Analysis: Two ex-Gitmo detainees featured in al Qaeda's Inspire magazine
Othman Ahmed al Ghamdi, from the second edition of Inspire, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's propaganda magazine, which was obtained by The Long War Journal.
The newly released issue of Inspire, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's (AQAP) quarterly online magazine, features two former Guantanamo detainees. The first is Othman Ahmed al Ghamdi, who is the military commander of AQAP. Al Ghamdi also appeared in an AQAP tape released in May. [See LWJ report, Former Gitmo detainee featured as commander in al Qaeda tape.]
The second former Gitmo detainee featured is Said al Shihri, who is listed as the "vice emir," or roughly number two leader, of AQAP. Al Shihri has appeared in several communiqués since early 2009, when the formation of AQAP was first publicly announced. Al Shihri himself was a participant in AQAP's founding. [See LWJ report, Return to Jihad.]
The chief purpose of Inspire, which is produced entirely in English, is to spread AQAP's propaganda in the West and woo new recruits. In that vein, Inspire focuses on what US counterterrorism officials call "the narrative." The magazine portrays the West, and in particular America, as being at war with Islam as part of a Zionist-Crusader conspiracy. This is a typical al Qaeda recruiting message.
Both al Ghamdi and al Shihri rely on "the narrative" in their messages to readers. Their words are only partially true, and mostly mythology.
Othman Ahmed al Ghamdi, AQAP military commander
The first part of Othman Ahmed al Ghamdi's story, an account of his journey to jihad, mirrors that which can be found in declassified documents produced at Gitmo. He was unsatisfied with his life in the Saudi military and wanted to seek leave. But because that is a complicated process, al Ghamdi says, he decided to sneak out of Saudi Arabia using a fake passport supplied by an al Qaeda facilitator.
Al Ghamdi made his way through a series of al Qaeda guesthouses in Pakistan and Afghanistan before arriving at al Qaeda's al Farouq training camp, "where real men are fashioned." At al Farouq, al Ghamdi claims he and the other recruits were greeted by Osama bin Laden himself, who would also visit the camp from "time to time to raise our spirits and encourage us."
Bin Laden told al Ghamdi's training group "that some of our brothers were about to strike America on its soil and he would ask us to pray for them." When news of the Sept. 11 attacks reached al Ghamdi and his compatriots, they rejoiced.
"We couldn't believe it at first," al Ghamdi says. "We had humiliated America and struck it on its soil using its own planes as weapons. We damaged its economy and weakened its strength and we had them drink from the same cup they have been having our ummah drink from for years."
Al Ghamdi continues: "Now we were equal, sending the clear message: We kill from you as you kill from us and as you strike terror in us we strike terror in you. That was a special day. The mujahidin were happy and they were happier when they saw the celebration of the Muslim ummah, especially our brothers in Palestine."
After 9/11, al Ghamdi says he was chosen to accompany bin Laden. When al Qaeda and Taliban forces were ordered to retreat to the Tora Bora Mountains, al Ghamdi complied. "We began preparing the area for the fight with America and its allies by digging trenches and taking our defensive positions on the mountains," al Ghamdi says.
Al Ghamdi makes a point of emphasizing the supposed bravery of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri at Tora Bora, where they faced "relentless" bombing. "They were with us and they were going through what we were going through," al Ghamdi says. "They refused to leave us except one day before our retreat and only after our insistence that they must evacuate the area."
After fleeing Tora Bora, al Ghamdi was detained in Pakistan and turned over to American forces. At a base in Afghanistan, al Ghamdi says the Americans used "a variety of means to insult our religion." Al Ghamdi claims he was honest with the interrogators about his al Qaeda role. "This led to my speedy transport to Guantanamo Bay prison."
At Gitmo, al Ghamdi claims that the abuse of his religion continued and he was "subjected to physical and psychological forms of torture." He and the other detainees were used "as guinea pigs for their experiments" using "certain drugs," al Ghamdi says.
No investigation of the facility has ever revealed that medical experiments were conducted on detainees. Al Ghamdi's tale is a commonly repeated myth, however, even though the International Red Cross has frequently monitored Gitmo since its earliest days.
Al Ghamdi's claim that there was a "dirty American program" to desecrate the detainees' religion is also a common myth.
The truth of the matter is that the American military personnel at Gitmo frequently go out of their way to avoid offending Muslim sensibilities. The detainees are given quiet time for prayers each day, as well as special feasts on Islamic holidays. Korans are issued to all detainees who want one and the guards are trained to avoid coming into contact with the holy book. Television programs and newspapers are censored to avoid revealing potentially objectionable material (e.g., an ad showing a man and woman kissing). Even the nondescript faces on the detainees' foosball table have been chipped off so as to avoid any hint of idolatry.
Said al Shihri, AQAP deputy leader
Said al Shihri, from the second edition of Inspire, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's propaganda magazine, which was obtained by The Long War Journal.
In an interview published by the magazine, Said al Shihri concedes that he was wounded in "the battle of Qandahar Airport," which was one of Osama bin Laden's strongholds in pre-Sept. 11 Afghanistan. After refusing to speak to interrogators, al Shihri says he was shipped to Gitmo.
Al Shihri makes the following curious claim about Gitmo: "It is part of their so-called civilization to turn women into a roaming toilet which could be used casually by men."
Al Shihri saves most of his enmity for the House of Saud and the Saudi rehabilitation program for jihadists, which both al Shihri and al Ghamdi were entered into after being transferred from Gitmo.
"The rehabilitation program...was basically a set of new religious beliefs imposed by the American tyrants on the Muslim societies and is being enforced by the traitor governments of the Muslim world," al Shihri claims.
Ironically, as former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair revealed in testimony given to the Senate in February 2009, the Saudi rehabilitation program does not even try to dissuade former Gitmo detainees from hating America. The program does try to convince the former detainees that jihad is only appropriate when ordered by Saudi religious authorities.
Al Shihri bristles at the notion, saying that the House of Saud is filled with apostates. "Fighting Jihad against the al-Saud government is a religious duty and I invite the Muslims of the Land of the Two Sacred Mosques to revolt against them by word and deed and I ask them to support the mujahidin according to their abilities," al Shihri says.
Al Shihri explains that AQAP does not abide by the nation-state boundaries separating Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and that the organization seeks to establish an Islamic state governed by sharia law on the Arabian Peninsula. Overseeing this project is AQAP's emir, Nasser al Wuhayshi, who is also known as Abu Basir al Yemeni.
Al Shihri says that Wuhayshi's leadership has been "approved by the general leadership of al Qaeda in the land of Khorasan," which AQAP has pledged its allegiance to. Al Qaeda's leadership in Khorasan -- a region that encompasses large areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Iran -- is al Qaeda central. That is, al Shihri is referring to Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri. Thus, Said al Shihri makes it clear that AQAP is loyal to al Qaeda's most senior terrorists.
When asked what Muslims in the West should do, al Shihri responds:
"They should either immigrate or fight Jihad in the West by individual Jihad or by communicating with their brothers in the lands of Jihad."
Al Shihri praises two Muslims living in the West who have done just that:
"The operations of our brothers, Nidal Hassan and Umar al-Farouk, may Allah grant them steadfastness, are great heroic acts so whoever may add himself to this great list should do so and we ask Allah to grant them success. And all praise is due to Allah."
Both Major Nidal Malik Hassan, who went on a shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas in November 2009, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who attempted to blow up Flight 253 on Christmas Day 2009, have strong ties to AQAP.
Major Hassan was repeatedly in contact with AQAP cleric Anwar al Awlaki, who is featured in the second issue of Inspire, just as Awlaki was in the first. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was recruited by AQAP and traveled to Yemen for training and further indoctrination in AQAP's training camps. In a recorded tape earlier this year, Awlaki referred to both Hassan and Abdulmutallab as his "students."
AQAP uses Inspire to convince new recruits to wage jihad. While deceptive and based largely on mythology, its message is simple: America is at war with Muslims and it is the individual duty of Muslims in the West to fight back.
AQAP's leaders, including al Shihri and al Ghamdi, are hoping that more Muslims living in the West will be wooed by "the narrative."