Saudi Arabia, Yemen: A High-Level Jihadist Surrenders
2 MINS READFeb 17, 2009 | 22:25 GMT
A significant Saudi jihadist figure turned himself in to Yemeni authorities, who then repatriated him to Riyadh, according to a Feb. 17 press release from the Yemeni Embassy in Washington. The individual in question is former Guantanamo Bay inmate Mohammed al-Awfi, aka Abu Harith, who appeared in a Jan. 27 video issued by the reconstituted al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula after the merger of the Saudi and Yemeni nodes of the global jihadist network. Al-Awfi had been named in a list of 85 wanted militants who were living outside Saudi Arabia. This is not the first time a Saudi jihadist figure has surrendered to the authorities. In July 2004, jihadist ideologue Khaled bin Odeh bin Mohammed al-Harbi — who appeared in a November 2001 al Qaeda video rejoicing over the 9/11 attacks with Osama bin Laden — returned to Saudi Arabia from Iran, where he had been living in hiding since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, and surrendered. But the short time between al-Awfi's video appearance (where he describes himself as a top commander and spokesman and announces the launch of a newly revived al Qaeda wing in the Arabian Peninsula) and his surrender does not add up. At this stage, it is unclear whether the man actually gave himself up or if he was planted by the Saudis to infiltrate the group. In any case, the Saudis will be able to glean a gold mine of intelligence from al-Awfi, which Riyadh can use in the coming days to capture or kill many wanted suspects, especially those who joined the new al Qaeda organization. Not only will al-Awfi be able to provide tactical information on al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, but on a strategic level he will be able to provide important intelligence on how the al Qaeda core organization communicates and coordinates with its regional franchise groups. The incident further suggests improved coordination between Riyadh and Sanaa, meaning today's development could go a long way in aiding the latest Saudi moves to roll back religious conservatism in the kingdom.