US State Department designates two al Qaeda leaders in Yemen


Abu Hurayrah Qasim al Raymi, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s military commander.

The US State Department has designated two al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leaders under Executive Order 13224, which targets the finances of terrorists and their supporters. The two AQAP leaders are Qasim al Raymi (sometimes written as “al Rimi”), who is AQAP’s military commander, and Nayif al Qahtani, a top AQAP logistics operative. The United Nations has also designated both AQAP terrorists.

According to a State Department press release, al Qahtani serves as liaison between al Qaeda cells in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. He is responsible for “planning, financing, and overseeing terrorist attacks in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, some of which have targeted U.S. interests in the Arabian Peninsula” and “also serves as a key spokesperson for AQAP.”

The Yemeni government previously claimed that al Raymi was killed in a January 2010 airstrike. [See LWJ report: “Al Qaeda’s military commander in Yemen reported killed.” ] The State Department’s designation is the latest indication, however, that al Raymi is alive and remains operational.

AQAP previously denied reports that al Raymi had been killed.

The Yemeni government’s erroneous reporting is not new, as Yemeni officials have claimed on multiple occasions that senior AQAP leaders were either killed or captured, only to have the terrorists reappear shortly thereafter. [See, for example, the LWJ report: “Yemen retracts report of Al Qaeda deputy’s capture.” ]

Al Raymi is a co-founder of AQAP, which was formed when al Qaeda’s affiliates in Yemen and Saudi Arabia merged in 2009.

On Feb. 3, 2006, al Raymi was one of 23 al Qaeda terrorists who escaped from prison in Yemen. Among al Raymi’s fellow escapees, who tunneled their way out of the prison into a nearby mosque, were terrorists suspected of being involved in the bombing of the USS Cole as well as a French oil tanker.

According to the State Department’s press release, al Raymi “played a key role in reviving the regional node” of al Qaeda in Yemen after his escape. Along with current AQAP leader Nasir al Wahayshi (who was also part of the February 2006 prison escape), al Raymi “announced the emergence” of al Qaeda in Yemen (AQY) in 2007. AQY is responsible for at least several terrorist plots and attacks, including an attack on the US embassy in Sanaa in September 2008.

In January 2009, al Raymi appeared in a propaganda video alongside three other al Qaeda leaders to announce the creation of AQAP. In February 2009, al Raymi was included on the Saudi Kingdom’s list of top 85 most wanted terrorists.

Al Raymi has plotted against the US embassy and ambassador in Yemen. In addition, the State Department reports that al Raymi “has played an important role in recruiting the current generation of militants making up the Yemen-based AQAP.”

Those militants fight not only in the Arabian Peninsula, but have also plotted international attacks. On Christmas Day 2009, AQAP was behind the failed attack on a Detroit-bound airliner. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who failed to detonate an underwear bomb aboard Flight 253, was recruited and trained by AQAP.

Gitmo ties abound

Al Raymi has numerous ties to both current and former Guantanamo detainees. In the January 2009 propaganda video announcing the creation of AQAP, al Raymi appeared alongside two former Gitmo detainees who were repatriated to Saudi Arabia and entered into a rehabilitation program. Both fled to Yemen where they helped establish AQAP. One of them, Said al Shihri, is currently the number two deputy in AQAP. The other, Muhammad al Awfi, has since been returned to Saudi custody.

Other former Gitmo detainees have fought on behalf of AQAP, and still another is currently the organization’s chief ideologue. [See LWJ reports: “Former Gitmo detainee killed in shootout,” “Another former Gitmo detainee killed in shootout,” “Former Gitmo detainee killed in Yemen while plotting attack on British embassy,” and “Former Guantanamo detainee now al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s Mufti.”]

Curiously, several of the terrorists who escaped from prison in February 2006, including al Raymi, have brothers who have been detained at Guantanamo.

Qasim al Raymi’s own brother, Ali al Raymi, has been held at Guantanamo since 2002. Copies of memos prepared by US officials for Ali al Raymi’s case, as well as a transcript of his testimony before a combatant status review tribunal (CSRT), are available on The New York Timesweb site.

Ali al Raymi was captured in Pakistan in December 2001, after fleeing the Tora Bora Mountains. During his CSRT hearing, Ali al Raymi portrayed himself as a young recruit whose family forced him to leave Yemen for Afghanistan to attend an al Qaeda training camp. Even so, Ali made a number of admissions during his CSRT testimony. And Gitmo officials noted that Ali attempted to change his story over time.

When the tribunal board accused Ali of attending al Qaeda’s notorious al Farouq training camp, he admitted: “Yes, I did go to the al Farouq training camp.” Ali claimed that his father and brother made him attend the camp before he could go home, but when pressed on his story Ali could not explain why his father would want him to attend an al Qaeda training camp before returning to Yemen.

Ali made a number of other admissions as well. He conceded that he “stayed at a safe house with some Arabs” (likely a reference to an al Qaeda safe house) en route to al Farouq, that “he didn’t learn a lot” at al Farouq but he did learn “how to take [an AK-47] apart and put it back together,” and that he fled to the Tora Bora Mountains – a known stronghold for al Qaeda and the Taliban in late 2001.

Ali al Raymi also admitted that he attended the al Farouq training camp twice in 2001, both before and after he allegedly fell ill and went to a clinic. The second time he was at al Farouq for just four days before the camp was closed in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

Ali al Raymi’s case is one that may be difficult for the Obama administration to resolve. The administration has suspended transfers of Yemeni detainees to their home country in the wake of the attempted Christmas Day attack. And while the Yemeni government has provided more support in recent months, it has been an uneven partner in the fight against terrorism. As one memo produced by Gitmo officials for Ali al Raymi’s case notes: “[Yemen] does not participate in joint enforcement of the global war on terrorism.”

Ali himself may pose a risk. On the one hand, he appears to have been a low-level recruit at the time of his capture. On the other hand, he comes from a notorious al Qaeda family and attended an al Qaeda training camp where his jihadist indoctrination had at least begun.

If Ali al Raymi is released to Yemen, he could end up rejoining his infamous older brother in AQAP’s ongoing jihad.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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