Al Qaeda bodyguard and accountant pleads guilty before military commission

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A sketch of Ibrahim al Qosi by Gitmo courtroom artist Janet Hamlin. First published by the Associated Press. (AP/FOX News).

Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi, a Sudanese detainee held at Guantanamo Bay, pled guilty to charges of conspiracy and material support for terrorism before a military commission today.

According to legal filings and memos prepared by US military and intelligence personnel at Gitmo, al Qosi began serving al Qaeda and the Taliban in 1990. He worked as a bodyguard and driver for Osama bin Laden until after the Sept. 11 attacks, when al Qosi and other members of bin Laden’s security detail separated from the terror master. In December 2001, al Qosi was arrested along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Al Qosi’s guilty plea paves the way for the first conviction by a military commission since President Obama restarted the commission system last year. The president had temporarily shut down the commissions while his administration reviewed the dossiers for each of the Guantanamo detainees.

A longtime jihadist

Al Qosi’s career demonstrates the degree to which al Qaeda and Taliban forces became integrated in the 1990s. His career also provides further evidence that al Qaeda has long sought to fold the Chechen conflict into its international jihad.

Al Qosi first left his native Sudan in 1990, when he decided to travel to Afghanistan to wage jihad. He then enrolled at al Qaeda’s notorious al Farouq training camp, where he received extensive weapons training. A memo prepared for al Qosi’s combatant status review tribunal at Gitmo in 2004 notes that he “was trained on the following weapons: Makarov 9 mm pistol, Seminov, AK-47, AKSU-74, RPG-7, RGD-5 Offensive Hand Grenade, F-1 Antipersonnel Grenade, and M-43 120 mm Mortar.”

For a time, al Qosi was assigned to fight on the front lines in Afghanistan. But in 1991 he relocated to Sudan along with bin Laden. According to another memo prepared at Gitmo, al Qosi then became the “treasurer/accountant” for a company named TABA, which bin Laden owned. In that capacity, al Qosi was “in charge of the safe and company bank accounts for more than one year.” Al Qosi also oversaw currency exchanges for al Qaeda.

In 1993 or 1994, bin Laden and another senior al Qaeda operative sent al Qosi to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to deliver between $5,000 to $7,000 in cash to an “unknown man.” The unclassified files produced at Gitmo do not make it clear what the cash was used for, or who the recipient was.

After working for bin Laden in Sudan for a few years, al Qosi decided he wanted to fight in Chechnya. So, according to the Gitmo files, in 1995 “he wrote a letter to Osama bin Laden requesting to go to Chechnya in order to fight in the jihad.” Al Qosi’s request was granted. He stayed in Chechnya for almost a year, and during that time he engaged in combat using a M-43 120 mm Mortar, which was one of the weapons he had been trained on at al Farouq.

Some analysts emphasize the localized nature of the Chechen conflict. But as al Qosi’s dossier demonstrates, al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden sent trained jihadists to fight there in the 1990s. This is consistent with bin Laden’s strategy of folding ‘local’ conflicts into al Qaeda’s international jihadist cause.

In 1996, al Qosi traveled first to Pakistan and then to Afghanistan to rejoin bin Laden. Once back in the terror master’s company, he served in a variety of roles. Al Qosi was a bodyguard and driver for bin Laden, as well as a cook at times. Al Qosi also served on the front lines, again as part of a mortar crew. According to one memo prepared at Gitmo, al Qosi stated that he fought for one to one and a half years in Afghanistan during this stint. He fought alongside Taliban members against the Northern Alliance and other forces.

Al Qosi continued to perform various roles in the organization until al Qaeda fled to the Tora Bora Mountains in late 2001. One of the government’s witnesses identified al Qosi as a bodyguard for bin Laden during the terror master’s time at Tora Bora.

In December 2001, al Qosi fled Tora Bora along with 70 to 100 other people. Al Qosi would later tell interrogators that they had come under fire from an Apache helicopter. According to one Gitmo memo, the armed members of al Qosi’s contingent turned their weapons over to Pakistani tribes as payment for safe passage. But the tribesmen instead betrayed the al Qaeda fighters by handing them over to Pakistani officials.

The Pakistanis then turned al Qosi and other al Qaeda members over to American forces.

Perhaps what is most interesting about al Qosi’s career is the duration of his al Qaeda service. He committed himself to al Qaeda’s cause in 1990 and served bin Laden personally much of the time until 2001, with only a yearlong interlude in Chechnya in the mid-1990s.

Al Qosi told his interrogators at Gitmo that while he was a dedicated al Qaeda member, he never swore bayat (an oath of allegiance). Some analysts define “al Qaeda” as only those terrorists who swear bayat to either al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden. But as al Qosi’s career shows, swearing bayat is not necessary to join al Qaeda, or to serve the organization for more than a decade.

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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2 Comments

  • ArneFufkin says:

    So when he’s sentenced where does he go? ADX Florence?

  • Ralph Davis says:

    For years, a small group of us analysts have consistently wrote about the international mujahideen dimension of the Chechen Independence Movement, only to be ridiculed by so-called experts on the conflict. Alas, in spite of the evidence to the contrary, there will always be those who will reject the international jihadist linkage of the Russo-Chechen war.

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