Judging by some of the headlines, you’d think that the Gitmo detainee who pled guilty before a military commission today was merely a chef for Osama bin Laden. A BBC headline reads: “Bin Laden chef pleads guilty at Guantanamo Bay trial.” Another headline, from Reuters, is in the same vein: “Bin Laden's cook pleads guilty at Guantanamo.”
The text from both articles provides a bit more context about the detainee in question, Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi. Still, the articles fall well short of conveying to readers who al Qosi is, exactly.
Yes, al Qosi was a cook on occasion for bin Laden. But what the press doesn’t get is that being a chef for bin Laden is a rather big deal. Only the most trustworthy members of al Qaeda are allowed to prepare the terror master’s food.
Why? Bin Laden and other senior terrorists are very concerned about being poisoned. A senior intelligence official told me years ago, based on interviews of al Qaeda detainees, that bin Laden and other senior terrorists only allow certain members of their clique to touch their food. There is a strain of Arab culture that is deeply concerned about this sort of thing (death by poison in food), and apparently this paranoid style has infected senior al Qaeda members. (Of course, this is not surprising since Osama and Ayman al Zawahiri believe there is a worldwide Zionist-Crusader conspiracy against the Muslim world.)
Al Qosi was picked to handle al Qaeda’s food because he was so trustworthy. Indeed, at some point he told American officials that “one reason he had continued with bin Laden for so long was because Osama bin Laden knew and trusted him.”
But let’s put aside al Qosi’s part-time role as a cook for bin Laden. Based on court filings and declassified documents produced at Gitmo, there is much more to his story. Al Qosi’s cooking skills are actually a trivial detail when compared to the rest of his dossier.
Al Qosi voluntarily joined al Qaeda in 1990 and faithfully served bin Laden until about three months after the 9/11 attacks, when he was captured along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. During those 11 years of service (!), al Qosi spent three stints fighting for al Qaeda and the Taliban.
The first came after he was trained on various weapons at al Qaeda’s notorious al Farouq training camp. A memo prepared for al Qosi's combatant status review tribunal at Gitmo in 2004 notes that he “was trained on the following weapons: Makarov 9 mm pistol, Seminov, AK-47, AKSU-74, RPG-7, RGD-5 Offensive Hand Grenade, F-1 Antipersonnel Grenade, and M-43 120 mm Mortar.”
Al Qosi put his training to good use, as he fought on the jihadists’ front lines in Afghanistan in 1990 and 1991. He then moved to Sudan along with al Qaeda’s leadership and became the “treasurer/accountant” for a company named TABA, which was owned by Osama bin Laden. In that capacity, al Qosi handled al Qaeda’s funds and delivered several thousand dollars to a mysterious operative in Ethiopia. The declassified files don’t make it clear who this “unkown man” was, or what the money was used for.
Al Qosi got tired of being an accountant, so he wrote a letter to bin Laden in 1995 asking for permission to fight in Chechnya. His request was granted, and so off al Qosi went to fight again. This time he served as part of a mortar crew and fought for nearly a year. That was al Qosi’s second stint as a jihadist fighter.
The third stint came in the late 1990s after al Qosi rejoined Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in 1996. Al Qosi fought for more than one year again on behalf of al Qaeda and the Taliban. He also performed other services such as being a bodyguard, driver, and cook for Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda operatives.
In late 2001, al Qosi helped bin Laden flee to the Tora Bora Mountains before they parted ways.
In December 2001, al Qosi was detained along the border of Afghanistan-Pakistan and turned over to American forces. He was then shipped off to Guantanamo and today he pled guilty to terrorism charges for providing conspiracy and material support.
It is easy to see why. Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi was no mere cook.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD).