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Obama Wrong On Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's "Rationale"

11:12 AM, Jan 6, 2010 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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With respect to closing the Guantanamo detention facility, President Obama said the following on Tuesday:

"Make no mistake, we will close Guantanamo prison, which has damaged our national security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for al Qaeda. In fact, that was an explicit rationale for the formation of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula."

The president did not say which statement, in particular, he had in mind. But the “explicit rationale” he references must come from al Qaeda’s own propaganda.

Early in 2009, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) released a video entitled “From Here We Begin…and at al Aqsa We Meet.” The video was produced to commemorate the merger of al Qaeda’s Saudi and Yemeni wings into a consolidated and more powerful branch. AQAP certainly existed prior to 2009 in various forms, but the organization has had its ranks cleaned out repeatedly -- mainly by Saudi security forces. The video was intended to let everyone know that AQAP was back with a vengeance. And the video clearly put forth AQAP’s rationale for its reconstitution or, using in president’s phrasing, “formation.”

Did AQAP explicitly give Guantanamo as the reason for its rebirth? Judge for yourself: Part 1 of the video can be viewed here and part 2 here. You can also read a good translation of most the video’s contents (excluding the narrator’s beginning) at the indispensable NEFA Foundation’s web site.  

Guantanamo is certainly mentioned in the tape. How could it not be? Two of the four founding members of the reconstituted AQAP are former Gitmo detainees. Said al Shihri, who was held at Gitmo until 2007, remains the #2 deputy. Mohammed al Awfi (also known as Mohammed al Harbi) is a former Gitmo detainee who was featured in the video too. But al Awfi has since been taken back into Saudi custody under strange circumstances. Both of these recidivists are graduates of Saudi Arabia’s rehabilitation program.

The problem with the president’s argument is that Guantanamo was not given as a rationale for AQAP’s rebirth or “formation.” Instead, AQAP’s “rationale” was al Qaeda’s stock-in-trade Zionist-Crusader conspiracy theory, in which Muslim lands need to be defended against the infidels. As the title of the video indicates, the group’s ultimate goal is to conquer Jerusalem and take control of the al Aqsa mosque.

In this vein, the video begins with a somewhat typical al Qaeda formulation: “In this fierce Christian Crusade being waged against the Islamic Ummah, with the clear and shameful participation of the agent rulers of the region, Allah made a way out for your brothers from the Mujahideen from the prisons of the Crusaders, Guantanamo, and the prisons of the tyrants.”

Yes, Guantanamo is mentioned right at the beginning, along with what appears to be a deceptive reenactment of a detainee in an orange jumpsuit at Camp X-Ray. As I’ve written previously, this image is a favorite of Gitmo’s many critics, even though it has not been an accurate portrayal since the first four months of Gitmo’s existence in 2002. The far left and the jihadists both love this image though. It makes it seem as if the detainees are blameless innocents who are routinely traumatized by the big, bad American military. AQAP’s video is powerful reminder that this isn’t true, as former detainees such as Said al Shihri and Mohammed al Awfi were always dangerous.  

However, Gitmo is only mentioned in the context of announcing al Shihri’s and al Awfi’s miraculous return to jihad. Their recidivism was placed in the context of the “Christian Crusade” - the real rationale given for AQAP’s terror.

Not much later in the tape, AQAP’s leaders quickly expand this to the theme of a Zionist-Crusader alliance against the Muslim world. This has been one of al Qaeda’s imaginary grievances for well more than a decade now. It is this invented conspiracy (a direct descendent of the “Protocols of the Zionist Elders” hoax) that dominates AQAP’s messaging, just as it has dominated al Qaeda Central’s messaging.

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