Out of Guantanamo and Bitter Toward Bin Laden
Monday, March 24, 2008
JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia -- A calling to defend fellow Muslims and a bit of aimlessness took Khalid al-Hubayshi to a separatists' training camp in the southern Philippines and to the mountains of Afghanistan, where he interviewed for a job with Osama bin Laden.
Hubayshi, 32, a Saudi native, was among the Arab fighters dug in with bin Laden in the mountains of Tora Bora during the U.S. bombardment of Afghanistan in 2001. He later spent time in the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in a Saudi jail.
He was released in 2006 into a world radically altered by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Muslim fighters were no longer viewed in Arab countries as larger-than-life heroes, and clerics had stopped urging young Muslims to fulfill their religious duties by fighting on behalf of their brethren.
Hubayshi had also changed. He had grown disillusioned with bin Laden, whose initial idealism had turned into terrorism, he said, adding that his family, "not bin Laden," had suffered when he was at Guantanamo.
U.S. government documents and a series of interviews with Hubayshi provide a rare look into the mind and motivation of a man who trained for religious warfare, never fought in combat and now says he believes in the political process.
His life today in the city of Jiddah is comfortably routine. On most days, he wakes before dawn, drinks an espresso made by his wife and takes a 90-minute bus ride to his job as a controller at a utilities company. But "if the government had not helped me marry and get my job back," he said, "I might be in Iraq now."
In 1995, Hubayshi was a 19-year-old college student looking for more meaning in his life. Bin Laden was a hero to many Muslims, and aiding Muslims in distress seemed like the most admirable and altruistic route. He was initially inspired by a fiery taped sermon extolling the virtues of waging war against the enemies of Islam, but a series of videotapes produced by Arabs fighting in Bosnia completed his transformation.
The tapes showed Muslim women and children sprawled dead and bloodied in a market. One woman's head had been blown off. Muslim civilians with rifles were shown fighting the Serbian army, and the only ones helping them, Hubayshi said, were Arab fighters trained in Afghanistan during the war against the Soviets.
"I couldn't sleep at night knowing that women were being raped and children slaughtered, just because they were Muslim," he said. "I had to do something."
By the time he got in touch with the Arabs fighting in Bosnia, the war was over. So Hubayshi took a five-week vacation from his new job at the utilities company and made his way to the southern Philippines, where he lived in wooden shacks in a humid jungle camp for Arab fighters. He said he slept well for the first time since seeing the Bosnia tapes.
But the Philippine separatists lay low most of the time he was there, and he soon felt restless and yearned for better training.
His contacts arranged for him to go to Afghanistan, and in 1997 he went to a camp in the southeastern city of Khost. He learned to fire antiaircraft missiles, antiaircraft machine guns, antitank weapons and rocket-propelled grenades and became an expert in explosives.