The second issue of Inspire, the English-language magazine of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which was published October 11, 2010, includes an interview with one of the organization’s commanders, Uthman Al-Ghamidi, a former sailor in the Saudi navy who left Saudi Arabia to wage jihad in Afghanistan.
Giving a detailed account of his history and experiences as a jihad fighter, Al-Ghamidi tells how he obtained a false passport and traveled to Pakistan and from there to Afghanistan, where he joined the Taliban fighters. While training at the Al-Farouq camp, he met Osama bin Laden, who would visit the recruits, and who told them that a large-scale operation would soon be carried out in the U.S. Al-Ghamidi tells how pleased the mujahideen were when this promise was fulfilled and the 9/11 attack was carried out.
After completing his training, Al-Ghamidi was dispatched to Tora Bora, where he fought alongside bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri during the U.S. bombings. When the American bombings became too heavy, they received orders to retreat to Pakistan, where they were offered shelter by Pakistani tribesmen. However, the tribesmen betrayed them and turned them in to the Pakistani authorities, and Al-Ghamidi was apprehended and incarcerated in the U.S. base in Kandahar, from where he was transferred to Guantanamo.
Describing his time in Guantanamo, Al-Ghamidi claims that he and his fellow inmates were brutally tortured: the Americans exposed them to intense heat and cold in specially designed rooms, experimented on them with various drugs, and deliberately insulted their faith. However, he says, he did not break down, and five years later was released from Guantanamo, even though he did not conceal his intention to return to jihad activity. He was transferred to a prison in Saudi Arabia, where the authorities placed him in a rehabilitation program and tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade him to renounce his convictions. Eventually he was released from prison, though the Saudis kept him under surveillance. However, he managed to evade security personnel and cross into Yemen, where he rejoined the mujahideen. Following is the interview, as it appeared in Inspire.
“I WAS LIKE ANY OTHER YOUNG man running after making a living in a cheap world. I finished high school and then enlisted in the navy. I was in the navy for two years, oblivious to what was happening to my Islamic nation and caring for nothing but making ends meet. But I wasn’t happy. I was not feeling satisfied and an internal conflict within myself was brewing.
“That was until the day came when Allah guided me to the true path. I left my work and spent my time in the masjid [mosque]. I began searching for opportunities of doing good to make up for my shortcomings towards my Muslim ummah for all of those long years. But I didn’t find what I was doing was enough. The Muslim ummah needed more than just relief work and sponsoring orphans and widows. It needed to be saved from its enemies that were surrounding it. It needed those who would cure its deep wounds and I knew that could not be achieved except through jihad and preparation for it.
“That is when I decided to go to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the land of mujahidin under the leadership of the Taliban. There I could receive the training I needed. But I could not travel since the Saudi government does not allow its military personnel to travel outside of the country except after receiving a special permit and after long and complicated procedures. So I tried to get relieved from my military duty but there were some financial requirements that stood in the way. Therefore, I decided to find other means to get out of the country. I tried finding help in obtaining a fake passport but to no avail. I prayed to Allah to make things easy for me.
“That is when I found a brother who not only arranged to get me a fake passport but he also provided me with the money needed for my journey. The zero hour approached and I greeted my family without telling them my destination of travel. I traveled through a few local airports before embarking on my trip to Karachi, Pakistan after transiting at Bahrain and Doha. With the help of Allah, the mujahidin are able to get over the most difficult of obstacles. We should put our trust in Allah.
“After my arrival at Karachi airport, I took a taxi to a close-by hotel where I spent the night. The following day I called the coordinator to inform him of my arrival. Shortly after that, the hotel reception informed me of a man asking to see me. I carried my luggage and went out to meet the brother who came to pick me up in a taxi. The brother was Arab and after exchanging with him the agreed upon code words, I rode with him. I was impressed with the organization of the brothers, their transportation, communication network, their coordination, and they even provided new passports for us. They were like a state within the state. What was most impressive was their devotion to their work even though they were volunteers and were not receiving pay.
“During our ride to the guesthouse, the brother was taking every opportunity to welcome me. At the guesthouse I saw men from different nationalities and they were all welcoming me with smiles on their faces. All of these brothers came together for one purpose: to serve Islam, and each one of them had his own program and destination to head towards. I put my bags in one of the rooms and met the Amir of the guesthouse who offered me to call my family to let them know that I arrived safely.
“I spent the night at the guesthouse and the following day arrangements were made for my trip to Afghanistan so I boarded a plane from Karachi airport to Quetta airport on the border with Afghanistan. From there we took a taxi towards the capital of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, Qandahar. When we passed the Pakistani border, we prostrated to Allah to thank him for allowing us to reach Afghanistan. When we arrived at Qandahar, we were welcomed by brothers from the Taliban who used to repeat: ‘You are Arabs and we love you for the sake of Allah.’ We were then taken to the guesthouse for the new arrivals. We arrived there at sunset and I spent my night with the best of all men.
“The following day we were woken up by the arrival of a few vehicles carrying armed men with a van in between. When the vehicles stopped, all the armed men disembarked their vehicles and gathered around the van and opened its door. To our surprise, Shaykh Usama came out to visit us and welcomed us himself. He greeted us one-by-one and was inquiring about our news. He was especially eager to inquire about news from the Arabian Peninsula. The Shaykh left after instructing us to leave for the Faruq camp. We prepared our luggage and the following day we were taken to the factory where real men are fashioned: the al-Faruq camp.
“It took us a few hours to get to the camp and when we arrived the instructors greeted us with smiles on their faces. When I saw how we were welcomed and greeted at this camp, I compared it to the way we were received at the navy. We were received with ridicule and profane words and I remember one of the officers saying: ‘leave your good manners, honor and manhood at the outside gate and when you leave you may take them back if you want but you are not allowed to have any of that in here. What we expect from you in this place is blind obedience.’ After welcoming us, the instructors left except for one who introduced himself to us and told us that he is our instructor. He read to us some instructions and then took us around the camp and gave us a brief introduction to the training courses that were being offered. He left us to prepare ourselves for the start of our training the following day.
“Our training began and the hours and days passed with us going through a combination of military and religious training. From time to time Shaykh Usama would visit us to raise our spirits and encourage us. He would also tell us that some of our brothers were about to strike America on its soil and he would ask us to pray for them.
“After about a month, the Shaykh instructed us to be divided into groups. I was chosen among a group of 50 brothers to accompany the Shaykh. We left the camp in a bus and spent the night at a guesthouse. We were then taken to Kabul. After a few days we received the news of the assassination of Ahmad Shah Masood and we were very pleased to hear it. Then we headed towards Torgar, next to Jalalabad, in the East of Afghanistan. This is the same place w[h]ere Shaykh Usama gave his famous oath: ‘America will not live in peace and security until we live it in Palestine.’
“During the day of our arrival, we were listening to the news attentively since the Shaykh told us the operation would be soon ‘so keep your ears close to the radio.’ A few hours later the world was struck with the news of September 11th. We couldn’t believe it at first. We had humiliated America and struck it on its soil using its own planes as weapons. We damaged its economy and weakened its strength and we had them drink from the same cup they have been having our ummah drink from for years. Now we were equal, sending he clear message: We kill from you as you kill from us and as you strike terror in us we strike terror in you. That was a special day…
“On the 7th of October 2001, the Americans started their bombing campaign. They began with Kandahar followed by Kabul, Jalalabad and Tora Bora. The bombing was atrocious but the mercy of Allah was surrounding us and we fell into a deep sleep. The next day I asked some of the other brothers I met and they described going through the same experience.
“The bombing over Tora Bora was increasing. It was relentless. That was because of the rumors that Shaykh Usama and Dr. Ayman were present. They were with us and they were going through what we were going through.
“They refused to leave us except one day before our retreat and only after our insistence that they must evacuate the area. Bombs were falling like rain. But the mercy of Allah was also falling down on us like a rain that was much heavier and mightier than all the rockets and bombs that America could send. There was no fight on the ground except with the Afghan hypocrites during the final twelve days.
“We received our orders to retreat to Pakistan. We left Tora Bora and left behind us the memory of those eventful days. We also left behind 50 martyrs whom musk emanated from their bodies.
“After a march of three days where we would drink and eat snow and sleep over snow; where we would descend a mountain only to climb another, we reached to a tribe on the Pakistani border. The tribe welcomed us and hosted us in their homes but we didn’t know that we were in the wrong place. We trusted them and gave them our weapons in order to make our movements easy inside Pakistan. After one day, they gathered us into a masjid where we found three buses parked outside and the entire area surrounded by the Pakistani police and army. We realized that this tribe had entrapped us and that we had been sold off to the Pakistani government. We were around a hundred brothers. Some of us tried to run away from the masjid. I was one of those. There was another brother with me and then a short while later we were joined by a third. We asked a tribe member to help smuggle us to the [G]ulf, which he agreed to do, and he hosted us in his house. A fourth brother joined us so we divided into two groups of two.
“The first group reached safely but my companion and I fell into a checkpoint, got arrested and were beaten badly because we tried to resist. We were then taken to a nearby prison where we stayed for a day before we were transported to Kohat military prison. In Kohat, when we saw our other imprisoned mujahidin brothers, the imprisonment became easy on us. During this time the Pakistani government interrogated us and following that we were visited by the FBI who took our photographs and fingerprints. We stayed in this prison between two to three weeks.
Following that we were transported in large American cargo airplanes. The journey took a few hours before we landed in Qandahar where the Americans set up a temporary base. We were taken away to the base in a very brutal way.
“On the base, various forms of horrific methods of torture were used on the prisoners. The torture led to the deaths of some of the brothers. The Americans were also using a variety of means to insult our religion. The duration of our stay on the base varied. Some stayed for a few weeks and others for a few months. I chose to be straightforward with the investigators and I told them that I was in Afghanistan for the purpose of jihad and that I trained at al-Faruq camp. This led to my speedy transport to Guantanamo Bay prison. My stay on the base was for a total of two weeks.
“I was taken on board a cargo plane for a long journey. Scenes of this journey were shown on the media. In that journey we were not allowed to speak or move and we were prevented from seeing or hearing anything. The journey was for more than 24 hours. We were greeted at Guantanamo with swearing and beating as we were dragged to our cells.
“That is when the dirty American program began against us. They insulted our religion and we were subjected to physical and psychological forms of torture through sleep deprivation and exposure to hot and cold weather in special rooms. We were also used as guinea pigs for their experiments. For example, they would experiment certain drugs on us so that one would find one of us for days unable to sleep while his neighbor is sleeping endlessly for a few days. One of the brothers would joke and say: ‘It seems the Americans have taken us as spare parts for themselves.’ They would expose us to hunger and they would try to seduce some of us through women.
Nevertheless, with all this torture and temptation, Allah was protecting us. We would defend the Qur’an and take from them what we wanted by force. The Muslim is honorable if he takes jihad as his path.
“We were able to receive news of the mujahidin, even though thousands of kilometers stood between us and the lands of jihad. Sometimes we would know about something happening in the world without actually hearing the specific news about it. For example, we would know about a defeat of the Americans when the flags on the base would fly at halfstaff [sic]. Sometimes news would reach us about Afghanistan. During that time we heard a lot about Abu Layth al-Libi. We would also receive news about our brothers in the Arabian Peninsula and we were with them with our souls and prayers.
“One day the prison guards came in happy and they were dancing. When we asked them what was the reason of their joy, they said that the U.S. has invaded Iraq. One of them proudly said: ‘Yesterday we took Afghanistan, today we have taken Iraq, and tomorrow we will take Makkah.’ That is their plan and one of them said that that is what they were taught at church.
“However, their dreams were shattered by the real men of the ummah such as Abu Mus’ab al- Zarqawi. We used to threaten them and anger them with the name of al-Zarqawi to the extent that some of them would return to apologize to us for what they had done. There were some soldiers who committed suicide before being deployed to Iraq because of their fear of Abu Mus’ab and the mujahidin.
“The sacrifices of the mujahidin played a role in our release from Guantanamo. In fact they are the main reason behind our release, as one of our lawyers said: ‘The path of the legal system is a long one and it will not get you out of here any time soon, but the knife of Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi would.’ After spending five years at Guantanamo, I was told that I would be released. But my release was delayed for a month because I told them as soon as I am released I would join the mujahidin again. During this month, they killed three of the prisoners in the same section of the prison where I was located.
“With my imminent release after five years of captivity, feelings of sadness and happiness were overcoming me. Farewell was very difficult. My heart was tearing apart for having to depart from the brothers whom I spent the past five years with. We were transported in a large armored bus to the airport where a Saudi jet was waiting for us. There were 16 of us and we boarded the jet. It had 70 men onboard, the crew plus men from the intelligence service and police. We boarded the plane while giving a final glance at Guantanamo Bay, the place that Allah blessed us with raising on it the call to prayers and worshiping Him on its soil. The plane landed in Riyadh after transiting in Morocco for refueling.
“At our arrival in Riyadh…
To request a full copy of this MEMRI Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor report, send us an email with the report title, number, and date in the subject line, and include your name, title, organization, and official contact info in the body of the email.