The media wing of one of al Qaeda’s Yemeni franchises, al Qaeda in Yemen, released a statement on online jihadist forums Jan. 20 from the group’s leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi, announcing the formation of a single al Qaeda group for the Arabian Peninsula under his command. According to al-Wuhayshi, the new group, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, would consist of his former group (al Qaeda in Yemen) as well as members of the now-defunct Saudi al Qaeda franchise.
The press release noted that the Saudi militants have pledged allegiance to al-Wuhayshi, an indication that the reorganization was not a merger of equals. This is understandable, given that the jihadists in Yemen have been active recently while their Saudi counterparts have not conducted a meaningful attack in years. The announcement also related that a Saudi national (and former Guantanamo detainee) identified as Abu-Sayyaf al-Shihri has been appointed as al-Wuhayshi’s deputy. In some ways, this is similar to the way Ayman al-Zawahiri and his faction of Egyptian Islamic Jihad swore allegiance to Osama bin Laden and were integrated in to al Qaeda prime.
While not specifically mentioned, the announcement of a single al Qaeda entity for the entire Arabian Peninsula and the unanimous support by jihadist militants on the Arabian Peninsula for al-Wuhayshi suggests the new organization will incorporate elements of the other al Qaeda franchise in Yemen, the Yemen Soldiers Brigade.
The announcement also provided links to downloadable versions of the latest issue of the group’s online magazine, Sada al-Malahim, (Arabic for “The Echo of Battle”). The Web page links provided to download the magazine also featured trailers advertising the pending release of a new video from the group, now referred to by its new name, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
The translated name of this new organization sounds very similar to the old Saudi al Qaeda franchise, the al Qaeda Organization in the Arabian Peninsula (in Arabic, “Tandheem al Qaeda fi Jazeerat al-Arabiyah”). But the new group’s new Arabic name, Tanzim Qa’idat al-Jihad fi Jazirat al-Arab, is slightly different. The addition of “al-Jihad” seems to have been influenced by the Iraqi al Qaeda franchise, Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn. The flag of the Islamic State of Iraq also appears in the Jan. 24 video, further illustrating the deep ties between the newly announced organization and al Qaeda in Iraq. Indeed, a number of Yemeni militants traveled to Iraq to fight, and these returning al Qaeda veterans have played a large part in the increased sophistication of militant attacks in Yemen over the past year.
Four days after the Jan. 20 announcement, links for a 19-minute video from the new group titled “We Start from Here and We Will Meet at al-Aqsa” began to appear in jihadist corners of cyberspace. Al-Aqsa refers to the al-Aqsa Mosque on what Jews know as Temple Mount and Muslims refer to as Al Haram Al Sharif. The video threatens Muslim leaders in the region (whom it refers to as criminal tyrants), including Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Saudi royal family, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. It also threatens so-called “crusader forces” supporting the regional Muslim leaders, and promises to carry the jihad from the Arabian Peninsula to Israel so as to liberate Muslim holy sites and brethren in Gaza.
An interview with al-Wuhayshi aired Jan. 27 on Al Jazeera echoed these sentiments. During the interview, al-Wuhayshi noted that the “crusades” against “Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia” have been launched from bases in the Arabian Peninsula, and that because of this, “all crusader interests” in the peninsula “should be struck.”
Most of the analysis in Western media regarding the preceding developments has focused on how two former detainees at the U.S. facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, appear in the Jan. 24 video — one of whom was al-Shihri — and that both were graduates of Saudi Arabia’s ideological rehabilitation program, a government deprogramming course for jihadists. In addition to al-Shihri who, according to the video was Guantanamo detainee 372, the video also contains a statement from Abu-al-Harith Muhammad al-Awfi. Al-Awfi, who was identified as a field commander in the video, was allegedly former Guantanamo detainee 333. Prisoner lists from Guantanamo obtained by Stratfor appear to confirm that al-Shihri was in fact Guantanamo detainee No. 372. We did not find al-Awfi’s name on the list, however, another name appears as detainee No. 333. Given the proclivity of jihadists to use fraudulent identities, it is entirely possible that al-Awfi is an alias, or that he was held at Guantanamo under an assumed name. At any rate, we doubt al-Awfi would fabricate this claim and then broadcast it in such a public manner.
This Yahoo! News (AP) report has even more details about the allegedly former Guantanamo detainee 333 (SITE uses the name "Abu-al-Harith Muhammad al-Oufi" for this person).....
I guess you can't trust terrorists to tell the truth...eh?
On Wednesday, the SITE Intelligence Group, an organization that monitors extremist Web sites, provided a translation of al-Oufi's biography contained in an online militant forum. The personal history was completely at odds with how al-Oufi had characterized himself as he tried to convince a panel of U.S. military officers at Guantanamo that he was an innocent man who had been swept up in Pakistan after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"I was on my way to Quetta, Pakistan, to help people, the refugees," al-Oufi told a military panel at Guantanamo, according to a transcripts reviewed by The Associated Press. He explained that he was arrested along with many other Arabs and sold to U.S. forces for bounties. Al-Oufi insisted he had never set foot in Afghanistan.
But the biography said he had fought in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Kashmir before he was captured, and had narrowly escaped death when "an American rocket" hit a house in Afghanistan where he and 13 other mujahedeen were sleeping. Al-Oufi was the only survivor and "was not hit by even one piece of shrapnel."
The biography tries to present al-Oufi in a heroic light, using flowery language.
"He continued fighting until Afghanistan fell into the hands of the Americans," said the biography. "He could not help but go to Pakistan and wait there until the Taliban started anew, and then he would return. But Allah determined for our lion to be imprisoned."
Adam Raisman, a senior analyst at SITE, said al-Faloja, where al-Oufi's biography was posted, is a jihadist forum. He said the entry was the user's first posting so its authenticity could not be ascertained, but noted that it was not deleted by the forum administrators or questioned by it members. SITE, which has provided accurate information in the past, thought it was reliable enough to e-mail the contents to its subscribers.
Prisoner number 333 was released from Guantanamo on Nov. 11, 2007, according to the Pentagon. The military had listed his name as Muhamad Attik al-Harbi. The difference in names has been attributed to the common Arab practice of referring to men by an honorific, like the name of a son. Al-Harbi is a tribal designation.