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An Al-Qaeda Leader in Yemen Rashad Mohammed Saeed Ismael:
|“Osama bin Laden used to meet with everyone. He met intelligence agents, reporters, journalists, politicians whether Arab, Pakistani or foreigners. He was accessible to all people. ”|
Moneer Al-Omari( YEMEN POST STAFF )
Article Date: February 4, 2008
Following the September 11 attacks, Al-Qaeda Organization's name has come to every lip and mind, prompted by America starting what it calls 'war on terror' against the organization. Yemen Post reporter interviewed Al-Qaeda leader in Yemen Rashad Mohammed Saeed Ismael who tackled different issues relating to Al-Qaeda Organization and its involvement in attacks waged in different countries together with war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ismael is considered by most observers to be the first Al-Qaeda man in Yemen. His brother, Sadiq, was released from Guantanamo recently while two other relatives are still detained there. He was arrested by the Yemeni Political Security following the September 11 events and was released more than two years later. Below are the details:
YP: What is your stance on the recent attacks against Belgian tourists?
Rashad Ismael: Home is not a disputed issue and defending the country is necessitated by religion. We are against any attacks especially when this targeting does not affect the enemy and harms people's living. The incident seems to be an individual act.
YP: But Al-Qaeda is blamed for this incident?
RI: America has made Al-Qaeda a bugaboo through which it seeks to achieve its dubious interests and force its policies on states. It is a card to be played at wish. Most countries use this card to achieve some advantages whether material, political or economic.
YP: In your agenda, do you target Arab regimes?
RI: Al-Qaeda agenda does not include targeting Arab regimes and our battle is against America.
YP: Does targeting tourists have something to do with your agenda?
RI: Al-Qaeda does not have this in its programs and we do not believe in attacking innocent people whether tourists or others.
YP: But Al-Qaeda and through an internet footage declared responsibility for the attacks in Mareb and Hadramout?
RI: Targeting tourists is the result of security congestion together with dissatisfaction with the performance of Arab regimes and their hastening to please America. I am certain that it was not waged by Al-Qaeda as a movement but could of been implemented by people claiming to be Al-Qaeda affiliates.
YP: Still, some speculate that Abu Hamza Al-Qu'aiti, who escaped the Political Security prison with other 11 Al-Qaeda affiliates, had been involved in the operation?
RI: Abu Hamza Al-Qu'aiti has no links to Al-Qaeda and his existence in Afghanistan was made separately from the movement. When arresting youth who are not linked to Al-Qaeda or know its name, the security forces helped add new affiliates to Al-Qaeda. Hundreds of youth were detained for a year or two without any legal or moral cover and this generated revenge in their innerness.
YP: What about others and how did they come to know Al-Qu'aiti?
RI: Brothers Abu Baseer Nasser Al-Wihishi, Abu Hurirah Qasem Al-Rimi and Ghareeb Al-Taizi were formally Al-Qaeda affiliates and had a presence in the movement. The circumstances alone are responsible for making these people meet Al-Qu'aiti.
YP: Could Jamal Al-Badawi be involved in the incident?
RI: I have not met him since USS Cole incident and I have not come to know that he had a role in the Hadramout incident or Cole. America knows for sure that Hassan Al-Khamri and Ibrahim Al-Athawr were the ones who attacked Cole, and they were recruited by Ahmed Bilal who is now detained in US prisons.
YP: Let's turn to your travel to Afghanistan, how many times did you go there and when?
RI: I traveled to Afghanistan many times and my stay there was short-lived. The longest period I spent there was during my last visit in July 2000. I stayed there for over a year. I returned back home two weeks before September 11 events. I was there also in 1990, 1991, 1998 and 1999.
YP: What did you do there?
RI: I worked there as a religious guide and preacher.
YP: What is your relation to Al-Qaeda spiritual leader Osama bin Laden?
RI: Osama bin Laden is a religious person and he used to meet with everyone. He met intelligence agents, reporters, journalists, politicians whether Arabs, Pakistani or foreigners. He was accessible to all people.
YP: Some say you were very close to him; they even described you as his right hand man?
RI: Sheikh Osama likes people who have daily, political and religious culture. Further, I was the matchmaker for his wife Amal Al-Saddah who was one of my students and now lives with him.
YP: What is Al-Qaeda stance of demonstrations in southern provinces?
RI: Unity is a religious duty and we are for it; however, we are against some wrong practices committed under its name.
YP: Perhaps you are trying to please the Political Security because a statement published on the net opposes your previous saying and announces your stance with southern people?
RI: This is not for pleasing the Political Security because we believe that it is the responsibility of every citizen to defend it, and Islam commands us to do so. We are for unity together with correcting its course from human and political aspects. And there should be equal citizenship.
YP: In case things got worse and you were asked to involve yourselves in the events, what will be your stance?
RI: We have to agree on a certain mechanism first, before involving ourselves in such a matter. We will not accept to be cards played by some to achieve certain ends.
YP: Do you see any risk in the return of socialist leaders abroad?
RI: Yes, because they have a foreign agenda to accomplish in the country.
YP: Some say that your movement will assassinate them?
RI: No, because they pose no risk to us now, but they pose great risk to the country as some of them work for serving foreign interests including those of Britain.
YP: Are Al-Qaeda decisions taken at the centralized level?
RI: No, they are taken at a decentralized level, but there are red lines put by the central administration represented by our Islamic leaders Mullah Mohammed Omar and Sheikh Osama bin Laden.
YP: Is Osama bin Laden still alive?
RI: Yes he is. There are many material evidence proving the fact that he is still alive including his footages released from time to time.
YP: What makes Osama inaccessible to America though it managed to arrest late Saddam Hussain who was more powerful?
RI: You know that Jihadists are brought up to bear tough living circumstances and to sacrifice their lives seeking the reward in the hereafter. Further, when you are with Allah, He will never let you down. In Tora Bora Mountains, the guards made a camouflage and sacrificed their lives willingly to safeguards him and ensure his safety.
YP: What is the source of strength in Al-Qaeda?
RI: The movement drives much of its force from its deep-rooted principles.
YP: From where does Al-Qaeda's financial support come?
RI: Al-Qaeda has a complicated web that has no end or beginning.
YP: Will bin Laden's death affect the organization?
RI: Certainly not. Al-Qaeda is not represented by one person or two and Sheikh Osama's martyrdom will not be a setback for the movement and he, himself, considers it to be an honor and fuel for the future. In fact, it has come the day in which the organization has turned to be a movement whose followers are in millions. Several jihad organizations now joined Al-Qaeda and made a pledge of allegiance with Sheikh Osama including Jihadist groups in Libya and Algeria. In fact, the American war in Afghanistan and Iraq has helped add more members to the movement. Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi joined Al-Qaeda only after America attacked Iraq in 2003 and before that he was following a different path.
YP: Does the war in Iraq have a political reason or it is just war against Islam?
RI: The war is not political but rather ideological and lacks moral values. It is a crusade war targeting Islam as declared by American President George Bush, and not a Freudian slip as some claim. He repeated this in his speeches many times.
YP: What are the differences between your movement and Al-Zarqawi's group?
RI: Al-Zarqawi Group believes in targeting Arab regimes while this view is not adopted by Al-Qaeda. The same thing was applicable to the Egyptian Jihad Group led then by Dr. Ayman Al-Dhwahri.
YP: Has America so far been able to break up the movement?
RI: No, it has not. Its war on what it calls terrorism has yielded nothing. Taliban now seizes a large number of Afghani lands, and I guess Americans will leave Iraq over the next five years. Moreover, America did not manage to arrest any of the first line leaders or the second generation who now assume responsibility and leadership within the movement.
YP: Some observers speak of cleavage within Al-Qaeda movement?
RI: There is no such cleavage and even by those who abandoned the movement. Some people have just tried to escape from the security authority's eyes; while others are suffering psychological problems because of the torture they received in the American prisons and others.
YP: Does Al-Qaeda have a strong presence in Somalia?
RI: Al-Qaeda used to have a strong presence in Somalia before and during 1993 and it managed in collaboration with General Mohammed Farah Aideed to kill dozens of American soldiers and to drive them out of Somalia.
YP: Was your movement involved in assassinating former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto?
RI: This could be right, but Bhutto’s enemies were many. Anyway, here death was a national victory because she returned back to Pakistan with a foreign agenda and everyone know she was against the interest of Pakistani people. She was against religious schools and had a passive stance of Pakistan's nuclear weapons. Prior to her death, she announced that she will, in cooperation with the Afghani president, wage war on Waziristan region whose people are supporters of Al-Qaeda.
YP: Is your movement still capable of making attacks inside America as it did in 2001?
RI: This is up to Al-Qaeda and all possibilities are open. However, it is of no benefit to do so now, because we have already managed to bring Americans outside their lands. The 2001 attacks were provocative and aimed to drive American forces to lands where we can fight them in and they did. Thus, the attacks were a great success.
YP: Can we say that the organization's work in Yemen is disorganized?
RI: There is no Al-Qaeda Organization in Yemen in the real sense. I have learnt that the escapees from Yemeni prisons formed a group and nominated a leader and a spokesman. Still, the guidelines are known by all, and targeting tourists does not serve the movement's goals. The central administration does not support these individual acts as well.
YP: Who can contain them?
RI: Opening a channel for those people to fight in Iraq or Somalia could solve the issue. I would like to emphasize that the matter is not that of 'containing' because these people are our brothers and not enemies.
YP: In case you were requested to do so by President Saleh, what will your position be?
RI: It is our duty to defend our country and prevent any act that does harm to Yemeni people and their living.
YP: Is Yemen's unity in danger?
RI: I do not think so. Now, southern provinces have no army, weapons etc. and demographically people have mixed together and a large number of northerners dwell in southern provinces and the opposite holds true. Still, some people aim to achieve political wins and play certain roles under the current circumstances.
YP: Does your movement still believe in attacking American facilities and people?
RI: Americans, as individuals, are not targets by our attacks, and we target the American economy, which is the source of their strength.
YP: But you did attack innocent people in the 2001 attacks in New York and Washington?
RI: Every war will necessarily affect some innocent people. We targeted the New York-based World Trade Center not people and we apologize for the families of innocent victims.
YP: What about European Metro attacks?
RI: The same applies to Britain's Metro attacks as our plan was to target Europe's economy.
YP: Have U.S authorities tried to trap you as is the case with Sheikh Al-Moyyad?
RI: This happened once and a tourism and travel agency based in Sana'a offered me a paid tourist visit with my family to Cyprus. I went to the agency and tendered documents and discovered that most workers were Lebanese. When I did not respond, they told me they have extended the period and I can anytime make my trip. I understood then it was a trick to trap me.
YP: How do you see Islah's future following the passing of its leader Shiekh Abdullah Al-Ahmar?
RI: Sheikh Al-Ahmar's death is a great loss. He was a man with firm principles. His loss will surely affect Islah Party as he represents the tribal wing in it. His passing probably will cause the Muslim Brothers' wing to dominate the whole scene.
YP: Was he a supporter of Al-Qaeda?
RI: Sheikh Al-Ahmar liked Jihadists and he also supported Jihad in Afghanistan against Soviet occupation. He opposed the American policies in Yemen and Arab countries and this meets with our goals.
YP: What is the defect of Islah Party?
RI: Islah adopts politics which are changeable and has no stability. It joined the socialist party after it went to war against them in the past. The party has relations with the west.
YP: Let's turn to your issue, when were you arrested?
RI: I was arrested following the September 11 events in America by the Political Security- Ibb branch. At the start, they told us it was a temporary detention. However, it was extended to about three years. I was arrested on September 2001 for inquiry; however, the enquiry lasted until the end of 2004.
YP: What kind of treatment did you face in the prison?
RI: We were kept twenty four hours in solitary confinements. We were just allowed ten minutes every day for a bath, and even these ten minutes were not free from disturbance.
YP: What kind of disturbance?
RI: They guards kept on shouting and knocking violently at bathroom doors.
YP: Why are you and others wanted by security authorities?
RI: The fact is that we are wanted by the United States, and not by the security authorities.
YP: Some say that you are conniving with security because you were released while others are still in prisons?
RI: I was among the first batch that was captured by the political security, and all of them have been released. If I were so, they would not have detained me for over two years, but the fact is that they could not establish my involvement in any terrorist act. I told them then that I am ready to stand trial before any just court because I know that I did not commit anything criminalized under Yemeni or international laws.
YP: What are your demands now?
RI: We demand compensation and an apology for what harm they caused to us. Many Al-Qaeda affiliates find it difficult to integrate themselves into society.
YP: What difficulties?
RI: They cannot find proper jobs in both private and public sectors as people reject to appoint people affiliated with Al-Qaeda because of fear. Still, you cannot make your privileges at government institutions. People fear the hunting of political security and thus they will not rent you a house, and in case you are renting a house they might raise renting fees in order to drive you out.
YP: But you have no difficulties?
RI: This is because I have been maintaining good relations with people for a long time. I have a strong presence and I work as scholar, preacher and guide. I as well help solve family issues.
YP: Don't you think of avenging yourself for what you see as unfair treatment and detention at prison?
RI: I myself don't believe in the revenge culture because it lacks in values.
YP: Don't you fear new detention?
RI: I don't care too much about detention or imprisonment.
YP: And your family?
RI: If I give too much consideration for my family, I will not do anything. Everything lies in Allah's hand.
YP: Regarding the treatment in Guantanamo, how were Al-Qaeda affiliates treated there?
RI: They were inhumanly treated and they have been subjected to numerous religious and moral violations including throwing the Noble Quran in bathrooms, stepping over it, stripping prisoners of their cloths, laying them one over the other, and even sexual harassment. Some youth passed away and others went mad because of ill-treatment.
YP: Do you think of establishing a society or foundation in the name of detainees and those released from Guantanamo and other prisons for suiting Yemeni and American governments against human rights violations they were exposed to?
RI: I have this idea in my mind, but it could not be materialized due to financial reasons.
YP: Does this mean that you are looking for finance?
RI: Yes. But we want this finance to come from unknown person in order to escape the hunting of security. We need a website and equipments that facilitate our communication with the outside world.
YP: What will be the task of this association?
RI: It will seek to care for the rights of youth released from American or Yemeni prisons, along with demanding compensations. Further, we will ask for releasing those who are still detained. The association will also seek to trial the American government and demand an apology by them for the crimes they committed
YP: In your viewpoint, what is the solution?
RI: There is no solution save America’s evacuation from Islamic lands, giving the support to suppressive Arab leaders and an apology to all Arab and Muslim people.
YP: Have you something else to say?
RI: I would like to note that all youth wrongfully arrested everywhere are innocent of crimes imputed to them by America. More attention should be given to them as they are the wealth of nations under the different circumstances. I also call on Arab leaders to reconcile with their people and to obtain their legitimacy from them rather than America. Acting so will ensure permanence and stability. Thank you.