Mishaal Mohammed Rasheed al Shadoukhi. Photo courtesy of the NEFA Foundation.
On March 28, a Saudi diplomat named Abdullah al Khalidi was kidnapped by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in the port city of Aden, Yemen. AQAP’s gunmen captured al Khalidi, who served as Saudi Arabia’s deputy consul in Aden, as he was getting into his car outside of his residence.
Sometime thereafter the Saudi embassy in Sanaa received a call from an ex-Guantanamo detainee named Mishaal Mohammed Rasheed al Shadoukhi. According to Saudi government sources cited by Asharq Al Awsat, al Shadoukhi assured the Saudi ambassador to Yemen, Ali Al Hamdan, that al Khalidi was “fine and in good health.”
Al Shadoukhi issued several demands, including the “release of all female prisoners” who are in Saudi custody and connected to al Qaeda, the release of various other detainees held by Saudi authorities, and a ransom payment that is to be negotiated.
Al Shadoukhi also told the ambassador that the Saudis could send an emissary to Jaar, a southern Yemeni town controlled by al Qaeda and its allies, if they want to discuss al Khalidi’s “case” with his kidnappers further.
Missed al Qaeda ties
Al Shadoukhi (whose name is given as “Mishal Muhammad Rashid al Shedoky” in documents prepared at Guantanamo) was transferred to Saudi Arabia on May 14, 2003, along with four other Saudis. The five detainees were the first to be repatriated to Saudi Arabia from Guantanamo’s cells. They were entered into a jihadist rehabilitation program, but obviously al Shadoukhi was not rehabilitated.
At Guantanamo, US analysts apparently missed al Shadoukhi’s al Qaeda ties. In a leaked Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) memo dated Feb. 8, 2003, US officials approved al Shadoukhi “for transfer or release to the control of another government.”
JTF-GTMO analysts did not think that al Shadoukhi was an innocent who was wrongly detained. They found that he left his home for Afghanistan in June of 2001 “to participate in jihad.” He became a “Taliban member operating in Afghanistan as a foreign fighter,” JTF-GTMO analysts concluded, and “trained for two weeks at the al Farouq Training Camp located near Kandahar, Afghanistan.”
Al Farouq was one of al Qaeda’s primary training facilities in pre-9/11 Afghanistan. Foreign recruits were shuttled to the camp where they were given training on light arms and other basic instruction, as was al Shadoukhi. Those who were selected for operations in the West or elsewhere were sent to other specialized training camps. Others were selected to fight alongside the Taliban in al Qaeda’s Arab 055 Brigade, which was commanded by senior al Qaeda leader Abdul Hadi al Iraqi, who is currently held at Guantanamo.
We cannot know for sure if al Shadoukhi was a member of the Arab 055, but his story, including training at al Farouq before serving the Taliban, is consistent with the fate of numerous al Qaeda recruits who ended up at Guantanamo. The Arab 055 Brigade is described as Osama bin Laden’s “primary formation supporting Taliban military objectives” in leaked JTF-GTMO documents. “It was almost exclusively comprised of Arabs, many of whom had affiliations with other international terrorist groups,” the JTF-GTMO files read. “Al Qaeda leaders commanded the brigade, and [bin Laden] was thought to have participated closely in its command and control.”
Despite al Shadoukhi’s training at al Farouq, JTF-GTMO analysts concluded that he was not affiliated with al Qaeda. (They also concluded, correctly, that al Shadoukhi was not a Taliban leader, but instead a junior-level jihadist.) Because of his lack of a leadership position, and the fact that he did not express “thoughts of violence” or make “threats toward the US or its allies during interrogations or in the course of his detention,” JTF-GTMO concluded that he did “not pose a future threat to the US or its interests.”
Towards the end of the ransom call, Saudi ambassador Ali Al Hamdan asked al Shadoukhi: “Who is the commander of the organization?”
According to a transcript published by Asharq Al Awsat, al Shadoukhi replied: “Nasir al Wuhayshi. The state knows him. You are the Saudi ambassador to Yemen; you should know all these matters. Nasir al Wuhayshi, Said al Shihri and Qasim al Raymi are all known to the state.”
Nasir al Wuhayshi was Osama bin Laden’s aide-de-camp in pre-9/11 Afghanistan and is emir of AQAP. Said al Shihri is a former Guantanamo detainee and al Wuhayshi’s deputy. Qasim al Raymi, who has a brother detained at Guantanamo, is AQAP’s military commander.
At the end of his call with the Saudi ambassador, al Shadoukhi issued a threat. “Today, a consul is kidnapped,” al Shadoukhi said. “Tomorrow, an embassy would be bombed and a prince killed.”