Eighteen of the 85 terrorists wanted by Saudi Arabia. Reuters photo.
Yesterday, Saudi Arabia released a list of 85 “most-wanted” terrorists. The list includes 11 former Guantanamo detainees who were placed in Saudi Arabia’s rehabilitation program. One of the terrorists on the list operates a major al Qaeda network on Iranian soil.
According to an anonymous Saudi security official cited by the New York Times, Abdullah al Qarawi is a Saudi who has been operating inside Iran for more than three years. Qarawi is reportedly known as “the Star” and has “more than 100 Saudis working for him in Iran, where they move about freely,” the Saudi official said. Qarawi “is in charge of al Qaeda’s operations in the Persian Gulf and Iran, and of bringing new members into Afghanistan.”
The Times report does not say that Qarawi was a detainee at Guantanamo. But, the unclassified files created by the U.S. government at Guantanamo contain dozens of details concerning the al Qaeda network operating inside Iran. The Long War Journal reviewed the files and identified more than 50 current and former Guantanamo detainees who had some association with Iran. Most of these transited al Qaeda’s facilitation points in eastern Iran. In addition to Tehran, the eastern Iranian cities of Mashhad, Zahedan and Tayyebat were regularly identified as al Qaeda transit points in the unclassified Guantanamo files.
As The Long War Journal previously reported, one of the terrorists on the Saudi list was allegedly responsible for running al Qaeda’s transit hub inside Mashhad. Said Ali al Shihri is a former Guantanamo detainee who recently appeared in an al Qaeda propaganda video as the deputy leader of al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch, which has merged with al Qaeda’s Saudi wing.
According to the U.S. government’s unclassified files, al Shihri was an “al Qaeda travel facilitator” who would brief “others in Mashhad, Iran on entry procedures into Afghanistan utilizing a certain crossing” prior to his detention at Guantanamo. In fact, al Shihri is “on a watch list for facilitating travel for Saudis willing to go to Afghanistan through Iran by providing fake passports to those unable to get one.”
Based on the reports that are publicly available, it is not entirely clear who all of the 11 former Guantanamo detainees on the Saudi list are. Al Shihri and his fellow member of al Qaeda in Yemen, Abu Hareth Muhammad al Awfi, are two of the former Guantanamo detainees on the list. The Long War Journal has contacted the Saudi Press Agency, which published the list of 85 most-wanted terrorists and is one of the Saudi regime’s official media outlets, in order to find out who the other 9 former Guantanamo detainees are. As of this writing, The Long War Journal has not yet received a reply.
The Long War Journal has identified 8 men on the most-wanted list who have the same name as Saudis who were repatriated from Guantanamo. This matching process is not perfect, as some of the men listed have common Muslim and tribal names. Translations of the men’s names are not consistent either, as there are multiple ways to translate their Arabic names into English.
The three examples offered here are, therefore, preliminary and we will update this analysis as more details are confirmed.
One of the names on the Saudi most-wanted list that matches the list of Saudis repatriated from Guantanamo is Yousuf Mohammed Mubarak Al Jubairi Al Shahri. In the U.S. government’s files, one of the repatriated detainee’s names is given as Yussef Mohammed Mubarak al Shihri. Yussef allegedly traveled from Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan using al Qaeda’s Mashhad transit hub. Once in Afghanistan, he was allegedly trained at the notorious al Farouq camp and fought against the Northern Alliance. Yussef’s brother is a “known al Qaeda operative.”
If the Yussef Mohammed Mubarak al Shihri identified in the U.S. government’s files is the same man who is now one of Saudi Arabia’s most-wanted, it is no surprise that he returned to the fight. The U.S. government identified Yussef as a hardcore ideologue who “hates all Americans because they attack his religion.” The U.S. government’s unclassified files note: “Since Americans are his enemy, he will continue to fight them until he dies.”
Another of the names on the Saudi most-wanted list that matches the list of Saudis repatriated from Guantanamo is Murtada Ali Saeed Mukram. In the U.S. government’s unclassified files, one former detainee’s name is given as Murtadha al Said Makram. Makram was allegedly a fighter on the front lines in Bagram, Afghanistan, where he fought against the Northern Alliance. In late November of 2001, Makram then moved to Tora Bora, where he was identified as a fighter. Makram then fled to Pakistan and was captured.
The U.S. government’s files note that Makram’s name was found on multiple lists of terrorists that were recovered in Pakistan at al Qaeda guesthouses in Karachi and Rawalpindi. The government alleges that Makram “wanted to be a martyr for the cause” and did not care if the Taliban won or lost the war in Afghanistan because “he fought for the glory of God.”
Another of the names on the Saudi list that matches is Turki Mashouy Zayed Assiri. In the U.S. government’s files, one former detainee’s name is given as Turki Mash Awi Zayid al Asiri, which is phonetically equivalent. Turki allegedly trained at al Qaeda’s al Farouq camp and has ties to various Islamic charities that operate as fronts for al Qaeda. His name was also found on multiple lists of terrorists recovered at al Qaeda safe houses.
The Long War Journal will provide a more complete and updated list of the former Guantanamo detainees on the Saudi most-wanted list when more details are confirmed.