Tracking Yemen’s 23 Escaped Jihadi Operatives – Part 2
Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 19
In mid-September, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh issued a stern warning to the Wa’ilah tribe in northern Yemen: turn over the six al-Qaeda suspects you are sheltering or face serious repercussions (al-Wasat, September 12). The six men that Saleh believes have found refuge with the tribe near the Saudi border are the remnants of a group of 23 prisoners that escaped from a Yemeni political security prison on February 3, 2006. The prisoners escaped by tunneling out of their cell and into a neighboring mosque, which has since been detailed in a lengthy narrative written by one of the escapees and published by the Yemeni paper al-Ghad. The escapees included a number of prominent al-Qaeda militants, among whom were individuals convicted of carrying out attacks on the USS Cole in 2000 and on the French oil tanker Limburg in 2002.
Six of these suspects have since been killed in clashes with Yemeni or U.S. forces, 11 have either turned themselves back in to authorities or have been recaptured and six of the suspects remain at large. Many of these individuals have continued to fight for al-Qaeda since their escape, and one of them, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, has since been named the new head of Al-Qaeda in Yemen.
Despite differences of age and background, the 23 men who were being held in the cell were linked together through shared experiences. Nearly half of the escapees, 11, were born in Saudi Arabia to Yemeni parents. Several of the men were arrested in late 2002 after a series of bombings in Sanaa and Marib. Seven of these men were part of a 15-man cell that was later charged with planning to attack five foreign embassies as well as to assassinate the then U.S. Ambassador Edmund Hull. Three of the men were convicted of being part of an 11-man cell that was charged with plotting to carry out attacks in Yemen and abroad. Among the escapees, there are also two sets of brothers, Hizam and Arif Mujali and Mansur and Zakariya al-Bayhani, who are themselves brothers of Ghalib and Tawfiq al-Bayhani, who are currently in U.S. custody in Guantanamo Bay. Two other escapees, Qasim al-Raymi and Fawaz al-Rabay’I, also have brothers in Guantanamo.
The first part of this series offered a biographical sketch of each escapee who is now deceased (Terrorism Monitor, September 27). This second part of the two-part series presents a biographical sketch of each escapee who is still at large or has surrendered.
Qasim Yahya Mahdi al-Raymi (b. 1977): Al-Raymi is from Sanaa, and was also known by the kunya Abu Hurayrah al-San’ani. His younger brother, Faris, who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, was killed in mysterious circumstances in Sanaa in June 2007 after leaving his house in the company of Zakariya al-Yafa’i, another escapee. Another brother, Ali, is listed as being in U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay. Al-Raymi was arrested in connection with a series of explosions in the al-Qadasayah district of Sanaa in 2002. He was charged with being part of the cell that was planning to attack five embassies in Sanaa. During his trial in 2004, al-Raymi threatened to cut off the leg of Said al-Akil, the public prosecutor. Al-Akil’s house was subsequently attacked with a hand grenade later that week. Al-Raymi was sentenced to five years in prison on August 30, 2004, which was later upheld by a superior court in February 2005.
Following his escape, al-Raymi was sheltered for a while by Yahya Muhammad al-Shara’i, who has since been apprehended and is currently awaiting sentencing (22nd May, April 29). On June 21, 2007, al-Raymi posted an audio statement to an Islamist website announcing that fellow escapee Nasir al-Wuhayshi was the new head of Al-Qaeda in Yemen. On August 2, Yemeni authorities announced that al-Raymi was part of the 10-man cell that was responsible for the July 2 suicide bombing in Marib, which killed eight Spanish tourists and two Yemeni drivers (Terrorism Focus, August 14). That same week, on August 5, al-Raymi posted another audio message to an Islamist forum, once again warning his colleagues in al-Qaeda against negotiating with the government (al-Sharq al-Awsat, August 6). Three days later, al-Raymi was rumored to be killed in an early morning raid on his hideout in the al-Suhaym region in the governorate of Marib. That report proved to be premature, as al-Raymi had left the hideout the night before the attack. Instead, later reports revealed that Ali bin Ali Jaradan, Abd al-Aziz Jaradan and Ali Nasir Duha were killed in the raid (al-Arabiya, August 8). All three were linked to the July 2 suicide attack in Marib. The trio was also wanted for their involvement in the assassination of Ali Mahmud Qasaylah, the chief criminal investigator in Marib, in March 2007 (Terrorism Focus, May 22).
Ibrahim Muhammad Abd al-Jabar Huwaydi (b. 1982): Huwaydi is from the Red Sea port city of Hudaydah. He was arrested in the wake of the 2002 bombings in the neighborhood of al-Qadasayah in Sanaa. He was charged with planning to attack foreign embassies as well as plotting to assassinate Edmund Hull, the U.S. ambassador in Yemen. He was sentenced to five years in prison in February 2005. During his trial, Huwaydi claimed that he attempted suicide on two different occasions as a result of torture (Yemen Times, December 27, 2004-January 2, 2005). Along with Muhammad al-‘Umda, ‘Umar Jarallah and Shafiq Zayd, Huwaydi was hidden for a month by Muhammad Hajir, who has since been captured and is currently awaiting sentencing (22nd May, April 29). Hajir claimed in his confession that he was worried that the men would kill him if he did not hide them. Huwaydi has yet to be recaptured.
Muhammad Sa’d Ali Hasan al-‘Umda (b. 1981): Al-‘Umda is from the Yemeni city of Taiz and is known by the kunya Abu Ghrayb al-Taizi. He was charged with being involved in the 2002 attack on the Limburg, and in February 2005 was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Al-‘Umda, as was mentioned above, was sheltered for one month by Muhammad Hajir (22 May, April 29). Al-‘Umda is still at large.
Jamal Muhammad Ahmad Ali al-Badawi (b. 1966): Al-Badawi is originally from the southern port city of Aden, and is also known by the kunya Abu Abd al-Rahman. He is charged with being involved in both the attack on the USS Cole and the one on the Limburg. Prior to his escape in February 2006, al-Badawi also escaped, along with nine others, from a political security prison in Aden on April 11, 2003. He was sentenced to death by Najib Muhammad al-Qadari in 2004, although this was later reduced to a sentence of 15 years by Said Naji al-Qata’ in February 2005 (News Yemen, May 12). He is wanted by the United States and is still at large.
Nasir Abd al-Karim Abdullah al-Wuhayshi (b. 1976): Al-Wuhayshi, who is also known by the kunya Abu Basir, is from the southern governorate of al-Baydha. During the late 1990s he worked as a secretary to Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan (al-Ghad, June 25). Following the U.S. attack on the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in late 2001, he escaped across the border to Iran where he was arrested. Iran later extradited al-Wuhayshi and eight others back to Yemen in November 2003 (Yemen Times, November 2003). The Yemeni government never officially brought charges against him, although he remained in prison until he escaped in February 2006. In June 2007, he was named the new head of Al-Qaeda in Yemen in an audiotape that was posted to an Islamist website. He is still at large. On August 2, Yemen announced that he was part of the 10-man Marib cell, which was responsible for the attack that killed eight Spanish tourists and two Yemeni drivers (26th of September, August 2).
Hamza Salim Amar al-Qayti (b. 1969): Al-Qayti was born in Saudi Arabia to a family from Mukalla in the eastern Yemeni governorate of Hadramawt. He is also known by the kunya Abu Samir. He was extradited to Yemen from Saudi Arabia in 2003. Al-Qayti was never officially charged with any crime, although he remained in prison until he escaped in February 2006. In March 2007, al-Wasat reported that al-Qayti was injured during a car chase after the Land Cruiser he was riding in with seven others in the southern governorate of Abyan refused a request to be searched at a military checkpoint (al-Wasat, March 21). Officials later found weapons and anti-aircraft missiles in the vehicle. On August 2, Yemen announced that he was part of the 10-man Marib cell (26th of September, August 2)
Fawzi Muhammad Abd al-Qawi al-Wajayhi (b. 1982): Al-Wajayhi was born in Saudi Arabia to Yemeni parents. His family is from the same neighborhood in Taiz as is Muhammad al-‘Umda’s family. Both men took kunyas that reflect this link, Abu Musab al-Taizi and Abu Ghrayb al-Taizi, respectively. Al-Wajayhi spent time in Afghanistan during the 1990s as a bodyguard to Osama bin Laden (Washington Post, July 4). When he returned to Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the U.S. attacks on the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, he was arrested and extradited to Yemen along with two other men. He was charged with involvement in the Limburg attack, and was part of the 15-man cell that was sentenced on August 30, 2004. Al-Wajayhi was given 10 years for his role in the attack. Following his escape, he turned himself back in to Yemeni authorities as part of a security arrangement, which allowed him to remain under loose house arrest in exchange for his not taking part in any illegal activities. In Yemen, this process is usually sealed by a security guarantee, which often involves both the money and reputation of the mediator.
Abdullah Yahya Salih al-Wada’i (b. 1978): Al-Wada’i was born in Saudi Arabia to Yemeni parents from Sanaa. He is also known by the kunya Marwan al-Hashidi. Al-Wada’i was arrested in Saudi Arabia upon his return from Afghanistan, and later extradited to Yemen along with five others, including Mansur al-Bayhani and Ibrahim al-Muqri. He was part of the 11-man cell that was brought up on charges in February 2005 of belonging to an armed gang intent on carrying out criminal attacks in Yemen and abroad, as well as of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq and possessing forged travel documents. Al-Wada’i was eventually cleared by the court of all charges save forging passports, but was never released from prison. Following his escape, he turned himself back into authorities and is currently free on a security guarantee.
Khalid Muhammad Abdullah al-Batati (b. 1982): Al-Batati was born in Saudi Arabia and is also known by the kunya Abu Sulayman. His family is from Sanaa. He was extradited to Yemen from Saudi Arabia. In early 2005, he was accused of being part of an eight-man cell formed by Anwar Jaylani, an Iraqi, that was planning to attack the British and Italian embassies as well as the French Cultural Center in Sanaa. The group was also accused of planning to assassinate a number of prominent Yemeni officials, including then Prime Minister Abd al-Qadir Bajammal and Minister of Interior Rashid al-Alimi. Al-Batati was sentenced to three years and two months in prison in August 2005. Following his escape, he turned himself back into security forces in late April 2006 (26th of September, April 23, 2006).
Abd al-Rahman Ahmad Hasan Basurah (b. 1981): Like his companion al-Batati, al-Basurah was also born in Saudi Arabia to a Sanaani family. Basurah, who is also known by the kunya, Abu Ghrayb, was also extradited to Yemen from Saudi Arabia and was also charged with being part of the cell formed by Anwar Jaylani in 2005. Basurah’s role was apparently collecting information on the French Cultural Center, which was one of the targets in the plot (Yemen Times, March 31-April 3, 2005). He also confessed to making a sketch of the British Embassy (Yemen Times, June 9-12, 2005). During the trial, Basurah admitted that one of the military uniforms seized by security forces was his, but that he had bought it in order to impersonate Saddam Hussein in a student play (Yemen Times, June 2-5, 2005). Later during the trial, Basurah claimed he had been duped by al-Jaylani, and that the leader had exploited his feelings and absconded with his money (Yemen Times, June 9-12, 2005). He was sentenced to three years and four months in prison. He later turned himself in alongside Jamal al-Badawi on May 15, 2007. He is currently free on a security guarantee.
Abdullah Ahmad Salih al-Raymi (b. 1977): Al-Raymi is originally from the city of Taiz. He spent time fighting in Afghanistan, before returning to Qatar where he was arrested. Qatar later extradited him to Yemen in May 2005. Yemeni authorities charged him with forging documents for travel to Afghanistan. He was sentenced to four years in prison. Following his escape from prison, al-Raymi was re-captured in a joint raid by Yemeni security forces and a local counter-terrorism unit in the governorate of Marib on May 5, 2006 (News Yemen, May 11, 2006). He was later released.
Zakariya Nasir Awadh al-Bayhani (b. circa 1977): Like his brother Mansur, Zakariya was born in the northern Saudi city of Tabuk to Yemeni parents. Both his older and younger brothers, Tawfiq and Ghalib, are currently in U.S. custody in Guantanamo. Following his return to Saudi Arabia from Afghanistan, he was arrested and subsequently extradited to Yemen. In Yemen, he remained in prison although no charges were ever brought against him. Along with his brother Mansur, he turned himself in to Yemeni authorities in late 2006. Both were later released in accordance with a security guarantee.
Zakariya ‘Ubadi Qasim al-Yafa’i (b. 1973): Al-Yafa’i was born in Saudi Arabia, and his family is from the village of Yaf’a in the southern Yemeni government of Lahj. Saudi Arabia extradited him to Yemen along with two other men in 2003. He was never charged with any crime, although he was kept in prison until he escaped in February 2006. He was re-captured by security forces in a raid on a house in the Shumayla neighborhood of Sanaa on April 17, 2006 (al-Wasat, April 19, 2006). According to reports, he did not resist arrest. Al-Yafa’i was later released on a security guarantee. Following his release from prison, he was involved in the death of Faris al-Raymi, the younger brother of Qasim al-Raymi, who is still at large. According to a report in the Yemeni newspaper al-Ghad, Zakariya agreed to take Faris to see his brother in early June 2007. The two left al-Raymi’s house in Sanaa at 7:30 in the morning. Four hours later, Faris’ father, Nasir, received a call from a surgical team at the German hospital in Sanaa saying they had removed seven bullets from Faris’ head, chest and hands. Faris remained alive for another week, but never regained consciousness. The reason for his killing remains a mystery.
Jabir Ahmad Salih al-Banna (b. 1966): Al-Banna, who holds dual U.S.-Yemeni citizenship, is also known as Abu Ahmad. His family is from the village of Yahir in the governorate of Dhall’a. Al-Banna was linked to the Lackawana Six, and is still wanted by the United States, which has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture. According to the United States, al-Banna was an admirer of Kamal Darwish, a veteran fighter who was killed along with Abu Ali al-Harithi in missile attack by a CIA-operated drone in November 2002. Al-Banna traveled to Afghanistan on May 14, 2001 to participate in an al-Qaeda training camp along with Mukhtar al-Bakri, Sahim Alwan, and Yahya Goba. Before crossing the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan, al-Banna took up residence for a short time at a guesthouse in Kandahar, which was visited by Osama bin Laden. Later, along with his friends, he received military training at an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan. Unlike the others, al-Banna never returned to the United States. One of his former companions, Sahim Alwan, described him as very eager to fight the Northern Alliance and as someone who was actively seeking to become a martyr (PBS, July 24, 2003). He eventually made his way to Yemen, and surrendered himself in Taiz in late 2003, following a lengthy mediation effort headed by a “high-ranking member” of the ruling GPC party (al-Ghad, June 25). Among the guarantees that al-Banna was given was a promise that he would not be extradited to the United States. Al-Banna received a similar pledge from the Yemeni government in May 2007 when he once again turned himself into Yemeni forces along with Abd al-Rahman al-Basurah. He is currently under loose house arrest.
Hizam Salih Ali Mujali (b. 1980): Hizam is the older brother of Arif Mujali. He is from the governorate of Sanaa. Yemeni forces arrested him along with Fawaz al-Rabay’i in late 2003. The two resisted arrested, and fired at the security forces, killing one soldier, Hamid Khasruf. Hizam, like his younger brother, Arif, was part of the 15-man cell that went on trial in 2004. Hizam was charged with attacking a Hunt Oil helicopter and for participating in the attack on the Limburg. On August 30, 2004, he was sentenced to death for killing Khasruf. This sentence was upheld by a higher court in February 2005. Both Hizam and Arif turned themselves into the government in August 2006 (al-Wasat, August 30, 2006). Their surrender was orchestrated by Sheikh Hadi Dalqim, a tribal leader from Marib, who served as a mediator between the government and the brothers. It is unclear whether Mujali’s sentence was commuted as a result of the negotiations.
Arif Salih Ali Mujali (b. 1984): Arif is the younger brother of Hizam Mujali, and is also known by the kunya Abu al-Layth al-San’ani. As his kunya indicates, he is from Sanaa. Another brother, Yahya, is also active in jihadi circles, and had agreed to marry his daughter to Fawaz al-Rabay’i. He was part of the 15-man cell and was charged with involvement in the November 2002 attack on the Hunt Oil helicopter, planning to attack five embassies, and for planning to assassinate then U.S. Ambassador Edmund Hull. He suffered from an injured leg, which he claimed was the result of torture, during his 2004 trial (Yemen Times, August 19-22, 2004). In the weeks following his escape from prison in February 2006, security forces managed to corner Arif and three companions in a building in the Musayk neighborhood of Sanaa, which has become known over the past few years as a haven for Islamic militants. The four men were able to escape, and eventually made their way to Marib. Sheikh Dalqim eventually persuaded both Arif and Hizam to surrender themselves to the government in August 2006 (al-Wasat, August 30, 2006). Arif is free as part of this arrangement.
Ibrahim Muhammad Abdu al-Muqri (b. 1972): Like many of his fellow escapees, al-Muqri was born in Saudi Arabia to Yemeni parents from Hudaydah. He has two known kunyas, Abu Muhammad and Abu Musab. Al-Muqri was arrested in Saudi Arabia upon his return from Afghanistan and later extradited to Yemen. He was then kept in a political security prison until he was brought up on charges in February 2005, along with 10 other defendants. The men were charged with forming an armed gang intent on carrying out criminal acts both in Yemen and abroad. The 11 defendants were also charged with training in al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan between 1998 and 2002, as well as possessing forged travel documents. Also indicted in the case were: Mansur al-Bayhani, Abdullah al-Wada’i and Shafiq ‘Umar. Al-Muqri was cleared of all charges in March 2005, but was not released, and instead remained in prison until he escaped in February 2006. He surrendered himself to authorities a few months after his escape. As part of the deal, he was released but kept under surveillance. Al-Muqri, however, evaded Yemeni security forces and made his way to Somalia. Later, as he was crossing the border into Kenya, he was arrested along with two companions. He is currently in prison in Kenya.
*** For Part One of this article, see Terrorism Monitor, Volume 5, Issue 18.