Said al-Shihri

Saudi citizen Said al-Shihri was a former Guantanamo detainee who later returned to terrorism to co-found and help lead al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).“The Guantanamo Docket: Said Ali al-Shihri: JTF-GTMO Assessment,” New York Times, accessed February 23, 2016, projects.nytimes.com/guantanamo/detainees/372-said-ali-al-shihri/documents/11.

Shihri was a long-time member of al-Qaeda. Prior to the 9/11 attacks, he served as a facilitator for the group, helping Saudis travel to Afghanistan via Iran.“The Guantanamo Docket: Said Ali al-Shihri: Unclassified Summary of Evidence for Administrative Review Board in the Case of al-Shihri, Sa Id Ali Jabir Al Khathim,” New York Times, accessed February 23, 2016, projects.nytimes.com/guantanamo/detainees/372-said-ali-al-shihri/documents/3/pages/538#6;
“The Guantanamo Docket: Said Ali al-Shihri: JTF-GTMO Assessment,” New York Times, accessed February 23, 2016, projects.nytimes.com/guantanamo/detainees/372-said-ali-al-shihri/documents/11.
After he was injured in a U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan in November 2001, Shihri was transferred to U.S. custody and later sent to the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo. Shihri was repatriated to Saudi Arabia in November 2007 and enrolled in the country’s de-radicalization program, Care. He then escaped to Yemen and co-founded AQAP. A U.S. drone strike targeted and killed Shihri in 2013.Bill Roggio, “AQAP confirms deputy emir killed in US drone strike,” Long War Journal, July 17, 2013, www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2013/07/aqap_confirms_deputy.php.

Prior to his engagement in terror, Shihri had owned an antique and furniture store in Riyadh and was a member of the Mabahith, the Saudi Internal Security Force. In 1998, Shihri left the Mabahith as a First Lieutenant. Between 1998 and 2000, he began working as a facilitator for al-Qaeda and was associated with al-Wafa, a humanitarian organization.“The Guantanamo Docket: Said Ali al-Shihri: Unclassified Summary of Evidence for Administrative Review Board in the Case of al-Shihri, Sa Id Ali Jabir Al Khathim,” New York Times, accessed February 23, 2016, projects.nytimes.com/guantanamo/detainees/372-said-ali-al-shihri/documents/3/pages/538#6;
“The Guantanamo Docket: Said Ali al-Shihri: JTF-GTMO Assessment,” New York Times, accessed February 23, 2016, projects.nytimes.com/guantanamo/detainees/372-said-ali-al-shihri/documents/11.

The U.S. government asserts that Shihri helped facilitate the travel of Saudi extremists to Afghanistan, providing them with false passports and travel documents in order to travel via Iran to Afghanistan. The Mabahith alleges that Shihri associated with known members of al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia and, in 2000, traveled to Afghanistan for a period of two months.“The Guantanamo Docket: Said Ali al-Shihri: JTF-GTMO Assessment,” New York Times, accessed February 23, 2016, projects.nytimes.com/guantanamo/detainees/372-said-ali-al-shihri/documents/11.

Following the 9/11 attacks, Shihri met with a number of extremists in Mashad, Iran, and advised them on entering Afghanistan. In November 2001, Shihri arrived in Lahore, Pakistan, from Saudi Arabia.“The Guantanamo Docket: Said Ali al-Shihri: JTF-GTMO Assessment,” New York Times, accessed February 23, 2016, projects.nytimes.com/guantanamo/detainees/372-said-ali-al-shihri/documents/11. Later that month, Shihri traveled across the border from Pakistan to Spin Boldak, Afghanistan, to assess the needs of a refugee camp there, according to Shihri’s own account. While in Afghanistan, Shihri was injured in a U.S. airstrike, and was then transferred through a series of hospitals for roughly six weeks.“The Guantanamo Docket: Said Ali al-Shihri: JTF-GTMO Assessment,” New York Times, accessed February 23, 2016, projects.nytimes.com/guantanamo/detainees/372-said-ali-al-shihri/documents/11.

Shihri asserts that he was not a militant, but was motivated by the suffering of Afghan refugees and sought to provide aid and assistance to their cause. This story closely mirrors that of a number of Guantanamo detainees, and is believed to be a story that detainees developed together.“The Guantanamo Docket: Said Ali al-Shihri: JTF-GTMO Assessment,” New York Times, accessed February 23, 2016, projects.nytimes.com/guantanamo/detainees/372-said-ali-al-shihri/documents/11. One of Shihri’s aliases was found on an application for a military training camp in Afghanistan, and further evidence alleges that he trained in urban warfare at the “Libyan Camp” north of Kabul.“The Guantanamo Docket: Said Ali al-Shihri: Unclassified Summary of Evidence for Administrative Review Board in the Case of al-Shihri, Sa Id Ali Jabir Al Khathim,” New York Times, accessed February 23, 2016, projects.nytimes.com/guantanamo/detainees/372-said-ali-al-shihri/documents/3/pages/538#6.

Shihri was transferred to Guantanamo in January 2002. Later that year, the Mabahith gave U.S. authorities a list of 37 “high priority” Guantanamo detainees and Shihri was listed 14th. While in detention, the Department of Defense’s Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF) assessed Shihri to be of a high intelligence value and a high threat to U.S. interests if released. Additionally, the JTF assessed Shihri to be of a medium risk from a detention perspective as he was seen as a possible “negative leader.”“The Guantanamo Docket: Said Ali al-Shihri: JTF-GTMO Assessment,” New York Times, accessed February 23, 2016, projects.nytimes.com/guantanamo/detainees/372-said-ali-al-shihri/documents/11. In April 2007, the JTF again recommended that Shihri continue to be detained under Department of Defense control, but in November 2007 Shihri was transferred to Saudi Arabia.“The Guantanamo Docket: Said Ali al-Shihri: JTF-GTMO Assessment,” New York Times, accessed February 23, 2016, projects.nytimes.com/guantanamo/detainees/372-said-ali-al-shihri/documents/11.

Following Shihri’s repatriation, the Saudi government enrolled Shihri in Care. After completing the program, according to Saudi security officials, Shihri “disappeared from his home” and fled to Yemen, likely in March 2008.Robert F. Worth, “Freed by the U.S., Saudi Becomes a Qaeda Chief,” New York Times, January 22, 2009, www.nytimes.com/2009/01/23/world/middleeast/23yemen.html?_r=3&hp. In September 2008, Shihri had a “direct role” in a multifaceted al-Qaeda attack on the U.S. embassy in Sana’a, Yemen, killing ten.Thomas Joscelyn, “Return to Jihad,” Long War Journal, January 25, 2009, www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2009/01/return_to_jihad.php.

In January 2009, Shihri appeared in a video alongside fellow former Guantanamo detainee Mohammed al-Awfi announcing the formation of AQAP as a merger of al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia and al-Qaeda in Yemen. Shihri was named the deputy leader of the group and came to play a major role in coordinating external al-Qaeda plots.Gregory D. Johnsen, “A PROFILE OF AQAP’S UPPER ECHELON,” CTC Sentinel, July 24, 2012, https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/a-profile-of-aqaps-upper-echelon. One month after the group’s creation, Shihri was included in the Saudi Interior Ministry’s list of 85 wanted terrorists.Robert F. Worth, “Saudis Issue List of 85 Terrorism Suspects,” New York Times, Febuary 3, 2009, www.nytimes.com/2009/02/04/world/middleeast/04saudi.html?ref=world&_r=0.

In April 2009, Shihri appeared in an AQAP audiotape promising the opening of a new “major front” in the Arabian Peninsula, and calling on al-Shabab and Somali pirates to attack regional shipping and Western entities in Djibouti and Somalia.Khaled Wassef, “Al Qaeda Urges Somalis To Attack Ships,” CBS News, April 16, 2009, www.cbsnews.com/news/al-qaeda-urges-somalis-to-attack-ships/. Western security forces suspected Shihri in the kidnapping of nine foreigners in Yemen and the execution of three in June 2009.Jana Winter, “Slaughter of Foreigners in Yemen Bears Mark of Former Gitmo Detainee, Say Experts,” Fox News, June 20, 2009, www.foxnews.com/story/2009/06/20/slaughter-foreigners-in-yemen-bears-mark-former-gitmo-detainee-say-experts.html?mrp. In September 2009, Shihri appeared in a video calling for donations to AQAP from wealthy Saudis.Gregory D. Johnsen, “A PROFILE OF AQAP’S UPPER ECHELON,” CTC Sentinel, July 24, 2012, https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/a-profile-of-aqaps-upper-echelon. In January 2010, the U.S. Department of State designated Shihri as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, pursuant to Executive order 13224.“Individuals and Entities Designated by the State Department Under E.O. 13224,” U.S. Department of State, accessed February 25, 2016, http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/des/143210.htm.

On July 16, 2013, AQAP released a video confirming the Yemeni government’s claim that Shihri had died in a U.S. drone strike. The strike likely took place in November or December 2012. It is unclear when exactly Shihri died since, according to AQAP who confirmed the death months later, Shihri reportedly succumbed to wounds suffered after the strike. Shihri had been rumored or reported to have been killed or captured on four different occasions.Bill Roggio, “AQAP confirms deputy emir killed in US drone strike,” Long War Journal, July 17, 2013, www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2013/07/aqap_confirms_deputy.php.

 
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