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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 in al-Qaeda thinks the same as me on this. ***

A lot of people in al-Qaeda, they refuse to kill civilian people inside America. Yes, we hate America, and we want to fight them, but it doesn’t give us the right to kill the civilians. I know that the government of the US is terroristic, but we don’t have to be like them. Your government is a terrorist entity – they kill in Iraq and Somalia. Yes, America is a terrorist nation.

Where do you get most of your current information? What media outlets? What websites?
I get some information from local news, from the media, the Internet – Arab language sites - and some other sources. But the information from my other sources is private – secret. It is from individuals who provide information and I can’t share it with you now. Maybe if I get to know you better in the future.

What is your view on Iran getting nuclear weapons?
Every country must be able to protect itself. They must have the appropriate weapons to defend themselves. Iran’s Shiite history shows that they only fight other Muslims. Not the Jews, not the Christians. The Shiite Muslims only fight Christians or Jews when they feel that their business or interests are threatened.

Iran’s leaders have stated publicly that they want to wipe Israel off the map. Do you agree with this statement?
I wish Israel would vanish from the map, but Iran will not vanish Israel from the map. Other global leaders have said the same thing, but didn’t do anything. Other Arab leaders have said the same thing, but nothing happens. But Israel knows who will vanish them from the maps – the REAL MUSLIMS. This came from a statement from the leader of Israel – who says that Israel will vanish because of the new generation of Muslims who truly follow the prophet Mohamed.

Give me your view of the recent Turkish flotilla situation between Israel and Turkey.
It’s no longer Arab governments who are fighting against Israel. The local people - even in Israel - are now fighting Israel. It is a shift. Israel thinks only Muslim governments are fighting her. But from the Arab perspective, Israel is now being fought by average citizens - the people who have the Islamic idea.

Israel’s view is that maybe the flotilla was smuggling guns and weapons – Israel has problems with Hamas –Israel must first realize that they don’t have reasons to fight the boat from Turkey – but they should have gone inside the boat and inspected it. All the people on board had diplomatic passports – they were not members of al-Qaeda or Hamas. They are humanitarian people. They were attacked first and were only trying to defend themselves.

Some non-political intelligence assessments I received contend that this was a brilliant plan by Turkey to draw Israel out into international waters, bate them and create an explosive situation to further damage Israel’s global reputation. 
I believe that those on the flotilla were innocent humanitarians – the media creates lies. In addition, when the media shows the pictures and Westerners see the beards on some of the humanitarians, they assume they are terrorist – because of the beards. 

I’ll give you an example, the opinion in Yemen is that anyone with an American passport is Jewish – because of the US support of Israel. Obviously that is not true – it’s a stereotype. In the same way, people in the West think that any man with a beard is a terrorist.

And don’t forget, when the boat was boarded, it was still in international waters. Currently, 90% of Israelis believe that the US administration is not supportive of their country. (Rosenberg, 2010)

What is your opinion about US president, Barak Obama and do you believe that the current US administration is still supporting Israel?
This business of not supporting Israel is not true- it’s just politics. America still supports Israel. Hillary Clinton is Jewish. The Minister of Defense is Jewish. The head of national security is Jewish. They all support Israel. 

When Obama was in the election process, he visited Israel and gave his word of support for Israel. He told Israel that they needed to wait while he made a good picture between America and Arab nations. 

There has been ongoing conflict between US and Iran, Iraq, Palestine and the many other Arab nations. Now the people in these nations are against the US, so now America wants to make a good picture, but the problem is that Israel is making trouble for the US, because of their actions. 

And look at Europe. If a particular government hates Muslims - like in France where they say that the women can’t wear the hijabs (veils) then we will hate them. Plus this allows good recruitment propaganda for al-Qaeda for new members. There is freedom for every religion in Europe except for Muslims.

But does Yemen provide freedom of religion? Does Yemen allow churches?
There are no churches in Yemen, but they government protects the Yemeni Jews. There is a statement from Mohammed that says that there can be only one religion in Arab land. Do you see a mosque in the Vatican? Do you see a synagogue there? Why should there be churches or synagogues on Arab land?

As we close, give me your predications for the next 5 years for the global community.

  • Will Israel still exist five years from now?
    I think that in the next five years, there will be a big separation between Israel and the Arab people – more than ever before. Israel has tried in the past to make a good impression with Arabs but because of all the current Israeli aggression, the relationship will deteriorate.
  • Will Iran get and use nuclear weapons?
    They will get it. They won’t use it. America thinks that Iran is like Saddam Hussein when he was in Iraq. The US just uses it as card against Iran. Even if Iran got this weapon, they won’t use it. They just want to be equal to other nations and balance the power.
  • Will the Palestinians get their own state?
    I don’t think so.
  • Will Osama bin Laden be captured in the next five years?
    I hope that America can never catch him, but if they catch him, then that’s his destiny from God.
  • Do you know where bin Laden is?
    Of course many journalists have asked me this question. The answer is: I don’t know anything. But if I knew, I would never say. Even though al-Qaeda has now tried to assassinate me several times because I am no longer a member, I would never say where bin Laden is – if I knew. I still miss the early jihad days and helping other Muslims in war torn, oppressed countries.

Special Notes:
*Links have already been made between Yemen and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound flight from Amsterdam on Christmas Day and also Major Midal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people in November at Fort Hood, Texas.

**According to reviews of In the Shadow of Bin Laden, in addition to al-Bahri’s personal life, the book also includes information about bin Laden’s prowess on the volleyball court as well as on the soccer field –but he never takes off his turban! It also talks about bin Laden’s passion for racehorses, jealousies between some of his wives and how he won’t give his children any of his fortune – it’s all earmarked for Islam. (Times of London, April 18, 2010)

***Yazid was killed in Afghanistan/Pakistan border by a Predator strike just a few days before this interview. According to Bill Roggio, (2010) “Yazid is one of al Qaeda's most important leaders, and he will be difficult to replace. He served as al Qaeda's leader in Afghanistan and in what the terror group refers to as the Khorasan, a region that encompasses large areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Iran. The Khorasan is considered by jihadists to be the place where they will inflict the first defeat against their enemies in the Muslim version of Armageddon. The final battle is to take place in the Levant - Israel, Syria, and Lebanon.”

According to Thomas Joscelyn, (2010) of the Weekly Standard, the West has misunderstood the nature of the 9/11 dissent within the ranks of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The disagreement wasn’t about harming innocent people in the US. Yazid’s objections to the 9/11 attacks was a tactical objection. The concern was that the attacks would wake the “sleeping giant” of the US and that the result would be a devastating counterattack.

Dr. Phil Johnson is the founder and president of Global Next Research Group and Leadership Institute. In addition to his first-person interviews around the world, he also hosts numerous leadership conferences for students and adults in Europe and the Middle East. He can be contacted at: [email protected].

Campbell, Michael. (2010) “Bin Laden, a secret fan of footie and Monty.” Times Online, April 19, 2010. 

Joscelyn, Thomas. (2010) “On the Death of Mustafa Abu Yazid: The top terrorist's career dispels some myths about our enemies.” The Weekly Standard, June 1, 2010.

Roggio, Bill, (2010) “Top al Qaeda leader Mustafa Abu Yazid confirmed killed in airstrike in North Waziristan” The Long War Journal,
May 31, 2010.

Rosenberg, Joel (2010) “Fewer than 1-in-10 Israelis believe President Obama is pro-Israel because of the administration’s long string of deeply unfriendly statements and actions.” Charisma Magazine Online, July 8, 2010.

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