Muhammad al-Awfi, one of the two former Saudi Gitmo detainees who appeared in the video by al-Qaida in Yemen on 19 January, has now been captured. Press reports and forum rumours this morning were confirmed this afternoon by the Yemeni embassy in Washington.
I owe the latter piece of information to a fantastic new blog that covers Islamism and security in Yemen. I strongly recommend it. Few people know more about jihadism in Yemen than Gregory Johnsen and Brian O’Neill. Welcome to the blogosphere, guys.
It is a shame, then, that there is not a single al-Qaida operative left in Yemen. Or so says the Yemeni Interior Minister, echoing past statements by his Saudi counterpart, who claimed in October 2001 that al-Qaida had no links to Saudi Arabia.
Back to al-Awfi. The official story is that he surrendered to Yemeni authorities. This is probably spin; if he did, it was at gunpoint. The question is why al-Awfi’s capture comes now, only weeks after he made headlines. This is especially interesting given Yemen’s very poor record of locating and arresting al-Qaida leaders. My guess is that Saudi intelligence has become more actively involved in Yemen. If true, this is a good sign, for the Saudis have become very good at counterterrorism.
The biggest question now is of course whether al-Awfi will lead investigators to the rest of the leadership of al-Qaida in Yemen. After six years in Guantanamo, he is no doubt used to interrogations. At the same time, he cannot claim ignorance of his comrades’ whereabouts, having appeared in a video with them just a few weeks ago. My guess is we will see more arrests in coming weeks, although probably not a dismantling of al-Qaida, who will have taken precautions by now.
I hope to write something about the Saudi list of 85 in the coming week. In the meantime you can read more on al-Awfi and the other ten escaped Saudi Gitmo detainees in this excellent new report by Evan Kohlmann.
Document (Arabic): 02-17-09-faloja-rumours-of-awfi-arrest