The Blog

WikiLeaks: The ‘Opportunity to Martyr Himself’

10:23 AM, Apr 29, 2011 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Predicting which Guantanamo detainees will, or will not, become a recidivist is a tricky business. The U.S. government – under both the Bush and Obama administrations – has transferred “high risk” detainees to third countries. In some cases, “high risk” detainees who have been transferred have not, to our knowledge, rejoined the jihad. 

In other cases, Guantanamo’s analysts have been eerily prescient. Consider the newly leaked case file on Yousef al Shihri. The July 21, 2006 assessment reads (emphasis added):   

Detainee is assessed to be a member of al-Qaida. Detainee was a member of Usama Bin Laden’s (UBL) former 55th Arab Brigade who participated in armed hostilities against US and coalition forces. Detainee admits traveling to Afghanistan (AF) to fight jihad and residing in two al-Qaida affiliated guesthouses. Detainee’s brother was a major al-Qaida spokesman who facilitated the movement of jihadists to Afghanistan via Iran. Given the opportunity to martyr himself, detainee would do so without hesitation, probably involving the killing of US personnel and/or allied forces.

Despite this warning, Yousef al Shihri was transferred to his native Saudi Arabia on November 9, 2007. Less than two years later, in October 2009, he was killed in a shootout with Saudi security forces. He was dressed as a woman at the time, with a suicide explosive belt concealed under his garb. According to the Saudis, he intended to kill Prince Muhammad Bin Naif Bin Abdul Aziz, who oversees the kingdom’s counterterrorism efforts, in a suicide attack.

That was the “opportunity to martyr himself” that Yousef al Shihri wanted but never got.

In the same file, Guantanamo’s personnel recommended that Yousef al Shihri remain in the Department of Defense’s custody. They also added this note: “If a satisfactory agreement can be reached t hat ensures continued detention and allows access to detainee and/or to exploited

Intelligence, detainee can be Transferred Out of DoD Control (TRO).”

Al Shihri was transferred out of DoD control to the custody of the Saudis. The Bush administration trusted the Saudis to take in about 120 of their citizens who were held at Guantanamo. The kingdom’s jihadist rehabilitation program has proven to be a lot less effective than the Saudis claimed. The House of Saud has conceded that 25 percent of former Gitmo detainees entered into the program have rejoined the jihad. The real number, according to U.S. intelligence sources, is much higher – currently in the 30 to 40 percent range.

Returning to the paragraph cited above, there are a few other observations worth making.

Osama bin Laden’s 55th Arab Brigade was al Qaeda’s elite fighting force in pre-9/11 Afghanistan. Abdul Hadi al Iraqi, a top bin Laden lieutenant, commanded the 55th. Its members, including Yousef al Shihri, fought alongside the Taliban against the Northern Alliance. After 9/11, they fought together against the American-led coalition. Yousef al Shihri’s file contains references to the integration between the Taliban and al Qaeda in this regard.

Then there is the mention of Yousef al Shihri’s “brother” – Said al Shihri. Press reporting in more recent years indicates that Yousef and Said were really brothers-in-law, and not brothers. Regardless, the two were reportedly close.

Said al Shihri was also transferred to Saudi Arabia on the same plane as Yousef on November 9. 2007. Said al Shihri is now al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s #2 or deputy leader.

Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.  

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 15 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers