The State Department Thursday added a freed Guantánamo detainee to its list of government-sanctioned terrorists, saying the Saudi Arabian soldier is now a fundraiser for the Yemeni offshoot Al Qaida of the Arabian Peninsula.
The Obama administration has been deeply concerned that turmoil in Yemen stirred by anti-government protests has created a vacuum that could strengthen the influence of the al Qaida franchise there. The United States blames AQAP for training the so-called “Underwear Bomber,” now in federal custody after failing to blow up an Amsterdam-Detroit plane on Christmas Day 2009.
Othman Ahmed al Ghamdi, 37 or 38, was among the earliest captives brought to Guantánamo from Afghanistan in the prison camp’s first week. He arrived on Jan. 14, 2002. More than three years later, a secret U.S. military intelligence assessment declared him a medium risk to the United States and its allies, and of low intelligence value.
A State Department announcement Thursday said that, in addition to his fundraising activities, he had “worked with other AQAP members to plan and stockpile weapons for future attacks.”
In May 2010, the statement said, he appeared in a video that publicly identified him as the Yemeni terror group’s “operational commander.”
The assessment, released by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks to McClatchy News Service, described Ghamdi as an al Qaida trained jihadist who went AWOL from the Saudi military and at Guantánamo openly professed a hatred of America and its presence in the Arabian peninsula.
Were Ghamdi given a choice, according to the report signed by Army Brig Gen Jay Hood, the Saudi preferred detention by U.S. forces over repatriation for fear of “severe punishment” for having fled the Saudi military.
He was returned to Saudi a year later. It is not known how or when he escaped to Yemen.
The State Department issued the designation on the same day an Al Qaeda website announced the ascension of Egyptian Ayman al Zawahri, 49, to the leadership of the overarching terror group founded by Osama bin Laden, a Saudi whose family was from Yemen. The al Qaida announcement included a mention of the prisoners at Guantánamo and other U.S. detention centers, calling them “the lions in the chains who have to be patient ... [who have] sacrificed and suffered for the cause of supporting Islam and the Muslims.”
Ghamdi is the seventh alleged member of the al Qaida offshoot in Yemen, and the second from Guantánamo, to make the State Department terrorist list.
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