As the United States devotes more attention to the threat posed by the burgeoning al Qaeda group in Yemen, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has added another name to the list of "designated" terrorists. He is Othman al-Ghamdi, a Saudi national who is one of the leaders of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula – and a former detainee at the US base at Guantanamo Bay.
The designation, published Thursday, says al-Ghamdi "has been involved in raising funds for the organization’s operations and activities in Yemen. He has also worked with other AQAP members to plan and stockpile weapons for future attacks."
In a video from the group released a year ago, he was identified as AQAP's operational commander. In that video, he appears alongside the group's military commander, Qasim al-Rimi, and another leading figure in the group, Fahd al-Quso, who is wanted for his alleged part in the bombing of the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden in 2000.
Al-Ghamdi served in the Saudi army until he deserted in 2000, and for a while thought of going to Chechnya to join Muslim rebels against Russian rule. But in the end he went to Afghanistan for training and fought on the front-lines against the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance before going to Tora Bora, al Qaeda's stronghold in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan. Captured soon after Tora Bora fell, he was sent to Guantanamo Bay – but in 2006 was released into a "rehabilitation program" in Saudi Arabia.
After completing his "rehabilitation" al-Ghamdi slipped into Yemen (probably sometime in 2009) and rejoined al Qaeda.
AQAP itself was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in January 2010.
Designation means that no US individual or entity can have any financial dealings with al-Ghamdi, and is designed to restrict the group's ability to raise funds. In practical terms, it has limited influence. Intelligence analysts say al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula raises money through mosques and radical religious schools in Yemen. Its leadership has also boasted of its ability to plot cheap but devastating attacks (such as the "printer bombs" planted on cargo planes headed to the United States.)