Ex-Guantanamo detainee prominently featured in al Qaeda propaganda

Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 6.52.32 AMIbrahim al Qosi, a senior AQAP leader and spokesman, delivered a two-part critique of the Saudi government earlier this month.

Ex-Guantanamo detainee Ibrahim al Qosi has become a prominent fixture in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) propaganda since early December, when he first revealed that he is a senior leader in the group. Qosi most recently delivered a two-part critique of the Saudi monarchy, entitled “A Message to Our People in the Land of the Two Holy Mosques.”

Qosi begins his nearly 50-minute lecture, which was posted online on Feb. 6, by denouncing the Saudi government’s execution of more than 40 “mujahideen” in January. The men were killed, he says, because they declared jihad against the “Crusaders” and opposed American interests around the globe.

Qosi then discusses al Qaeda’s jihad against the Saudi regime, saying Osama bin Laden was motivated by America’s supposed “occupation” of Arabia’s two holiest sanctuaries. Bin Laden repeatedly warned the Saudis about the American presence, but the monarchy resisted calls to end the alliance. According to Qosi, more than 400 scholars signed a letter decrying the situation.

After bin Laden spent “years” living outside of Saudi Arabia, he decided to call for jihad against the “American occupiers,” but not the Saudi government or military. Qosi says bin Laden limited his call for holy war to the Americans because he wanted to avoid “internal strife and confusion” among Muslims, who may not have understood his motivations.

Bin Laden never recognized the Saudi monarchy’s legitimacy, Qosi claims, he simply didn’t want Muslims to fight amongst themselves. (In his conspiratorial telling, Qosi says the real reason for the Americans’ initial presence in Saudi Arabia – that is, to stop Saddam Hussein’s expansionist campaign in the early 1990s – was merely an “excuse.”)

Qosi’s testimony echoes that offered by another bin Laden loyalist, Nasir al Wuhayshi, who explained al Qaeda’s rationale for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In an interview recorded prior to his death in June 2015, and published just recently, Wuhayshi said al Qaeda’s leaders decided not to target the “tyrants” ruling in Muslim-majority countries because they wanted to avoid any potential internal discord. [See LWJ report, AQAP publishes insider’s account of 9/11 plot.]

Qosi, who served Osama bin Laden in a variety of roles prior to 9/11, offers an anecdote that he says demonstrates the Saudis’ duplicity. Saudi intelligence attempted to convince Yunus Khalis, a veteran jihadist who reportedly hosted bin Laden in Afghanistan after al Qaeda’s leadership left Sudan in 1996, to betray the al Qaeda master and turn him over. The Saudis left “disappointed” when Khalis refused the offer, Qosi claims.

Despite supporting the jihad against the Russians in Afghanistan, Qosi explains, the Saudi government resisted the jihadists’ campaign against the Americans. He argues that the truth of the American campaign against the ummah (worldwide community of Muslims) was revealed when US warplanes took off from Saudi soil to strike in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In the aftermath of the “blessed” 9/11 attacks, Qosi claims, the mujahideen “youth” tried to keep the Saudi government in check without striking the security forces. But the Saudi regime supposedly sided with the “Crusaders,” betraying their historical duty to protect Muslim land.

Qosi clearly wants young Muslims to pay attention to his testimony, as he praises the youth for waging jihad in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina (during the mid-1990s), and Somalia. He contrasts their dedication to the jihadists’ cause with the Saudi monarchy’s alleged betrayal, arguing that the government is allied with forces opposed to the mujahideen in Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen.

Although the Saudi government claims to be leading the charge against the “Safavid” (Shiites and Iranians) project throughout the Middle East, Qosi argues, it maintains diplomatic relations with the Iraqi government at a time when Shiite forces throughout Iraq are committing “massacres.” He criticizes the Saudis for hosting a conference for Syrian rebels in December, arguing this only served Bashar al Assad’s interests by giving the Syrian dictator an opportunity to stay in power. Qosi complains that the Saudis even support the Lebanese Army despite its close affiliation with Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed terrorist group that is fighting the Sunni jihadists in Syria. And the House of Saud has also supposedly sold out the Palestinian cause by supporting a “two-state solution.”

AQAP’s spokesman chastises the Saudi scholars who refuse to speak out in public against the royals. Al Qaeda knows there are “sincere” men in their ranks, Qosi says, but they keep their criticisms private because they are afraid of the government’s powerful interior ministry. Qosi calls on clerics who are not in the government’s pocket to emulate the example of Sheikh Faris al Zahrani, one of the al Qaeda ideologues executed in early January, and speak out against the royals. Sheikh Faris “took a stand” against the government’s alleged perfidy, Qosi claims, and others should follow suit.

Although al Qaeda initially limited its attacks to the Americans on Saudi soil, the jihadists’ campaign expanded after the 9/11 attacks to include the Saudi security forces and the royals. But Qosi claims that the Saudi government has wrongly blamed al Qaeda for targeting mosques, which is against the organization’s “well-known policies.” (Al Qaeda has repeatedly contrasted its own guidelines for waging jihad with the Islamic State’s tactics. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s men deliberately target mosques, especially Shiite houses of worship, but Ayman al Zawahiri has prohibited his fighters from doing the same.)

Qosi ends his lecture by calling for the youth to join the jihad in Yemen, saying AQAP will “welcome any noble muhajir” (immigrant or foreign fighter) who abandons “the world behind him.”

“We wage jihad” and stand together against the “Crusader-rejectionist [Shiite] campaign,” Qosi says.

Several appearances in AQAP propaganda

Qosi was transferred from Guantanamo to his home country of Sudan in July 2012. His first public appearance as an al Qaeda leader came in a video, “Guardians of Sharia,” which was released online by AQAP in early December. [See LWJ report, Ex-Guantanamo detainee now an al Qaeda leader in Yemen.]

AQAP has released other messages from Qosi since then.

In a message released in mid-December, he congratulated al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Al Murabitoon on their merger. Both groups operate in North and West Africa and were loyal to Zawahiri prior to their unification. They operated under different command structures, however, because AQIM emir Abdulmalek Droukdel and Al Murabitoon leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar had frequent disagreements. Interestingly, Qosi referred to Belmokhtar as being still alive by saying “may Allah preserve him.” Belmokhtar has been reportedly killed on numerous occasions, including in Libya last June. The jihadists, including AQIM, claim he has not perished. And Qosi credited Belmokhtar for Al Murabitoon’s decision to join AQIM, saying he put the interests of the ummah ahead of his own private concerns so that the “Crusader-Shiite” campaign could be confronted with “one sword.”

In addition to praising the AQIM-Al Murabitoon joint venture, Qosi reaffirmed AQAP’s pledge of allegiance (bayat) to Taliban emir Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour and swore to Zawahiri (whom he referred to as “our sheikh”) that AQAP would continue to wage jihad on all fronts.

Qosi also eulogized Abu al Hasan al Bulaydi, a senior AQIM sharia official, in a video released in late December. He lamented Bulaydi’s death as a “great tragedy” and threatened the West.

As The Long War Journal has previously reported, al Qaeda has relocated part of its global management team from South Asia to Yemen. Therefore, some jihadists have been both AQAP leaders and managers in al Qaeda’s global network. It is possible that Qosi, who served directly under Osama bin Laden in the 1990s, is serving in that capacity today.

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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4 Comments

  • David Roberts says:

    Qosi says bin Laden limited his call for holy war to the Americans because he wanted to avoid “internal strife and confusion” among Muslims, who may not have understood his motivations.

    Sure it was …. and political expediency had nothing to do with it.

  • Doulomb says:

    @Mr. Joscelyn

    Interestingly, Belmokhtar and AQAP field commander Othman al-Ghamdi have been removed from the Rewards for Justice wanted list along with AQAP field commander Jalal Baleedi which suggests that the State Department believes Belmokhtar and Ghamdi are dead.

    https://www.rewardsforjustice.net/english/most-wanted/all-regions.html

    It wouldn’t be the first time a terrorist group played Weekend at Bernie’s. As for Ghamdi, I suspect he was secretly killed in a drone strike last year. Unlike other Guantanamo detainees and Baleedi, he wasn’t featured prominently in propaganda so it makes sense AQAP hasn’t commented on his possible death.

    • Thomas Joscelyn says:

      Here is how I see it: Belmokhtar may very well be dead, but no source has confirmed this yet. No American officials, as far as I can remember, have gone on the record to say he is definitely dead.

      It is our understanding that there are disagreements within the US government over his fate, with some thinking he is dead and others thinking that the evidence is not strong enough to justify that conclusion. Some officials think he is alive. We don’t claim to know the answer.

      We note that the jihadis, including Qosi, are referring to Belmokhtar as if he is alive not because this is definite proof that he is in fact alive, but simply to note this is what they are saying. It is important to report they are acting as if he is alive, which may or may not be true.

      After the Mullah Omar story (which we have referred to as a “Weekend at Bernie’s” scenario many times) we are more skeptical than ever and always point out there is great ambiguity surrounding the fate of some jihadi leaders.

      To sum up: We don’t think Qosi’s reference to Belmokhtar proves that Belmokhtar is alive. The best way for al Qaeda to prove he is not dead is for them to produce an audio or video message from Belmokhtar, containing references to current events. I don’t think they have produced such a message from Belmokhtar in quite some time.

      • Doulomb says:

        Big thanks for the reply. There are also disagreements in al-Qaeda. You pointed out on Twitter that spokesman Hassan Abdelrouf indicated in a eulogy for Nasir al-Wuhayshi that Belmokhtar was dead. Qosi contradicts that.

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