Narrative of a Conspiracy, Part 1
I decided to translate the roller-coaster testimony made by Faisal Akbar—the Saudi citizen (...we think) who first confessed to a role in the Hariri assassination after he was arrested in January 2006 but then retracted his statement—which was published in the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar over the last week.
It’s a lot of material, so I am dividing it up into four parts. This is a fascinating window into jihadist tradecraft that we don’t usually see in such open-source detail, and it should be of value to analysts interested in jihadism and related security issues. This is not the generic material in jihadists manuals, this is the real stuff.
Come back tomorrow for Part 2. I tried to adhere as much as possible to the original Arabic so that the tone and wording is not lost in translation. This makes it a bit of a clunky read.
This first translated chunk appeared in Al-Akhbar on October 10, 2007, under the byline of Fida’ ‘Itani.
FAISAL AKBAR SPEAKS
[My name is] Faisal Asa’ad Hashim Hussein Akber; mother is Sheikha Hussein Ali Al-Hussein; born in the Eastern [Province] in Saudi Arabia in 1397 A.H., that is 1976 AD. I use a forged Saudi passport under the name Fahed Muhammad Hassan Al-Khadim al-Yamani, mother’s name Fatima. I also use a Syria identification card in the name (Faris Waleed) Abdel-Ghani Waleed Faris, mother’s name Khulood, born 1978, Syrian. I also use a special permit for Palestinians issued by the Lebanese Ministry of Interior in the name Hassan Nassir ‘Isa, mother’s name Hamida, born 1972, Sidon, Palestinian. I currently live in Beirut, the Ramla al-Beidha neighborhood, the Shati’ al-Dhahabi Building, 10th Floor, my Lebanese numbers are 03/938610 and 70941510, and I live in other apartments in Beirut, in Al-Besta al-Tahta, and two apartments on Tariq Jdeideh and Ain al-Rummaneh and al-Oza’i. I previously resided in Syria, in Damascus, Homs and Aleppo, and at different addresses. I have a Syrian cell phone, but I don’t know its number, and it is in your possession. My address in [Saudi Arabia] is the Eastern [Province], Ras Tanoura City. I left [Saudi Arabia] seven years ago, my no. there is 0096636672750, Saudi citizen, I lost my Saudi passport in Afghanistan in 2001. I hold a university degree in the principles of religion from the Imam Muhammad bin Saud University in Qasim, and I am single. Unemployed. A mujahid in the Al-Qaeda organization.
“You approached me in the ‘Ain al-Rummaneh neighborhood, in the street in front of the Sumood Building, near the Al-Huda school, you declared your official identity and the purpose of your coming. Then you insulted me, and did not find any contraband on me, and you confiscated my two cell phone and memory flash disks and my personal diary. You brought me to your headquarters, and continued taking the calls to my phones, and you arrested those who called me and who are known by me, then I showed you to the apartment that I use in Beirut, then you informed me of my right to make a phone call and to see an attorney and to undergo medical examination, and I am ready to answer your questions. Furthermore, nothing was lost or damaged or went missing of my belongings as a result of the arrest and the search, which occurred over several phases.
Q: What are the aliases that you have used for yourself and why did you use them and under what circumstances?
A: I used many aliases, of which I remember Tariq and Rani and Abu Suleiman and Salih and Fahed and Faris and Abdul-Ghani and Hassan and Al-Sheikh. And I used these aliases for security work, to disguise [myself] and not to reveal my real identity.
Q: We found on you a forged Saudi passport and a Palestinian identification [card] and a Syrian identification [card] and other papers all of them forged with different names but carrying your picture. In addition, you have told us that your real identity is Faisal Akbar, Saudi citizen, and that you had lost your original identification [card] in Afghanistan, and that you had resided in Syria, and were arrested in Lebanon?
A: I will tell you that I left my home in 1999 from Saudi Arabia and headed to Afghanistan with the purpose of [joining the] jihad, where I pledged allegiance to Sheikh Osama Bin Laden since I was a Salafist by creed. I participated in the fighting alongside the Taliban against the forces of Ahmad Shah Masoud, of course that after undergoing many military courses in the organization I belong to.
Q: Who is Jamil?
A: Jamil is a Syrian youth, approximately 27 years of age, an official in Al-Qaeda in the Levant.
Q: Didn’t this Jamil, who you mentioned, get pursued in Syria [by the authorities there]?
A: Yes, Jamil was pursued, but he was not found.
Q: Why didn’t he head to Lebanon as you and your comrades did?
A: Jamil stayed in Syria so that the organization would continue to have a presence there, and to follow-up on some matters.
Q: Tell us about the roles of your comrades who are with you in Lebanon, especially since we found two military pistols and a hand grenade and a mask and many other materials that we exhibit in front of you and which were confiscated from the Ramleh al-Beida apartment?
A: I will tell you that Marwan opened our organization’s electronic mail, and renting houses for us in Lebanon. As for Nidhal, he is a mujahid who was being pursued and he managed to arrive to Lebanon. Samer and Wasim are two mujahids from Lebanon. As for the doctor, he is our group’s doctor who was arrested with us, he was our personal physician, and he was pursued too. And you arrested Sheikh Rashid along with the doctor, and he is the head of our group, and the rest are pursued members whom we housed in our apartments to protect them, and there are others who have not been arrested. And they are in other areas of Lebanon, such as Faraj and Dani and Jalal and Nour, and all these aforementioned use aliases, so these are not their real names.
Q: Give us the identities of these persons whom you mentioned by their aliases, and we will show you pictures and personal identification [cards] for those who are in our [custody]?
A: After seeing the pictures in your possession, I can say that the doctor is Tariq al-Nasser, and that Jawher is Faysal Hassan, and that Nidhal is Jamal al-Babily, and that Sheikh Rashid is Hussam Mneimneh, and that Marwan is Hani al-Shenti, and that Samer is Amer Hallaq, and that Wasim is Salim Halimeh, and that Nour is Khalid Taha, and that Jalal—also known by the name Ramadhan—is Bilal Za’aroureh, and he who is known as Abdullah is Ziyad Ramadhan, and let it be known that all those who are in your custody were given forged identification cards through a man known by Murad, who is a Syrian and whose real identity I do not know, and his specialty is forgery and montage.
Q: According to our information, there is an activist who resided in Syria, who is called Sheikh Rashid, who used to head the organization in Syria, and testimonies were recorded saying that those who left Lebanon to fight in Iraq would pledge allegiance to this Sheikh Rashid. Is the aforementioned the same person who is in our custody, who we detained when he tried to call you under normal circumstances?
A: The person you arrested while he was trying to call me from a call center in front of Mazin Pharmacy, and this is a pre-agreed upon place that we call “maram”, is the same Sheikh Rashid who [others pledge allegiance to], and he is also known as Al-Sheikh or Muayyad or with other names that he used during his three year stay in Syria. But the Levant means Syria and Lebanon, so all the mujaheddin coming from Lebanon would pledge allegiance to the Emir in the Levant. Most of those who came from Lebanon would pledge allegiance to Sheikh Rashid, and in some other instances would pledge allegiance to Jamil or Nabil. I want to add that I do not know the full identities of Jamil or Nabil, and I do not confirm to you that Husam Mneinmeh is the real name of Sheikh Rashid, because we do not reveal our real names to each other for security reasons.
I do not know Jamil’s current whereabouts, and he is hiding in Syria, and I spoke to him last from a pay phone in the Verdun neighborhood, which I can lead you to, and his number was 096710528 and it was in the evening time, and that was two days before I was arrested, that is Saturday December 31, 2005. As for Nabil he was martyred in Iraq seven months ago in the city of Al-Qaim when he resisted an American airborne raid there.
Q: You told us that Nabil was who [others would pledge allegiance to], so how is it that he moves to join the fighting in Iraq while the rest of the Emirs who [others pledge allegiance to] don’t?
A: Nabil went to Iraq to fight due to a request from Abu Musa’ab al-Zarqawi. In such a case, orders are not rejected. He was informed of this by Sheikh Rashid.
Q: Tell us about the stages that you’ve witnessed concerning the movement of fighters from Lebanon via Syria to Iraq, by way of procedures?
A: Usually, the mujaheddin from Lebanon are received after they have been vouched for from persons who are already members in the group, and they are activists who have already pledged allegiance, and they are trustworthy. After someone arrives from Lebanon, he is received in Syria, and is taken to a place that we call a ‘madhafeh’ [guest house], without letting him know the route or address, and they procedures are called ‘secure transfer’. Then this person usually undergoes a security seminar, and if the reasons for an immediate transfer to Iraq are satisfied, then he is transferred. And if he isn’t transferred to Iraq, then he remains at the guest house until there is an opportunity to get him into Iraq. During this time, he pledges allegiance to the Emir, which binds him to working with the group. I should add that it the right of a mujahid to stipulate during his pledge of allegiance whether he would be a fighter or a suicide bomber, or to stipulate that he is only to fight the Americans, or to set any conditions that the mujahid may want.
Q: Tell us more about pledging allegiance, inform us is there a way to break one’s pledge, and do you have firsthand experience with anyone who has?
A: Yes, [one can] break the pledge, and that in only specific cases, such as when one of the conditions that were set are not met. As such the pledge is broken and the mujahid is liberated from the pact of allegiance. And this happened with Samer and Wasim.
The approved wording of the pledge is: أبايعك على السمع والطاعة في المنبسط والمكره
Q: After we showed you one of our photographs, you identified Khalid Taha, who you stressed was known to you as Nour, and before that by another name. Do you know where Khalid is now, and when did you last see him or talk to him?
A: After perusing the photograph in your possession, and it is a color photograph of Nour who was previously known by the name Badr, I learnt from you that his name is Khalid Taha, and he was the one who vouched for many of mujaheddin who came from Lebanon. The last time I saw him was 13 days ago in the Corniche Al-Mazra’a neighborhood near the Abdel-Nassir Mosque, and I took him to the Al-Oza’i Mosque, and delivered him to a man named Ali, who transferred him with a man named Murad to the Ain al-Helwah [Palestinian Refugee] Camp to hide there.
Q: Were you in regular contact with Khalid Taha, that is Nour, before the time you are telling us about?
A: Khalid Taha was throughout this last period in Syria with he who is known as Jamil. But after the security sweeps that were conducted by the Syrian security services, he escaped to Lebanon with Jalal towards the end of December 2005. He stayed at the Ain Rummaneh apartment with he who is known as Jalal, that is Bilal Za’aroureh, at Marwan’s, that is Hani al-Shenti, for three days. I received him from Hani in front of the Abdel-Nassir Mosque, and I delivered him to Ali with Murad who was in the Al-Bastah apartment, and Ali got them moved to the Ain al-Helwah Camp. After about four days, I received from Hani al-Shenti he who is known as Jalal and also Ramadhan, in front of the Abdel-Nassir Mosque and I took him to Kheldeh after the bridge near the Bata stores, where Ali arrived and received from me Bilal Za’aroureh and he moved him with two Syrian individuals named Abi al-Rou’a and Ahmad who had stayed in the Al-Oza’i apartment with Nidhal who is currently detained by you. The three of them were moved in Ali’s car to Ain al-Helwah Camp to hide there, per Rashid’s instructions.
Q: Who is Ali, how did you meet him, and since when have you known him?
A: Ali is his alias, I don’t know his real name. He is a Palestinian youth, about 27, from the people of the Ain al-Helwah Camp, and he works for Usbet al-Ansar. Appearance: stout, tall, black fine hair, combs his hair back, thin beard and mustache, wears jeans and sneakers. I saw him for the first time when he arrived to pick-up Khalid Taha and Murad, and I saw him next when he received Bilal Za’aroureh, Abul Rou’a and Ahmed from me. I met him for the first time per Jamil’s instructions from Syria, and I didn’t know him before. Jamil gave me his description and the place where he will arrive in front of the Al-Oza’i Mosque. I will specify to you that Jamil told me that Ali will wait for me in that neighborhood by standing in the street and carrying a small nylon bag with a unique pink color. And so it was: when I arrived in front of the Al-Oza’i Mosque, I saw a young man with such a description, carrying a small pink bag. I approached him and asked him: “Ali?” He answered: “Yes.” Then I delivered Khalid Taha and Murad to him and he left. I met him for the second time as I already told you.
Q: At both times when you delivered Khalid Taha and his companion, and in the second time when you delivered Bilal Za’aroureh and his two companions, tell us what each of them was carrying?
A: In both cases the guys were carrying their bags or nylon bags containing their personal items. Khalid Taha too his personal HP computer on the first time, and at the second time Bilal Za’aroureh took his personal Toshiba computer.
Q: Were Khalid Taha and Bilal Za’aroureh hidden away at the camp based on orders?
A: Yes, the order to hide Khalid al-Taha and Bilal Za’aroureh in the Ain al-Helwah Camp came from Rashid. Jamil coordinated with his acquaintances in the camp to hide them there. As for Murad and Abul Rou’a and Ahmad, they are wanted in Syria, and an order to hide them in the camp was also issued. Usually, an order would arrive for the youth to hide if they meet a security problem, and when the route was open from Syria to Iraq, they would be asked to move to Iraq. But lately, and since the route to Iraq has been closed and security sweeps continue in Syria, the move has been to Lebanon. This is what happened to me and Sheikh Rashid and the other guys like the doctor and others.
Q: Was any order issued to Hani al-Shenti, who is known as Marwan, or to anyone else, to hide and not show up at our headquarters when instructed to do so by us? Who issued the order and to whom?
A: The orders were issued by Jamil and Rashid when they were in Syria, and I was still there, to Marwan, that is Hani al-Shenti, to hide and not to go to the security HQ so as not to take his statement and detain him. This was told to me lately by Hani al-Shenti while I was in Beirut. Wasim and Samer, that is Amer al-Hallaq and Selim Halim[a], had hid at Hani’s in the Al-Besta apartment in expectation that they may be called to any security body in Lebanon, and that is to make sure that what information they know about the activities of the group are not divulged.
Q: Do you know a person called Ziyad Ramadhan, especially since you know Khalid Taha and Hani al-Shenti and Amer al-Hallaq and Selim Halima and Bilal Za’aroureh and others who know this Ziyad character?
A: I have never made the acquaintance of Ziyad Ramadhan, but I had heard about him when I came to Lebanon. I found out that he used to be called Abdullah, and he used to know Amer al-Hallaq and Selim Halima, as I was told by Amer and Selim, and that he used to know Khalid Taha according to what they said.
Q: How did you mention this topic?
A: During my recent stay in Lebanon, Amer and Selim told me that they are hiding because they knew Ziyad Ramadhan, and that they are worried to be called in for questioning, and in this course we talked about the details.
Q: What ties together the individuals in your statement, and when did you meet them?
A: I met Khalid Taha, who was initially known as Badr, two years ago approximately from what I recollect, when he came to Syria and underwent a security seminar that I administered to him in the city of Aleppo. Later he met Nabil and Rashid in that order to give his allegiance, and then Khalid Taha began to recruit the brothers to work with us. Thus arrived Abu Turab who I gave a security seminar to like the rest of the brothers, then Nour, that is Khalid Taha, took him to pledge allegiance to Rashid, and then Marwan, that is Hani al-Shenti, arrived after being vouched for by Khalid Taha, and also underwent my security seminar, and then gave his allegiance to Rashid. Hani vouched for Amer Hallaq and Selim Halima who came to Aleppo and took the security seminar, and then pledged allegiance to Rashid or Nabil. Amer arrived before Selim by two months as far as I remember, and the last person who arrived to pledge allegiance and to take the security seminar was Jalal, that is Bilal Za’aroureh, and that is after Samer and Halim. A while after that the security sweeps began in Syria so we moved to Lebanon and Jamil stayed back and Nabil was martyred in Iraq.
Q: You mentioned Abu Turab to us. Can you remember his appearance or will you recognize him if you see a photograph of him. Do you know his identity?
A: Yes I know the description of Abu Turab because after undergoing my security seminar he was taken by Khalid Taha to Nabil and Rashid to pledge his allegiance, and he is the same person who appeared on TV on 14/2/2005 and read the statement taking credit for the Rafiq Hariri assassination. Khalid Taha told me that his name is Ahmed Abu Ades.
Q: Is this the reason why Khalid Taha and Hani al-Shenti and the others went into hiding after we started looking for them?
A: A week after the assassination, Khalid Taha disappeared and he was not seen, as was usual, at our guest houses. I think he changed his alias from Badr to Nour in that period as far as I remember.
Q: When did Ahmed Abu Ades arrive in Syria, and through whom did you meet him and conduct the seminar that you mentioned?
A: I remember that Ahmed Abu Ades who is known as Abu Turab came to Syria in the beginning of 2005, in [January] of that year. I went to Damascus at the time, where I met him there. With me was Khalid al-Taha. Ahmed Abu Ades traveled with the smuggler that we deal with whose name is Ahmed and he is from the town of Majdel Anjar.
Q: How were you informed that Ahmed Abu Ades had arrived in Damascus, and how did you identify him, and was this the first time you see him or had you seen him before?
A: I had never met him before this time, and Khalid Taha told me that Abu Turab had arrived, and Khalid al-Taha came with me because he knew him, and we met him in Merjeh Square in Damascus whereby the smuggler handed him over to Khalid, and then the smuggler, Ahmed, left us, and Khalid, Ahmed Abu Ades and I took a taxi to a guest house in Damascus, in the Rukn al-Din neighborhood. Abu Ades spent a week there approximately, and then Khalid al-Taha took him to meet Nabil and Sheikh Rashid.
Q: Is it usual for you to personally receive arrivals from Lebanon?
A: No, usually I never receive a person coming from Lebanon in the street, and usually the person comes to the guest house where the seminars are administered.
Q: Then why was it in the Ahmed Abu Ades case that you traveled to meet him?
A: Nabil and Rashid gave me orders to go personally and receive Ahmed Abu Ades.
Q: Why this uniqueness?
A: At the beginning it was not clear to me.
Q: What became clear to you after that, and how did you justify their request of you to personally receive and accompany him?
A: Later, when Abu Ades was shown on TV, I understood the importance of receiving him because he pulled off the operation.
Q: Why are you giving information, which if true could show your culpability and your possession of further details. We advise you to answer in all truthfulness and objectivity and clarity, and to tell all the minutest details about your meeting with Ahmed Abu Ades?
A: After you detained me and detained Sheikh Rashid and members of the group, I could not hide the information that I knew about Ahmed Abu Ades and other details that we know about me and Khalid Taha and Sheikh Rashid. Therefore I will tell you with all honesty and detachment my knowledge of my meeting with Abu Ades and what happened between us.
Q: Are you undergoing any coercion or guidance, and are you giving your statement for some [unknown] purpose, or are you giving your statement in all honesty?
A: I am giving my testimony with my full consent, and without any pressure or any hints. I am telling the truth as it is.
No, I have no more to say, and this is my statement.
[The statement was read back to him, he confirmed it and signed it along with us.]