State Department designates Egyptian jihadist group, ex-Gitmo detainee

The State Department today announced that it has added an Egyptian jihadist group and a senior al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) ideologue to the US government’s list of specially designated global terrorists.

The Egyptian group, Ajnad Misr (“Soldiers of Egypt”), is a “violent extremist group that splintered from Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM),” which is also a “designated foreign terrorist organization (FTO) and Specially Designated Global entity.”

Some of Ajnad Misr’s earliest attacks took place in Cairo at the beginning of the year. Initially, ABM claimed responsibility for a series of attacks in Cairo that occurred on Jan. 24. ABM subsequently acknowledged that some of the attacks were actually executed by Ajnad Misr, which ABM described as “our brothers.”

ABM, or at least the part of the organization based in the Sinai, announced its allegiance to the Islamic State’s Abu Bakr al Baghdadi in November. The group was then rebranded as the Islamic State’s province in the Sinai.

However, other Egyptian-based jihadists, including Ajnad Misr, did not follow suit and join the Islamic State’s ranks. Recently, a previously unknown jihadist group claiming to operate in the Sinai said that it rejects ABM’s decision and will continue to operate independently from ABM.

Egyptian press accounts have speculated that Ajnad Misr remains part of the pro-al Qaeda network in Egypt. Many details concerning the group’s hierarchy, operations, and funding remain murky.

“Ajnad Misr officially announced its formation in January 2014,” the State Department’s announcement reads, “and has since claimed numerous attacks on Egyptian security forces at government buildings, public spaces and universities, often injuring or killing innocent bystanders.”

Some of Ajnad Misr’s most significant operations since its inception have focused on attacks on Egyptian universities, with the group often portraying itself as defending students who are being oppressed by security forces. In its propaganda, Ajnad Misr attempts to drum up popular support for its anti-government attacks. [See LWJ report, Jihadist group ‘Soldiers of Egypt’ claims responsibility for attack on police near university.]


Ibrahim Suleiman al Rubaish, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s Mufti.

Ibrahim Rubaish, senior AQAP sharia official once detained at Guantanamo

In addition to Ajnad Misr, the State Department also added Ibrahim Rubaish to the US government’s list of terrorists today. State describes Rubaish as “a senior leader of AQAP,” who “serves as a senior advisor for AQAP operational planning and is involved in the planning of attacks.”

Rubaish “has served as a senior AQAP sharia official since 2013” and in that capacity he “provides the justification for attacks conducted by AQAP.”

According to State, Rubaish frequently makes “public statements, including one in August 2014 where he called on Muslims to wage war against the United States.” The US government previously issued a $5 million reward for information on Rubaish’s whereabouts.

Although the State Department does not mention it, Rubaish was detained at Guantanamo for several years before being transferred to his native Saudi Arabia on Dec. 13, 2006.

Along with other Saudi ex-Gitmo detainees, Rubaish was entered into a jihadist rehabilitation program. Once completed, Rubaish and numerous other graduates absconded for Yemen, where they helped rebuild AQAP, a branch of al Qaeda that had suffered tremendous losses inside the Saudi kingdom.

A leaked Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) threat assessment, dated Nov. 30, 2005, describes Rubaish as an al Qaeda “member who traveled to Afghanistan intent on training for jihad in Chechnya, but stayed and joined the Taliban.” JTF-GTMO’s analysts found that Rubaish stayed in al Qaeda guesthouses and “attended the group’s Al-Farouq terrorist training camp,” which was al Qaeda’s primary training facility in pre-9/11 Afghanistan.

Rubaish fought during the Battle of Tora Bora in late 2001 and, according to JTF-GTMO, had ties to numerous other al Qaeda members. Rubaish’s name, alias, and other identifying information was found on various al Qaeda lists of captured fighters. One such list “was found in a document listing the names of captured mujahideen recovered from a 20 gigabyte hard drive associated with senior [al Qaeda] operative Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM).”

Abu Zubaydah, who remains in custody at Guantanamo, was asked about Rubaish’s “name/alias” while in US custody sometime in 2003, according to the JTF-GTMO file, and it was “familiar” to him. No other details concerning Abu Zubaydah’s identification of Rubaish are provided.

According to JTF-GTMO, Rubaish was originally convinced to travel to South Asia to fight on behalf of the Taliban and al Qaeda by a fatwa issued by Saudi cleric Sheikh Hamoud al Uqla, who “helped raise money for” Osama bin Laden “until his death in Saudi Arabia in 2001.” Al Uqla had previously been arrested for criticizing the Saudi monarchy’s close relationship with the West. And after 9/11, al Uqla “issued fatwas declaring that those supporting the US and coalition forces against Muslims were themselves nonbelievers.”

In its Nov. 30, 2005 threat assessment, JTF-GTMO found that Rubaish was a “medium” risk, “as he may post a threat to the US, its interests and allies.” JTF-GTMO recommended that Rubaish remain in the Defense Department’s custody. But the Saudi government said that it would take in Rubaish and attempt to prosecute him. Ultimately, he escaped from Saudi Arabia and went on to become one of AQAP’s most senior officials.

Rubaish remains loyal to al Qaeda’s senior leadership to this day. Earlier this summer, he praised the jihadists’ advances in Iraq and Syria, but was careful not to endorse the Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot that repeatedly defied orders from al Qaeda’s general command before being disowned in early February.

In July, along with another senior AQAP ideologue, Rubaish released a video denouncing the slander of experienced jihadist leaders. The video was part of AQAP’s attempt to defend Ayman al Zawahiri against the criticisms levied by the Islamic State and its supporters.

[For more on Rubaish’s background, based on declassified JTF-GTMO files, see LWJ report: Former Guantanamo detainee now al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula’s Mufti.]

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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