Jabir Jubran al Fayfi. Photo courtesy of the NEFA Foundation.
Saudi authorities claimed last week that a former Guantanamo detainee named Jabir Jubran al Fayfi has turned himself in. Al Fayfi was arrested by Yemeni authorities in September, and his surrender was likely coordinated by the Saudi and Yemeni governments.
Al Fayfi was transferred from Gitmo to Saudi Arabia on Dec. 13, 2006. At Gitmo, he admitted that he was a jihadist who joined the Taliban in Afghanistan. During his combatant status review tribunal (CSRT), al Fayfi tried to deny any substantive connection to al Qaeda. But US intelligence officials concluded that he was a hardcore al Qaeda fighter who retreated to Tora Bora along with other al Qaeda and Taliban members in late 2001. According to declassified memos produced at Gitmo, al Fayfi also trained and fought in Kashmir. [See LWJ report, Yemen arrests ex-Gitmo detainee who fought in Afghanistan and Kashmir.]
In early 2009, al Fayfi was one of 11 former Guantanamo detainees included on the Saudi Kingdom’s list of 85 most wanted terrorists. Most, if not all, of the 11 ex-Gitmo detainees on the list had relocated to Yemen, where they joined al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
In September, Fox News reported that al Fayfi was arrested by Yemeni authorities.
Then, late last week, Agence France Presse cited Saudi officials as saying that al Fayfi recently “contacted the Saudi government…saying he wanted to return home and a handover was arranged through Yemen’s government.”
“He contacted our people during Ramadan and asked for their help to return to the kingdom,” Saudi interior ministry spokesman General Mansour al-Turki told AFP. “We led him step-by-step until he reached Yemeni security forces, based on our instructions.”
AFP also cited “a top Saudi counter-terror official” as saying that a “total 11 of 117 Saudi Guantanamo returnees returned to militancy after completing the rehab programme.” But Saudi officials have previously conceded that about 25 ex-Gitmo detainees have rejoined the jihad after completing the program. Using publicly available information, The Long War Journal has identified 15 of these former detainees. [See LWJ report, Saudi Gitmo recidivists.]
Al Fafyi is not the first former Gitmo detainee to be returned to Saudi custody after rejoining al Qaeda. In 2009, Mohammed al Awfi was returned to Saudi custody after assuming a leadership position within AQAP. Earlier that year, Al Awfi had appeared alongside Said al Shihri, another former Gitmo detainee, in an AQAP propaganda tape announcing the organization’s formation. [See LWJ report, Return to jihad.]
The details of al Awfi’s surrender to Saudi authorities remain murky, as do the details of al Fafyi’s surrender.
Some of the former Gitmo detainees who rejoined al Qaeda after graduating from the Saudi rehabilitation program have assumed leadership positions with the AQAP. The aforementioned Said al Shihri is currently the deputy leader of AQAP, or roughly number two in the organization. Another former Gitmo detainee, Othman Ahmed al Ghamdi, is AQAP’s military commander.
Both al Shihri and al Ghamdi were featured in the second and most recent edition of AQAP’s Inspire magazine. [See LWJ report, Analysis: Two ex-Gitmo detainees featured in al Qaeda’s Inspire magazine.]
Ibrahim Rubaish, yet another former Gitmo detainee who graduated from the Saudi rehabilitation program, serves currently as AQAP’s mufti, or chief theologian. [See LWJ report, Former Guantanamo detainee now al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula’s Mufti.]