The Khalden Quartermaster (Part 1)
Most people think it all began on September 11, 2001. But the truth is, it started long before that, as young men from many different countries traveled to Afghanistan for training. One of those places was called Khalden. And in the days and months after 9–11, thousands of men were killed or captured attempting to escape from American forces. This story is about one of them.
Note: The term “Accused” is what a defendant is called in a military court-martial or military commission.
In or around 1994, the Accused left his home country of Sudan and traveled to Afghanistan to receive paramilitary training. En route to Afghanistan, the Accused traveled to Pakistan, where he was received into a guest house. Some guest houses in Afghanistan and Pakistan were operated by terrorist paramilitary organizations in conjunction with the training camps. At the time the Accused entered Pakistan — to his knowledge — the Khalden camp was the only camp operating in Afghanistan. The Accused became aware that guest houses would later come to serve as intermediate stops to lodge trainees and operatives who were transiting to or between the training camps, convalescing from injuries, or getting ready to travel elsewhere for terrorist operations. One of the purposes of the guest houses was to screen incoming recruits prior to sending them on to the training camps to ensure they were suitable for training, weed out potential spies, and otherwise control and monitor the flow of trainees.
From the guest house in Pakistan, the Accused traveled into Afghanistan to receive training at the Khalden training camp. At that time, Khalden was located in the Khost region of Afghanistan. During the Accused’s time in Afghanistan, other camps were also established or revived from the Soviet-Afghan War. Some of these training camps, such as al Farouq and Jihad Wahl, were run directly by al Qaeda, an international terrorist organization run by Osama bin Laden and others.
In 1996, Osama bin Laden and others began issuing public declarations calling for violent attacks against the property and nationals of the United States and its allies for the purpose of — among other things — forcing the United States to withdraw its forces from the Arabian Peninsula and opposing U.S. support of Israel. During his time in Afghanistan, as described more fully below, the Accused became aware of these declarations calling for violence against the United States, became aware of the goals and purposes of al Qaeda, and also became aware that al Qaeda and associated international terrorist organizations in Afghanistan and elsewhere were conducting hostilities against the United States.
The Khalden training camp, where the Accused trained and later worked, was under the principal direction of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi (hereinafter “Ibn Sheikh”) who lived at Khalden and directed Khalden’s operations as the camp’s emir or leader. As emir, Ibn Sheikh directed Khalden’s staff, training program, weapons, supplies, and other day-to-day operations, and helped Khalden trainees gain admittance into other paramilitary training camps or organizations for follow-on training or operations.
Ibn Sheikh worked with a terrorist facilitator named Abu Zubaydah. Based primarily in Pakistan, Abu Zubaydah oversaw the operation of guest houses associated with Khalden, secured funding for Khalden operations, and maintained a steady flow of trainees to and from the camp. To the Accused’s knowledge, Abu Zubaydah provided letters of recommendation for trainees to be accepted into Khalden. The Accused also understood that Abu Zubaydah received trainees leaving the Khalden camp as they entered Pakistan.
Given their positions of authority and responsibility over Khalden trainees, both Abu Zubaydah and Ibn Sheikh were responsible for the movement of trainees to and from Khalden. Abu Zubaydah used letters of recommendation in order to get people into Khalden and control the flow of trainees into the camp. This system allowed Ibn Sheikh to maintain operational security and restrict access to Khalden. Ibn Sheikh al-Libi assumed responsibility for communications outside the camp was responsible for assisting trainees in returning home or to other camps. While neither Abu Zubaydah nor Ibn Sheikh were members of al Qaeda, as neither had sworn bayat (a formal oath of allegiance) to Osama bin Laden, both men met and communicated with Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders on a number of occasions. Although the Khalden training camp was not run by Osama bin Laden or al Qaeda, trainees had the ability to pass between the training camps and organizations, which included al Qaeda and its camps.
Not only were there established lines of communication among this network of camps and guest houses in and around Afghanistan, but there were also informal agreements that trainees could continue their training at other camps. The existence of the various camps was not a secret, and there was an open market in Afghanistan for men seeking initial or follow-on paramilitary training. The leaders of a camp or organization, for example, could recommend their trainees for transfer into another camp or organization for further paramilitary training or terrorist operations. If a trainee demonstrated talent in a particular area, he would be recommended for further training or operations in that area with another camp or organization or he could elect on his own to pursue training at another camp. The Accused knew that one of these camps was Derunta. Ibn Sheikh al-Libi was primarily responsible for communications between other camps, such as Derunta, where advanced training on explosives, explosive devices, and poisons was provided by a terrorist trainer named Abu Khabab al Masri.
A central aspect of the operational environment for these paramilitary terrorist training camps and organizations in Afghanistan, including Khalden, was the use of kunyas (aliases or noms de guerre), which could be used to conceal the true identities of trainees, camp staff, and ultimately terrorist operators. Often, the passports of the trainees were initially collected at the guest houses, to preserve operational security over the participants’ identities or to be falsified for use by the passport holders (to conceal where they had been) or by other travelers (to conceal who they were and enable them to travel internationally). Terrorist trainers and operatives might also change kunyas from time to time, which served as an additional security measure.
In or around 1994, the Accused received weapons and other training at the Khalden camp. He was taught how to fire the Kalashnikov rifle, the PK machine gun, the 75 and 82 mm recoilless rifles (referred to as artillery), the SPG-9 anti-tank weapon, the 82 mm mortar, and the rocket propelled grenade (RPG) launcher. He adopted the kunya of “Abu al Harith” during this initial period at the camp. Around the time that the Accused was a trainee, he also used the kunya “Farouq.”
After he completed the initial training program at Khalden, the Accused remained at Khalden and became one of the camp’s weapons trainers. Leadership positions in the camp were determined by tenure. The Accused became a weapons trainer in or around 1996, in which capacity he voluntarily taught trainees how to fire small arms and artillery. Around the time he became a weapons trainer, the Accused adopted the kunya of “Akrima” (sometimes transliterated “Ikrima” or “Ekrirna”).
After serving as a weapons trainer, the Accused began taking on additional responsibilities at Khalden. He purchased food and supplies to support the camp and oversaw camp operations when the emir, Ibn Sheikh, was away. As his status within the camp organization grew, the Accused assumed a position of greater responsibility and began leading the camp’s formations. As leader and director of the camp, Ibn Sheikh established a council of trainers that served as his advisors. Ibn Sheikh was required to consult this council but not bound by their advice. By this time, in or around 1998–99, the Accused was a member of this council, in addition to being known by the kunya, “Akrima.”
During the Accused’s tenure at Khalden over the course of several years, hundreds of jihadist recruits were trained at Khalden on a variety of subjects, including weapons, artillery, tactics, and other areas. Khalden trainees also prayed together and read portions of the Quran and the teachings of the prophet Mohammed. Trainees engaged in discussions regarding religious topics after prayer. Trainees who came to Khalden had already committed to the concept that jihad required military training. It was not unusual throughout the course of the Accused’s tenure at Khalden to hear anti-American discussion and rhetoric.
Khalden trainees were also trained on maintaining security to prevent sensitive information from fallling into the wrong hands. Khalden had a security perimeter at all times. Trainees would use this security training to prevent uninvited people from coming into the camp. This also prevented those that were not wanted from learning what was going on in the camp. This included training in smaller operational groups. This type of training was also useful for whatever types of activities that trainees would be involved in after they left the camp.
The Accused was aware that al Qaeda’s goals and purposes were to advocate, support, and conduct terrorist attacks against the United States. While training terrorist operatives at Khalden, the Accused was aware that Osama bin Laden and others were issuing and circulating multiple public declarations calling for violent attacks against the United States. In one of these declarations, entitled a “Declaration of Holy War Against America and the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places,” Osama bin Laden called for the murder of U.S. military personnel serving on the Arabian peninsula. In another declaration, issued under the banner of the “International Islamic Front for Fighting Jews and Crusaders,” Osama bin Laden called on all Muslims able to do so to kill Americans — whether civilian or military — anywhere they can be found and to “plunder their money.” The Accused was aware of these and other declarations calling for violence against the United States, which were widely circulated among the terrorist training camps and organizations in Afghanistan, including Khalden.
In addition, during the time he served at Khalden, the Accused became aware that al Qaeda and associated international terrorist organizations were actively engaging in hostilities against the United States. On 7 August 1998, two nearly simultaneous terrorist bombing attacks were carried out against the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The bombing at the U.S. embassy in Nairobi killed or seriously injured hundreds of people, including Americans and other civilians working at the embassy as well as Kenyan civilians who were in the vicinity at the time of the blast. The bombing at the U.S. embassy in Dar es Salaam killed or seriously injured dozens of people, including American and Tanzanian civilians.
On 20 August 1998, in response to these attacks against its embassies, the United States fired cruise missiles into Afghanistan that damaged or destroyed several al Qaeda compounds. While Khalden was not hit by these cruise missiles, the Khalden trainees and staff, including the Accused, became aware of the U.S. cruise missile attacks and were aware that they were in retaliation against al Qaeda for its involvement in the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The Accused became aware of the Embassy bombings after they happened. At this time, the fatwas of Osama bin Laden, calling for violence against the United States, were broadcast and referred to on radios that were available at Khalden.
Not only were terrorist attacks such as the Embassy bombings being carried out by al Qaeda and associated terrorist organizations engaged in hostilities against the United States, but terrorist operatives who had trained at Khalden were participating in these hostilities. Among the terrorist operatives who trained at Khalden during the Accused’s tenure were several men who later participated in plots or attacks against the United States, including the following:
Al Owhali is a Khalden trainee who admitted he subsequently participated in the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. Al-Owhali was convicted of murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
b. Ahmed Ressam
Ressam — the so called “Millenium Bomber” — is a Khalden trainee who admitted he subsequently participated in a plot to bomb Los Angeles International (LAX) Airport on 31 December 1999. He was convicted in 2001 and was initially sentenced to 22 years in prison, after cooperating with the government in testifying about al-Qaeda and associated terrorist networks. In February 2010, an appellate court held his sentence to be too lenient. In October 2012, he was re-sentenced to 37 years’ imprisonment.
Moussaoui is a Khalden trainee (known to the Accused by the kunya, “Khalid al Sahrawi”) who admitted he subsequently participated in the conspiracy to attack various United States targets with hijacked civilian airliners on 11 September 2001. During his trial in U.S. federal court, Moussaoui submitted a “Statements of Facts,” which he signed as the “20th hijacker,” and provided testimony regarding his involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Moussaoui pled guilty to conspiring to kill American citizens as part of the September 11 attacks and was sentenced to six life sentences without parole.
Throughout his time at Khalden, as news spread of the terrorist plots and attacks against the United States, the Accused remained committed to his continued work in support of operations at Khalden.
The Accused knew that by continuing to produce trained operatives at Khalden, it was foreseeable that some of his trainees would take part in terrorist attacks of the sort that al Qaeda and associated terrorist organizations were conducting against the United States. The Accused further knew that many Khalden trainees went on to receive advanced training at other camps, including the al Qaeda camps, and could reasonably foresee that they would eventually take part in terrorist paramilitary operations in Afghanistan or elsewhere.
Sometime between 1999 and June 2000, the Accused learned from Ibn Sheikh al-Libi that the Khalden Camp was to be moved to Kabul. The Accused assisted in moving the Khalden Camp and its trainees from Khost to Kabul. Shortly thereafter, the Accused attended a meeting in the Wazir Akbar Khan district of Kabul, Afghanistan, alongside Abu Zubaydah and Ibn Sheikh to discuss closing the camp. Many of the trainers who participated in Khalden’s advisory council were also present at the meeting. Although they were consulted about the continued operation of the camp, the final decision was Ibn Sheikh ai-Libi’s. Ibn Sheikh al-Libi instructed the Accused and the other trainers that were present that Khalden was to be closed. The Accused assisted in the camp’s closure. To the Accused’s knowledge, the trainees were left to attend other camps or to leave Afghanistan.
On 11 September 2001, nineteen terrorist operatives affiliated with al Qaeda hijacked four civilian airliners and crashed them into various targets in the United States, including the twin World Trade Center towers in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and the countryside in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. These attacks resulted in the death or serious injury of thousands of people, many of whom were civilians. In September and October 2001, Osama bin Laden and other at Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan released videotapes claiming responsibility for and celebrating these attacks.
In early October 2001, in response to the attacks of 11 September 2001, the United States and its coalition partners launched attacks into Afghanistan to find and destroy terrorist camps, compounds and facilities; capture members of al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist organizations; and put an end to the terrorist attacks against the United States stemming from the network of terrorist training camps and organizations in Afghanistan.
After the U.S.-led bombing raids and military invasion of Afghanistan began, the Accused joined groups of other terrorist operatives who were escaping into neighboring Pakistan. At or around this time, in addition to his other kunyas, the Accused also used the kunya “Samir Muhammad Hasan,” or simply “Samir.”
By March 2002, the Accused’s group of around a dozen or more fugitive terrorist, operatives settled into a safe house in Faisalabad, Pakistan, where they were joined and led by Abu Zubaydah, who at this time was using the kunyas, “Tariq” and “Dawoud.” As at Khalden, the residents in the safe house used kunyas rather than their real names. The group of terrorist operatives with whom the Accused resided at the safe house in Faisalabad included, but was not limited to, the following individuals:
a. Abu Zubaydah (known to the Accused as “Dawoud”),
b. Soufian Barhoumi (known to the Accused as “Shafiq”),
c. Jabran al Qahtani (known to the Accused as “Jabran”),
d. Ghassan al Sharbi (known to the Accused as “Abdullah”),
e. Bakush (known to the Accused as “Abdul Razzaq”),
f. Abu Kamil al Suri (known to the Accused as “Noor al Din”),
g. Asad al Suri (known to the Accused as “Khalid Habib”),
h. Abdullah Husseini (known to the Accused as “Abdullah al Libi”),
i. Noor al Deen (known to the Accused as “Saleh”), and
j. Younes Skhaita (known to the Accused as “Anas”).
For several weeks, this group of terrorist operatives used the safe house in Faisalabad as both a hideout and a training facility. Different rooms were generally used for different types of training. The Accused became aware that some of the terrorists were being trained how to build electronic detonators for improvised explosive devices (IEDs), in order to conduct hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners in Afghanistan or elsewhere. Some learned how to use computers to communicate with other terrorist operatives outside the safe house or to develop propaganda on the internet. Some received language or other training. The Accused provided logistical support, such as cooking meals, to keep the house running while, along with Bakush, he was learning Americanized English from Ghassan al Sharbi. The Accused was also waiting for Abu Zubaydah to acquire or falsify travel documents for him so that he could return home to Sudan. The Accused could not travel to Sudan without fraudulent travel documents because his travel documents were taken from him when he arrived in Pakistan around 1994.
On 28 March 2002, this safe house in Faisalabad was raided by Pakistani authorities. The Accused and several others in his group attempted to escape, but after a shootout were captured. Materials collected from the house included but were not limited to the following:
a. electronic components, Casio watches, and other tools and components used to build IED detonators;
b. training notebooks, military manuals, and other training materials;
c. passports, passport photographs, and other identification documents, some of which were falsified;
d. propaganda and motivational materials, including dozens of audio cassettes and a videotape of Abu Zubaydah explaining his activities in affiliation with and support of Osama bin Laden; and
e. diaries of some of the safe house’s occupants, including Abu Zubaydah, outlining the group’s activities prior to capture.
In light of the above facts, the Accused admits that he voluntarily participated as a trainer and member of an advisory council of trainers at the Khalden training camp in Afghanistan and later voluntarily participated as a contributing member of the safe house in Faisalabad, Pakistan, knowing that his activities were materially supporting international terrorist organizations, including but not limited to al Qaeda, engaged in hostilities against the United States. While the Accused did not know the entire scope or the details of al Qaeda’s plans, the Accused was aware that al Qaeda or affiliated terrorist organizations were engaged in hostilities against the United States to achieve their political objectives. He also knew that his actions at the Khalden camp and the Faisalabad safe house were supporting al Qaeda or affiliated terrorist organizations in conducting such hostilities against the United States. Such actions by the Accused amounted to providing material support for terrorism.
The Accused also admits that in providing the above material support for terrorism, he was working with coconspirators at the Khalden camp and at the Faisalabad safe house to provide material support for terrorism. While he was not party to all the actions of Abu Zubaydah, Ibn Sheikh, and other coconspirators at Khalden and the Faisalabad safe house, he nevertheless had entered into a longstanding agreement with them to train recruits to commit acts of terrorism in support of al Qaeda or affiliated terrorist organizations engaged in hostilities against the United States. Specifically, the Accused was aware of the interrelationship between his own group and the other jihadist terrorist organizations, including al Qaeda; knew that he was supporting this relationship by training recruits; and knew that such support would ultimately materially support terrorist attacks by al Qaeda or affiliated groups engaged in hostilities against the United States. He joined this agreement and remained a party to it willingly and willfully, and with the intent to further its unlawful purpose, and knowingly and intentionally committed various overt acts in order to accomplish an objective or purpose of this agreement.
To be continued.
Glen Hines is the author of three books that make up the Anthology Trilogy — Document, Cloudbreak, and Crossroads — available at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble. His writing has appeared in Sports Illustrated, Task & Purpose, and the Human Development Project. From 2010 to 2012, he served as a Senior Prosecutor in the Office of Military Commissions.