The Gitmo Files: Fazul Mohammed continued to seek bin Laden’s direction


Abdullah Sudi Arale.

Leaked Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) threat assessments contain intelligence reports pointing to Osama bin Laden’s influence over the East Africa Al Qaeda (EAAQ) network, including the recently slain Fazul Mohammed. The assessments also contain striking details about the relationship between the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) and al Qaeda, including ties between the current president of Somalia and a former Guantanamo detainee who was transferred from US custody despite JTF-GTMO’s conclusion that he was a “high” threat.

One file summarizes the intelligence on former Guantanamo detainee Abdullah Sudi Arale (internment serial number 10027), who was identified as “a courier and facilitator between EAAQ and al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan.” The file cites Salim Awadh Salim, who was captured with Fazul’s wife and held in Ethiopian custody, as a source on Arale’s activities. Salim described Arale as an Islamic Courts “official and al Qaeda courier” and stated that Arale “was responsible for putting Fazul in touch with al Qaeda in Pakistan.” The Islamic Courts was an alliance of Islamist groups that took control of much of country in 2006 and included Shabaab, which has since become al Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia.

“In a January 2007 conversation with Salim about al Qaeda’s operational priorities,” the threat assessment for Arale reads, “Fazul stated that in late 2006, he asked an al Qaeda operative located in Pakistan to reach out to senior al Qaeda leadership, including [Osama bin Laden], and ask them to provide Fazul with operational advice.”

Fazul reportedly told Salim that bin Laden “had responded to Fazul’s request for advice and had told Fazul that he wanted al Qaeda’s East Africa cell to focus on operations outside Somalia.”

The leaked threat assessment for another Guantanamo detainee, Abdul Malik Bajabu (internment serial number 10025), also cites Salim as a source. Salim reported that Halima Fazul, one of Fazul Mohammed’s wives, “delivered a message from [Osama bin Laden] when she traveled from Pakistan to Mogadishu in late December 2006.” Halima told Bajabu and Salim that bin Laden “was angry with the EAAQ” and wanted them to focus on carrying out terrorist operations and not to fight with the [Islamic Courts Union] or against the Mogadishu-based warlords.” The al Qaeda network’s “primary job was to carry out terrorist attacks,” bin Laden reportedly admonished Fazul.

A JTF-GTMO analyst noted in the file for Bajabu that bin Laden’s “instructions indicate communication with and an undetermined level of control over [Bajabu] and his associates.”

The “fighting” between the EAAQ and ICU that bin Laden worried about was the result of internal feuding between ICU members and EAAQ operatives who had joined the ICU.

According to JTF-GTMO, Arale told authorities that although he was asked to join the ICU’s executive council, he “felt he had to build his reputation before he could hold the position.” During a meeting with Arale, senior ICU leaders Sheikh Shariff Ahmed and Ahmed Abdi Aw Muhammad “discussed the need for building a strong coalition.” Muhammad, who is also known as Ahmed Abdi Godane, is currently the leader of Shabaab. Shariff, who is the current president of Somalia, “was afraid of the internal conflict within the [ICU], much of it caused by EAAQ.” In one instance, EAAQ operatives objected to the jailing of a Muslim who killed a non-Muslim woman.

In response to these internal disagreements, the JTF-GTMO threat assessment explains, Arale “set up Bayt Wahida (House of One)” inside Sheikh Shariff’s office. “At this site, [Arale] was part of the [ICU] power-sharing committee, which worked to bring the various groups into the [ICU] and reach a consensus.” That is, al Qaeda’s man played a key role for the ICU by helping to integrate multiple jihadist groups.

The strong ties between EAAQ and the ICU are repeatedly referenced in the leaked threat assessments. In addition to identifying Arale as a member of both organizations, JTF-FTMO also described Bajabu as a “confirmed member” of both the EAAQ and the ICU. And Fazul was a high-level member of both groups as well.

The leaked files contain details about EAAQ’s plotting both before and after Fazul reached out to bin Laden for advice. Bajabu reportedly met with Fazul and another al Qaeda operative, Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, in October 2006 at Bajabu’s home. The three “discussed potential attacks on US and Israeli Embassies.”

“In late 2006,” according to a leaked JTF-GTMO threat assessment, Bajabu was “involved in a plot to attack the Kenyan Anti-Terrorism Headquarters located in Nairobi, and the Mombasa Marathon, with the intent of killing Americans and Israelis.”

Fazul, Bajabu, and Nabhan had long worked together. The leaked file for Bajabu cites a detained al Qaeda member who described them as the “Three Musketeers.” The leaked file also says that Bajabu admittedly “participated in the planning and execution of the 28 November 2002 terrorist attacks in Mombasa, which included the bombing of the Israeli-owned Kikambala Paradise Hotel and a missile attack on an Israeli airliner.” Fazul and Nabhan were directly responsible for the attacks, too. Bajabu fled with Nabhan from Kenya to Somalia afterwards. In addition, Fazul and Nabhan conspired to execute al Qaeda’s 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

Nabhan, who went on to become a senior leader in Shabaab, was killed during a raid in September 2009. Fazul has now been killed as well.

Bajabu, the third musketeer, is currently detained at Guantanamo.

Arale, the al Qaeda courier who allegedly worked with Somalia’s future president to quell dissent, was transferred to Somaliland on Dec. 19, 2009. But just two and a half years earlier, at the time of Arale’s transfer to Guantanamo in June 2007, a Pentagon spokesman had described him as a “high-value detainee.”

JTF-GTMO clearly agreed with that characterization, finding that Arale was a “high” threat and of “high” intelligence value.

It is not clear why Arale was approved for transfer from US custody.

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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  • Nasir says:

    Arale was my English teacher. I can’t beleive what changed him. He used to say; Good, better, best; never let it rest, till you’re better best!. He was a good man in 1994

  • Mike says:

    It’s “…till your good is better, and your better best”.


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