Final Trap,” confirms that three AQAP leaders were killed in a strike last December.
According to a translation of the tape obtained by the Long War Journal, al Ghamdi denounces the airstrikes, claiming that America refuses to confront al Qaeda directly on the battlefield. (Of course, al Qaeda itself prefers terrorist attacks against civilians, rather than direct warfare.) Along with other AQAP leaders featured in the video, al Ghamdi portrays counterterrorism operations in Yemen as part of a crusade led by America against the Muslim world. This is a standard part of al Qaeda’s propaganda.
Also featured in the tape are Qasim al Raymi, AQAP’s military commander, and Fahd al Quso, an al Qaeda operative wanted for his role in the USS Cole bombing.
In the tape, AQAP threatens America with further terrorist attacks. The AQAP leaders also celebrate previous AQAP-linked terrorist plots. Both Major Nidal Malik Hasan (who killed 13 Americans during a shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas last year) and Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab (who attempted to bomb a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas Day 2009) are celebrated as heroes.
The tape includes a short segment in which Abdulmutallab calls on Muslims to wage jihad.
“He hates America”
Al Ghamdi was a soldier in the Saudi military until early 2000. He deserted the military after he became interested in fighting the Russians in Chechnya – a cause that frequently attracts new al Qaeda recruits. According to a memo produced by US officials at Gitmo and reproduced on the New York Times’ web site, al Ghamdi said “he wanted to fight alongside the Muslims in Chechnya because he did not want to see his ‘brothers and sisters’ killed and butchered.”
The same memo notes that al Ghamdi never made it to Chechnya. Instead, he was trained at al Qaeda’s notorious al Farouq camp in Afghanistan and then served on the front lines fighting the Northern Alliance for more than one year.
While al Ghamdi admitted to US authorities that he was a proud mujahedin, “he claimed to have no knowledge of” Osama bin Laden or al Qaeda. But Gitmo authorities found that al Ghamdi frequently lied about his terror ties. He “originally provided the interrogation team with a false name and false citizenship information,” Gitmo authorities noted. Al Ghamdi also “changed his story and appeared evasive at times.” He initially claimed that no on inspired him to wage jihad in Chechnya, but later conceded that a friend “gave him information about the fighting in Chechnya and Taliban training in Afghanistan.”
Al Ghamdi did not always hide his ideological disposition at Gitmo. US authorities wrote that he “dwells in his beliefs.” The US officials elaborated:
The detainee [al Ghamdi] stated that he never harmed any Muslims. The detainee believes all fatwas state that Americans should not be in the Arabian Peninsula. The detainee blames Americans for everything bad that has happened in Afghanistan and other Muslim countries. He hates America.
Al Ghamdi was captured on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan in December 2001 after fleeing the Tora Bora Mountains along with other al Qaeda members. The native Saudi was held at Guantanamo until June 2006, when he was repatriated to his home country.
Al Ghamdi was then enrolled in a rehabilitation program for jihadists set up by the Saudi government. After completing the program, al Ghamdi fled to Yemen where he rejoined al Qaeda. In early 2009, al Ghamdi was added to the Saudi Kingdom’s most wanted list, along with at least 10 other former Gitmo detainees.
In September 2009 al Ghamdi reportedly called his family to let them know that another former Gitmo detainee, Fahd Saleh Suleiman al Jutayli, had been killed in a shootout.
Gitmo ties abound
Al Ghamdi joins other former Gitmo detainees who have gone on to hold leadership positions within AQAP. Said al Shihri is currently the group’s second-in-command. Ibrahim Rubaish, another Gitmo alumnus, is AQAP’s mufti, or chief theologian.
In addition to the aforementioned Fahd al Jutayli, still other former Gitmo detainees have died fighting for AQAP. Yousef al Shihri (Said al Shihri’s brother-in-law) was killed by Saudi security forces in October 2009. Yousef was dressed as a woman at the time, and his garb concealed a suicide explosives belt.
Another former Gitmo detainee, Hani Abdo Shaalan, was killed in December 2009 while he was reportedly assisting AQAP in planned attacks on the British embassy and other western targets inside Yemen. Unlike the other former Gitmo detainees mentioned above, Shaalan was a native of Yemen.
The ties between Guantanamo and AQAP do not end there. Other former Gitmo detainees have reportedly made their way to Yemen to join the organization.
Qasim al Raymi, who is AQAP’s top military commander and is featured in AQAP’s most recent tape along with Othman Ahmed al Ghamdi, also has a brother who is currently detained in Cuba.