This post concerns Ghassan Abdullah Al Sharbi (spelled al-Shirbi at Wiki), a captured al Qaeda enemy combatant being held at GTMO (Guantanamo Bay Naval Base). We both graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona and I knew him personally while there.
In 2006, I found this article on the US DOD Website:
U.S. military commission proceedings will resume this week in the cases of three enemy combatants held here since 2002.
Proceedings will resume in the case of … Ghassan Abdullah Al Sharbi, a Saudi accused of providing English translation for a terrorist training camp and receiving training on how to build and use hand-held remote detonation devices for explosives. According to the charges… [he was] captured… in March 2002 at a safe house in Pakistan.
[Al] Sharbi, an electrical engineering graduate of Embry Riddle [Aeronautical] University in Prescott, Ariz., is alleged to have attended terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and to have provided translation for another camp attendee’s military training. …[Al] Sharbi traveled to the guest house in Pakistan after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks where he received training in how to build hand-held, remote detonation devices for explosives.
In 1999, I met Ghassan Abdullah Al Sharbi while attending flight school at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona. Imagine my astonishment when I read his name in the article above.
Ghassan originally presented himself to me as an electrical engineering major who was funded by the Saudi government. He was a very likable guy, so we hit it off right from the start.
While in the Army, I attended the Defense Language Institute – Presidio of Monterey, CA. I picked up some Arabic, Farsi, and other languages while I studied German as my language of concentration. I learned just the basics of his language, but it was enough to impress Ghassan. He was astounded when I first felt confident enough to blurt out a few phrases in his native tongue. This quickly became the glue in our relationship.
During one of our conversations, he asked me to name my favorite beer. I told him I preferred stout beer, such as Guinness. He then asked for my address and phone number, which I gave him. I suspected he was planning a visit, and I was correct.
The next evening, Ghassan arrived at my apartment bringing two six-packs of canned Guinness Stout along. He had another Arab man in tow whom I didn’t know. They later informed me that he was Ghassan’s bodyguard. By the look in the man’s eyes, it was apparent he didn’t like me for some reason. He was very tense while Ghassan was very genteel and relaxed.
We drank and chatted about many subjects. Ghassan lamented a few times about being a “bad Muslim” for drinking alcohol. He talked about the House of Saud and how he believed its days were numbered. He seemed particularly interested in religious conflict, bringing up the Irish situation.
My roommate was also present and joined in on the conversation. He was another electrical engineering major. He too had grown up in Saudi Arabia because his father was an American who worked in the oil industry.
He told Ghassan that the Irish situation wasn’t really about religion and tried to explain his point, but Ghassan wasn’t hearing it. He went on to say that the Muslim God is the God of Abraham, the same God worshipped by Jews and Christians. These remarks seemed to bounce off Ghassan’s head.
He later told me that while he and Ghassan were registered in some of the same courses, he almost never saw Ghassan in the classroom. And when he did see him, Ghassan always seemed to flash a lot of money. I noticed the latter as well. Many times Ghassan openly boasted about paying hundreds of dollars to other students to do his course work for him. Several times he asked me to help him plagiarize his homework for money, but I declined. Ghassan said he simply wanted the degree and treated college as a big joke.
After I first encountered Ghassan with his bodyguard in tow, I never again saw him alone. The bodyguard had unending looks of contempt for me and always attempted to cut my conversations with Ghassan short by speaking Arabic and ushering Ghassan away. He was a real pain in the ass.
Ghassan told me he himself was related to the Saudi Royal Family. He once showed me several pictures of himself from his wallet. All were of him in variants of Arab dress. He acted as if these should mean something to me, but at the time they didn’t.
From our first meeting, my instincts told me there was something deeper to Ghassan than what he presented. Why would he travel all the way from Saudi Arabia just to cheat his way through college? It didn’t add up. Early on, I suspected he was a terrorist, or at least could have been one.
I lost track of Ghassan some time after late 2000 or early 2001, but retained his home phone number and address in Phoenix. I phoned him several times, but no one ever answered.
Following a few of my conversations with Ghassan, I met with some of the ERAU faculty, administrators, and a college Dean about my suspicions that Ghassan might be a terrorist. I’m sure they thought I was crazy. Obviously I wasn’t.
I’ve since learned that the university did know terrorists were training on their campuses, and the FBI knew all about it.
I once pointedly asked Ghassan, “Are you a terrorist”? I was firing for effect. This was witnessed by another college Dean whom I was having lunch with at the time. Ghassan gave me a sharp glance but didn’t answer me. Now I know why.
After the 9/11 attacks, I again tried to phone Ghassan. By then the number had been disconnected.
There were other foreign Muslims attending this university as well. On 9/12, two FBI special investigators from Flagstaff came to my house to interview me about one of the Muslims named Zakaria Mustapha Soubra. I had seen him around campus, but didn’t know him. He was arrested and deported some days or weeks later after being linked to 9/11 hijackers and a Tempe, Arizona mosque.
During the interview, I expressed my suspicions about Ghassan. I offered to give them his phone number and address, thinking they may be of some help even if now defunct, but the arrogant FBI investigators were about as interested in information on Ghassan as they might be in flying pigs. I knew Ghassan well, and they just weren’t interested.
That was the last time anyone from the FBI or the university ever spoke with me about radical Muslims at Embry-Riddle. This seems to be more proof that the FBI and ERAU had foreknowledge about Ghassan.
Five years later, my suspicions were verified. My instincts had been spot-on. I had been face to face, had drunk beer, and had developed a relationship with an Al Qaeda terrorist who now resides at GTMO for being an enemy combatant — an al Qaeda enemy combatant.
More about Ghassan in an April 2006 LA Times article:
Detainee Defiantly Admits Charges
An indicted Saudi held at the Guantanamo Bay prison tells a war crimes tribunal he is “willing to pay the price, no matter what it is.”
Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, Cuba
The only indicted detainee mentioned in the Sept. 11 commission report made a defiant first appearance before the war crimes tribunal Thursday, vowing, “I’m going to make this easy.” He said he had taken up arms against the United States and would proudly serve any sentence… He declared himself ready to concede to “I don’t like the word confession,” he said about all the accusations of conspiracy to commit terrorism that have been brought against him… [Al] Sharbi’s name appears in a footnote of the Sept. 11 commission report to Congress, noting he was enrolled at Embry-Riddle when Al Qaeda was allegedly encouraging Muslim sympathizers to enroll in flight training in Arizona. Although he is not accused of direct involvement in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the report noted he had sworn allegiance to Osama bin Laden weeks earlier.
Little was known about the Saudi suspect before his appearance Thursday. He had refused until this week to meet with any attorney, and a transcript of his only other appearance in the tribunal process was released less than two months ago in a massive document dump by the Pentagon after a Freedom of Information Act court order.
“I did not come here to defend myself,” [Al] Sharbi told the presiding officer in his case, Navy Capt. Daniel O’Toole. “I came in to tell you I did what I did and am willing to pay the price, no matter what it is. Even if I spend hundreds of years in jail, that would be an honor to me.” … Soft-spoken but imbued with a cut-to-the-chase impatience, [Al] Sharbi told the court: “I’m going to make this easy for you guys: I’m proud of what I did and there isn’t any reason of hiding.” He said he was planning to testify that “I fought against the United States. I took up arms.” … “I’m not going to be violent or cause trouble. I’m not going to make commotions,” he said. Asked if he was familiar with the tribunal’s purpose, [Al] Sharbi remarked: “Same circus, different clown.” The defendant, with long, thinning hair and a full beard, sat with his hands folded throughout the preliminary proceedings after declining to have Kuebler speak on his behalf. He quoted the military attorney as saying he also considered the war crimes tribunal illegitimate and “a black eye” on the United States’ image. After O’Toole repeatedly queried the defendant about whether he would agree to be represented by any lawyer, [Al] Sharbi replied: “I understand and I advise you not to waste time with me on that point. It’s my decision and I’m not going to change it.”
[Al] Sharbi was arrested March 28, 2002, at an alleged Al Qaeda safe house in Pakistan, along with two other charged detainees here, fellow Saudi Jabran Said bin Al-Qahtani and Algerian Sufyian Barhoumi. In his Combatant Status Review Tribunal, a forum at which all 558 Guantanamo detainees appeared between July 2004 and January 2005, [Al] Sharbi denounced the United States as “the infidel against God” and deplored capitalism and homosexuality as evidence of U.S. society’s perversions. “May God help me fight the infidels or the unfaithful ones,” he chanted at the end of the review hearing, according to a transcript recently released to the Associated Press after a Freedom of Information challenge. It was not clear from the documents when the hearing was held…
So, this guy is one of those responsible for producing those IEDs used against our troops.
Ghassan doesn’t seem to be cooperating with GTMO authorities. I believe there may be a chance he’d speak with me. Who knows? It’s worth a shot.
I have offered my services to the DoD. I have a Military Intelligence background, yet I haven’t heard a peep back from them. How deep does this FBI/Embry-Riddle/al Qaeda relationship go?
Is anybody really listening?