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Mr. Nasser al-Bahri, the former bodyguard of al-Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden

Phil Johnson, Ph.D.

Living Out of the Shadow of Bin Laden

Phil Johnson, Ph.D., , July 26, 2010

Osama Bin Laden's Former Bodyguard Opens Up

Located on the Arabian Peninsula in Southwest Asia, Yemen is a beautiful, mysterious and timeless country, filled with amazingly warm and friendly people. But Western governments have currently rated Yemen as too dangerous to visit unless you have “essential” business there. Though I’ve never been one to put much stock in such ratings, I will concede that Yemen is the poorest and most tribal nation on the Arabian Peninsula. It is also home to the terrorist organization known as al-Qaeda Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) – a franchise of the regular al-Qaeda. 

Yemen is poised to become a second Afghanistan where al-Qaeda will find it easy to recruit disaffected youth given the high poverty rate and dwindling oil  supplies. Similar to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Yemen has plenty of weapons and men experienced in guerrilla warfare who resent U.S. policies and have tribal, social and inspirational ties to al-Qaeda. In this environment it is very difficult to prevent contact and influence between impressionable young men and their jihadist heroes. If anti-American sentiment continues to grow, you can expect more trouble from this region.

So, it was in this context that I sat down with Mr. Nasser al-Bahri, the former bodyguard of al-Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden. According to Michael Campbell (2010) of the London Times, al-Bahri’s new book entitled In the Shadow of bin Laden is the first to emerge from bin Laden’s inner circle. Al-Bahri is also viewed as a wealth of intelligence information for the CIA because of his close direct relationship with bin Laden. For me, Nasser Al-Bahri, whose nickname was “The Killer,” was warm, charming and hospitable as we sat in his apartment with my translator, Ameen Abdullah and two of al-Bahri’s associates.

Tell me about your new book. It’s called “In the Shadow of bin Laden,” and was just released in April, correct?
Yes, it was published in Paris and it is about me, about my life and my journey through jihad and back again.  But I’m not at liberty to speak much about it now. **

I heard that France wouldn’t grant you a visa so you could visit and promote the book?
I didn’t apply for a visa – I learned that I was refused a visa from the media. I heard that I asked for the visafrom the embassy from France – but I never asked for a visa. The publisher wanted me to come to France, but I said I wouldn’t come unless there could be an official invitation between the French government and the Yemeni government.

Tell me about your days in Afghanistan.
I didn’t begin in Afghanistan. I first went to Bosnia. It wasn’t about terrorism – it was about going for a religious purpose…to help those who were Muslim victims of what was going on in Bosnia. First I went to Bosnia, then Somalia, then Tajikistan then Afghanistan. I began at the age of 22.  

The main purpose of this type of jihad was to go and help the poor people and to give them food and to provide services. Yes, I had a weapon, but it was just to protect myself from anyone who might want to harm me or kill me. I went to help. The media talks about bad things and change the truth about jihad and the reality of jihad. The media says that the mujahideen only fought the Serbs, and doesn’t mention the humanitarian efforts of the mujahideen. 

After Bosnia, I went to Somalia, then on to Tajikistan and then back to Afghanistan. This is when I met Osama bin Laden.

Tell me about your time with bin-Laden. 
As I said, I was returning from Tajikistan to Yemen, and was going through Afghanistan – I stayed for nine months and I met bin Laden and was trained by him, along with other young men for al-Qaeda. I joined al-Qaeda and eventually I became bin Laden’s personal bodyguard.

What were your responsibilities as his bodyguard?
I did a lot of things – first and foremost I was bin Laden’s bodyguard – to protect him and keep him safe. Sometimes I played a principle role representing al-Qaeda towards new recruits. I also trained the new guys who joined al-Qaeda for jihad – the military type of jihad - between the years 1996-2000.

When was the last time you saw bin-Laden?
In Kandahar, Afghanistan before the event of the USS Cole attack. Two months before this event.

Did you know about the USS Cole attack in advance?

Did you know about the 9/11 attacks in advance?
In general, everyone knew about the fighting between al-Qaeda and America. But I didn’t know how, what or where the next attack would come from? But I did know something was going to happen? Sometimes, when we saw different guys disappear or families move, it indicated that al-Qaeda was up to something; that something was coming.

When 9/11 happened, what was your response?
When 9/11 happened, I was in jail – in prison. I had returned to Yemen in 2000 and that’s when the USS Cole incident happened. I heard that the government was looking for all al-Qaeda members and I tried to escape to Afghanistan, but the police caught me at the airport trying to leave. When 9/11 happened, The FBI came to me in prison and the officer showed me the newspaper and pictures and I knew about this event through the FBI when they investigated me.

Why were you arrested if your version of jihad was just about helping others?
I didn’t do anything criminal in Yemen, only outside of Yemen. The law in Yemen says that it’s OK to be a mujahideen. But the government arrested me after USS Cole bombing. I didn’t have anything to do with this bombing, but the government arrested me to protect itself.

Was the Yemeni government under significant pressure from the US to arrest people in connection to the USS Cole?
In the beginning there was no pressure. But after the problem and activities of al-Qaeda in Yemen, it put the government in a situation where they had to do something – take some action. I was part of that action.

When you were working for bin Laden, what was he like? What was his character like?
He had a very strong, very determined character… he was determined to destroy the West. The truth is that Osama bin-Laden’s main goal was to fight America – he says this all the time – it’s not a secret.

And do you feel the same way?
At the beginning I was with him – I completely agreed with him. After the 9/11 attack on civilian people, I stopped agreeing. But the American people should know their government and they have the power to change their government if they don’t like it or don’t agree with it.

When the FBI showed you the photos of 9/11 and you saw how many people died, what did you think? Did you think this was a great victory for bin Laden and for al-Qaeda? Or did you think that this was a terrible loss of human life?
You must understand my way of thinking. In my opinion, I know America has killed a lot of people in Iraq, Somalia and Arab countries. I know that they help and support Israel. But we don’t need to attack civilian people inside America. A lot of people in al-Qaeda agree with me on this. For example, Mustafa Abu Yazid – a top leader

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