Ibrahim Suleiman al Rubaish, al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula’s Mufti.
A former Guantanamo detainee has emerged as a leading ideologue and theologian for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula – one of the strongest al Qaeda affiliates in the world.
Ibrahim Suleiman al Rubaish was captured by Pakistani authorities in late 2001 and then handed over to American officials who transferred him to Guantanamo. Rubaish was held there until Dec. 13, 2006, when he was transferred to Saudi Arabia and placed in the Saudi rehabilitation program for jihadists. At some point, Rubaish escaped from Saudi Arabia by fleeing south to Yemen.
In February 2009, the Saudi Kingdom placed Rubaish, along with at least 10 other former Gitmo detainees, on its list of 85 most-wanted terrorists. One of the former Gitmo detainees Rubaish fled to Yemen with, Said Ali al Shihri, is now the deputy of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which was formed when the al Qaeda branches in Yemen and Saudi Arabia merged.
Two other former Gitmo detainees who fled to Yemen along with Rubaish have been killed in shootouts. [See LWJ reports “Former Gitmo detainee killed in shootout” and “Another former Gitmo detainee killed in shootout.”]
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s Mufti
Since leaving Saudi Arabia, Rubaish has become an influential proponent of waging jihad against the Saudi royals. Rubaish’s influence is so great that he has risen to the rank of Mufti within al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, according to an analysis by the Jamestown Foundation. The role of Mufti is crucial for al Qaeda’s operations because the Mufti provides the theological justifications for the organization’s terrorism.
The Saudi regime has consistently challenged the religious credentials of al Qaeda’s Muftis since 2003, when the kingdom launched a widespread crackdown on the terrorist network in response to attacks on Saudi interests. Rubaish is now the terrorist leader responsible for providing al Qaeda’s answer to the Saudi regime’s theological arguments.
Rubaish has attempted to establish his religious credentials by writing a book that challenges the authority of Sheikh Salman al Ouda, who is a popular Saudi cleric. Al Ouda himself was once an outspoken critic of the Saudi royal family and repeatedly challenged its legitimacy in the early 1990s. Al Ouda was even cited and praised by Osama bin Laden in a 1994 screed entitled “The Betrayal of Palestine,” in which the terror master lambasted the Saudi government’s own top Mufti, Bin Baaz, for endorsing the 1993 Oslo Accords.
After being imprisoned for several years, al Ouda changed his tune and renounced his prior disloyalty. Sheikh al Ouda currently supervises the Islam Today web site on behalf of the Saudi regime. In his book, Rubaish chastised al Ouda for his “alliance” with the Saudi regime.
Rubaish has not saved his venom for Sheikh al Ouda alone. In early November, Rubaish questioned Saudi King Abdullah’s decision to allow men and women to jointly attend the new King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. According to a translation of Rubaish’s statement prepared by the SITE Intelligence group, Rubaish blasted the decision as a violation of sharia law and said that King Abdullah was moving his country towards “secularism.”
“If [King Abdullah] is not able to distinguish between good and evil and what is good and harmful, then how can he be put as the ruler over millions of people?,” Rubaish asked. “I call upon every Muslim to (distance themselves) from this agent apostate government, that has clearly demonstrated that it prefers infidelity to faith, and that all it wants from Islam is the parts that do not affect its secularist method.”
Rubaish’s anti-Saudi sentiments have been used to justify al Qaeda’s targeting of senior Saudi officials. After a suicide bomber failed to kill Saudi Prince Muhammad bin Nayif, the Deputy Minister of the Interior for Security Affairs, in August of this year, Rubaish released a tape entitled, “Why Muhammad bin Nayif?” Rubaish justified the attempt on Nayif’s life by arguing that assassinations have been a commonly accepted tool of Islamic warfare since the days of the Prophet Mohammed.
Furthermore, Rubaish pointed to Nayif’s role in the Saudi Kingdom’s counterterrorism campaign and relationship with America:
“Why Muhammad bin Nayif? Allah has favored me in the fact that I have never met Muhammad bin Nayif, may Allah deal with him as he deserves, but I have been in his prisons, I have dealt with his wardens and I have lived with those charred by the fire of his tyranny. I along with others have witnessed, while we are the witnesses of Allah on His earth, how he has waged war against jihad and the Mujahideen, something that even the media affirms. Muhammad bin Nayif stood alongside his troops guarding and protecting the Americans, preventing the Mujahideen from reaching them. He could have assumed the role of a bystander, but instead defended them, just as a good child defends his father’s possessions.”
An admitted jihadist and al Qaeda trainee
There is a distinct irony in Rubaish’s role as al Qaeda’s chief anti-Saudi Mufti. During his administrative review board (ARB) hearing at Guantanamo, Rubaish was asked about his desire to wage jihad against the Saudi government and America. “Before I mentioned that the United States is a partner with Saudi Arabia, so how could I consider it an enemy of Islam if it’s a friend of Saudi Arabia?,” Rubaish asked rhetorically in response.
Thus, Rubaish denied that he wanted to wage jihad against either America or Saudi Arabia. This is a demonstrable lie given his current role as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s chief anti-Saudi theologian and his loud condemnation of the relationship between the Saudi government and America.
But while Rubaish falsely claimed that he was not an enemy of the US or Saudi Arabia during his ARB hearing, he also made important admissions. Rubaish conceded that he was trained at al Qaeda’s al Farouq training camp. But Rubaish claimed that he did not know al Farouq was an al Qaeda facility. This is an implausible excuse given al Farouq was one of al Qaeda’s chief training facilities in pre-9/11 Afghanistan.
And Rubaish also had the following telling exchange with the presiding officer on his Gitmo review board:
“Rubaish: Like I said before, if a jihad, for God is willing, is considered to be a threat to the United States, then all Muslims are a threat to the United States. The jihad for one million [sic] four hundred years is considered to be a message from Islam to all Muslims. It is a duty to all Muslims. When I entered al Farouq training camp, I did not know al Farouq training camp belong to al Qaeda. If I entered a suspected house [note: an al Qaeda guesthouse], and I did not know the house was suspected of something, is that a crime against me?
Presiding Officer: Why were you at al Farouq?
Rubaish: To train for the jihad for God.
Presiding Officer: Who did you train to fight?
Rubaish: Whoever fights Muslims.”
The summary of evidence memos compiled for Rubaish’s ARB and CSRT hearings also contained this allegation: “[Rubaish] traveled the front lines in Tora Bora in order to fight the Northern Alliance.” During his ARB hearing, Rubaish denied that he fought at Tora Bora, but conceded that he was there when the fighting began.
Tora Bora was a stronghold for the Taliban and al Qaeda after the US-led coalition forces moved into Afghanistan in late 2001. Osama bin Laden ordered al Qaeda fighters to flee there as Afghanistan fell. According to the memos prepared at Gitmo, US officials believe that Rubaish stayed in al Qaeda guesthouses both before his training and after (he did not deny this allegation), including en route to Tora Bora. Therefore, it is likely that Rubaish was following al Qaeda’s orders when he retreated to the Tora Bora Mountains.
According to a profile of Rubaish published by the NEFA Foundation, another piece of evidence US officials amassed against Rubaish was found on an al Qaeda web site. “In January 2002,” NEFA’s profile explains, Rubaish’s “name was listed as number 39 on the roster published by the al Qaeda website Al Neda of Arab mujahideen who had been double-crossed by tribal leaders and taken prisoner in Pakistan.” The entry contains an alternative spelling of Rubaish’s name: “Ibrahim Sulaiman Mohammed ar-Rabeish (Abu Mohammed) from Qassim, in the Arabian Peninsula. His family can be contacted via his brother Abdelaziz or Abdulrahman.”
A Gitmo “poet”
In 2007, Marc Falkoff, who is a lawyer for a number of the Guantanamo detainees, published a book titled Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak. During an interview on NPR, he was asked: “Which of the poems – if you could pick one poem that most speaks to you and is most moving to you, which one would it be?”
Falkoff responded: “The one that’s most moving to me and that I find most literary, perhaps, is called ‘Ode to the Sea.’ It’s by Ibrahim Al Rubaish. And it’s a dialogue between him and the sea surrounding Guantanamo. And I could read part of it for you if you like.”
After reading part of the poem, Falkoff explained:
“What you have here is a poem in which the poet is talking with the sea. And he’s suggesting that the sea is complicit in his continued incarceration. To me his accusations against the sea are really very much accusations to the American public. You know what’s going on in Guantanamo. You’ve now been told about the abuses here. And what are you doing? You’re standing idly by. We’re still here. We still haven’t had our day in court. We still aren’t treated with respect. You can save us, but you’ve chosen to do nothing.”
Rubaish was released from Guantanamo and returned to jihad in short order. His proclamations are now recorded and published by al Qaeda’s multimedia operation and various other jihadist web sites. Rubaish’s words are routinely used as propaganda to inspire would-be al Qaeda members to follow the path of jihad.
Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.