Guantanamo detainee is brother of AQAP’s new top leader

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Qasim al Raymi, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s new emir.

Earlier this week, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) confirmed that its leader, Nasir al Wuhayshi, had been killed in a US drone strike. A new emir for the group was named in short order: Qasim al Raymi.

Al Raymi is a veteran jihadist, having joined al Qaeda in Afghanistan prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Al Raymi was also a co-founder of the current incarnation of AQAP and served as the organization’s top military commander prior to succeeding Wuhayshi. So, al Raymi’s appointment was to be expected.

While al Raymi’s stature in the jihadists’ ranks has risen in the more than thirteen years since 9/11, his younger brother, who admittedly attended an al Qaeda training camp, has had a different fate. Ali Yahya Mahdi al Raymi has been held at Guantanamo since 2002.

A leaked threat assessment authored by Joint Task Force-Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) says that military officials recommended Ali al Raymi for transfer to the control of another country for continued detention in 2004. JTF-GTMO deemed him to be a “medium” threat at the time.

In January 2010, President Obama’s Guantanamo Review Task Force recommended al Raymi for “conditional detention,” meaning the security situation in Yemen was too unstable to transfer him home at the time.

“Before the closure of Guantanamo, the detainee may be transferred if the security situation in Yemen improves, an appropriate rehabilitation program or third-country resettlement option becomes available,” or the government of Yemen demonstrates the ability to “mitigate any threat” he may “pose,” the task force wrote.

The US government’s files indicate that al Raymi wasn’t considered one of the higher risk detainees, but he wasn’t deemed a risk-free transfer either. Al Raymi’s own testimony while in custody probably helps to explains why this is the case.

The younger al Raymi brother was asked about his family’s jihadist ties during his combatant status review tribunal (CSRT) at Guantanamo. He blamed his father and brother for pushing him to attend al Qaeda’s Al Farouq training camp, one of the group’s main training facilities in pre-9/11 Afghanistan.

“Yes, I did go to the Al Farouq training camp,” Ali al Raymi claimed. “How I got there is important. My parents went first to Afghanistan. They sent for me and when I got there I told them I did not want to stay. My father said just stay for two months and attend this camp and then I will send you home to Yemen. Both my father and older brother told me this, so I had to do it. I accepted going to the Al Farouq camp as it was my ticket home.”

Ali al Raymi also conceded during his CSRT that he fled to Pakistan through the Tora Bora Mountains, but he claimed he didn’t even know the name of the famous mountain range until he arrived there. Al Qaeda ordered its fighters to retreat to Tora Bora in late 2001.

US officials did not believe that al Raymi was telling the whole story, however. The leaked threat assessment from 2004 shows that JTF-GTMO’s analysts thought he was “concealing information” about a visit Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri paid to Al Farouq in early September 2001. Al Raymi claimed that he “could not explain the unusual activity and sense of urgency at the camp” during this time.

JTF-GTMO concluded that al Raymi was “substantially exploited,” but there were “several intelligence gaps…in his story, such as his involvement and knowledge concerning Al Qaeda operations, his recruitment, acknowledgement of his brother, and his associations with other JTF-GTMO detainees.”

JTF-GTMO also found inconsistencies in al Raymi’s story. At one point, for instance, he said a friend had “recommended” that he “travel to Afghanistan for weapons training.” But he later claimed to have no “idea that he would receive military training in Afghanistan.”

When confronted with these discrepancies, al Raymi would say the answer “is in his file” or complain “of maltreatment,” which “are common anti-interrogation techniques used by numerous JTF-GTMO detainees, as well as by al Qaeda.”

Qasim al Raymi figures prominently in his brother’s JTF-GTMO files

There are just three paragraphs describing Ali al Raymi’s background in the JTF-GTMO threat assessment, and one of them is devoted to his more infamous older brother.

At least three jihadists in US custody identified Qasim al Raymi as an important al Qaeda operative.

Tariq Mahmoud Ahmed al Sawah, who is still held at Guantanamo, told authorities that a man known as “Abu Hurayrah” served as the “physical fitness instructor” at Al Farouq. Abu Hurayrah is one of Qasim al Raymi’s known aliases. He still uses it to this day. Al Sawah’s testimony regarding the al Raymi brothers clearly carried much weight, as JTF-GTMO described him as “a highly prolific source” who “has provided invaluable intelligence regarding explosives, al Qaeda, affiliated entities and their activities.”

A senior al Qaeda detainee known as Khallad, who was connected to the upper echelon of bin Laden’s organization, “revealed that Abu Hurayrah’s [Qasim al Raymi’s] secondary role was to assist mujahideen in returning to Yemen.” And a third detainee, Yasim Basardah, who was transferred from Guantanamo to Spain in 2010, identified Qasim al Raymi (using another variant of his name) as both an “instructor at Al Farouq” and as Ali al Raymi’s brother.

Interestingly, even though Ali al Raymi blamed his brother (and father) for making him train at Al Farouq, he did “not acknowledge Abu Hurayrah as his brother, or as a trainer at Al Farouq.”

US officials found additional evidence connecting the brothers to al Qaeda, however. During safe house raids in Karachi, Pakistan on Sept. 11, 2002, authorities found a list of “324 Arabic names, aliases, and nationalities.” The Al Raymi brothers were numbers 320 and 321 on the list, which was determined to be part of al Qaeda’s accounting. The safe houses were clearly operated by al Qaeda, as they sheltered known al Qaeda leaders and members. One of the residences contained letters from 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed concerning planned attacks on hotels used by US troops in Karachi.

JTF-GTMO also noted that Qasim al Raymi was “a dedicated jihadist and al Qaeda operative who was detained for his involvement in a November 2002 assassination plot against the US ambassador in Yemen.”

Indeed, according to the Associated Press (AP), Qasim al Raymi was convicted on terrorism-related charges in Yemen in 2004 for plotting to assassinate US Ambassador Edmund Hull and attacking foreign embassies.

According to AP, Qasim al Raymi and other defendants at his terror trial were heard chanting, “There is no god but Allah, America is the enemy of Allah, Osama [bin Laden] is beloved by Allah.”

Qasim al Raymi was in his early 20’s when his brother was first detained at Guantanamo. He was part of a new generation of recruits at the time that al Qaeda would come to reply upon. Years later, in 2006, the older al Raymi brother would break out of a Yemeni prison.

In the years since, according to the State Department, Qasim al Raymi has “played an important role in recruiting the current generation of militants making up the Yemen-based AQAP.” That is, the older al Raymi brother has been recruiting the next generation of al Qaeda’s leaders and fighters — just as his predecessors in al Qaeda had once recruited him.

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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1 Comment

  • mike merlo says:

    good information. Just the latest Terrorist Diva now in the spot light.

    “While al Raymi’s stature in the jihadists’ ranks has risen in the more than thirteen years since 9/11…,” this is one of the main reasons why there should be just as much attention/targeting & killing the Rank & File as there is in identifying, targeting & killing the leadership


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