Al-Qaeda Leaders in the Arabian Peninsula Speak Out
Jihadi forum members hailed a series of statements by leaders of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), gathered under the title “From Here We Start and in Aqsa [Jerusalem] We Meet” (hanein.info, January 24). The statements, originating in Yemen, came after a long silence and were posted in many jihadi websites. Of particular note were the messages from two ex-Guantanamo Bay prisoners, who have now taken leadership positions in AQAP.
In the first statement, the Deputy General of AQAP, Shaykh Abu Sufyan al-Azdi Saed al-Shahri, formerly prisoner number 372 in Guantanamo, said that they will continue the struggle started by their martyred jihadis until the establishment of an Islamic caliphate. He pledged allegiance to Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri assuring them that imprisonment only strengthened his resolve to maintain his jihad against traitors and apostates:
We say to our dear nation, clarifying the truth behind what was said by these treacherous rulers [the Saudis] on the issue of Cuba, where they collaborated with the Americans by sending investigators to Cuba to interrogate us, extract confessions from us, and make accusations against us, which intensified our torture. By God, we assert to our leaders and shaykhs - Shaykh Osama bin Laden, God preserve him, and Dr Ayman Zawahiri - that we will fulfill our promise, and that we will perform the jihad. By God our detention only made us more insistent and committed to our principles, which we strove for and were detained for (Faloja1.net, January 25).
Al-Shahri called upon the jihadi nation to deploy for jihad against Jews and Arab leaders who have imposed blockades on Palestine. Further, al-Shahri promised to come to the rescue of the imprisoned jihadis in Saudi Arabia: “I swear to God, we will not disappoint you or any of our brothers anywhere. Your letters reached us and we are aware of the torture you’re enduring in the Saudi prisons.” Al-Shahri alleged that over 18,000 jihadis are imprisoned in Saudi Arabia.
In the second statement, al-Qaeda’s amir in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemeni Abu Basir Nasser al-Wahayshi, welcomed the opportunity to reunite with Saudi ex-Afghan jihadi comrades in Yemen to resume endeavors to set up an Islamic caliphate: “We are uniting our efforts to cleanse the Arabian Peninsula from the occupiers’ profanity and their treacherous agents, and then march towards our brothers in Gaza and Palestine… Rejoice people of Bait al-Maqdis [Jerusalem], the people of the victorious confession are coming…” Al-Wahayshi ends his statement with an ultimatum to the Arab rulers to assist jihadis in infiltrating and attacking Israel because Arab countries bordering Israel currently keep tight control over the borders to prevent such infiltration. If routes to Israel are not opened by the Arab states, al-Wahayshi promises jihadis will topple their regimes.
In the third statement, the military leader of AQAP, Shaykh Abu Hureira Qasm al-Rimi (a.k.a. Abu Hureira al-Sana'ani), directly addressed the war in Gaza by promising to come to the rescue of Gazans and accusing Arab regimes in Amman, Cairo, and Damascus of collaboration with the enemy by imposing a blockade on the Gaza strip. Al-Rimi ended his statement with a provocative message directed to Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary General of Hezollah in Lebanon:
Answer me, why feign crying over Gaza? Didn’t you proclaim that you have 20,000 rockets capable of reaching Tel Aviv? Don’t our brothers in Gaza deserve that you launch one, two or three thousand of these rockets in support of Gazans instead of weeping and reproaching others? Or maybe Lebanese blood is more expensive than the Palestinian Muslim blood? By God, tell me what is the difference between you and [Egyptian President] Hosni Mubarak? Hosni is the Jews’ safety valve in Egypt and you are the safety valve in Lebanon.
The last statement by a field commander of AQAP, Shaykh Abu al-Harith Muhammad al-Oufi, formerly prisoner number 333 in Guantanamo, threatened the Saudi King with terrorist attacks for collaborating with the United States. In his latest message, al-Oufi warned fellow al-Qaeda members in Saudi jails not to trust the Saudi regime’s Care and Reconciliation program, an effort started by Saudi authorities to rehabilitate imprisoned terrorists (see Terrorism Monitor, January 25, 2008). Al-Oufi also threatened to attack the Western presence in Saudi Arabia, urging Saudi security forces guarding foreign embassies and secret churches to repent.
In another interview with the jihadi electronic magazine Sada al- Malahim entitled “We Support Gaza by Amputating the Cross’s Aid in the Arab Peninsula,” AQAP Amir Abu Basir al-Wahayshi announced the formation of the Islamic Emirate of Yemen, based on mujahideen from Saudi Arabia who pledged allegiance to him as Amir and al-Shahri as his deputy. On the war in Gaza, al-Wahayshi said the group had opened up camps to train and send mujahideen to liberate Palestine. “The plan is to cut off Saudi oil support for the crusaders’ campaign. Yemen will aid all Muslims anywhere” (hanein.org, January 20).
As a consequence of the war on terrorism, al-Qaeda was forced to decentralize its formations and cells. The Yemeni-Saudi al-Qaeda alliance described by al-Wahayshi and others could be considered a partial return to a centralized strategy. Elements of Yemen’s impoverished and tribal-based society might benefit financially from offering Saudi Arabia’s al-Qaeda safe haven as well as procuring arms and minding al-Qaeda’s weapons caches. Yemen's mujahideen could also benefit from the operational expertise of Saudi Arabia's al-Qaeda group, similar to the operational assistance offered to tribal militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan.