Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Gandhi Journal Article-III ( December 2016 ) - Reborn in Riyadh

Gandhi Journal Article-III ( December 2016 ) 

Reborn in Riyadh

The reformation: Inmates at the rehabilitation centre in Thumamah
By Syed Nazakat/Riyadh & Jeddah 
He is an expert in plotting terror strikes. His first mission was to fight the US in Afghanistan and then help the cause of jihad (holy war) worldwide. But in Guantanamo Bay detention camp, Khaled Al-Bewardi was merely No. 68.

Al-Bewardi was 21 when he first heard about al Qaeda’s recruitment for Afghanistan in 2003. The jihadi videos about Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir and Afghanistan convinced him to fight for the “oppressed Muslim”. In November 2003, he lied to his parents that he was off to camp in the desert with friends, a popular pastime of young Saudis. In truth, he, like hundreds of al Qaeda operatives, left for Pakistan.

At loose ends and casting about for a cause, one of his friends suggested that they go see Osama bin Laden, founder of al Qaeda. But before his group could reach Afghanistan and bin Laden, he was arrested in Karachi by a joint team of the US Central Intelligence Agency and Pakistan Special Forces. He was taken to Afghanistan and from there to Guantanamo Bay, a US enclave in Cuba.

After six years there, he was asked to leave his cell and board an aircraft. He thought he would be killed in the air. As he covered his head with his hands and prayed, the Saudi aircraft winged its way to Riyadh.

He disembarked in Thumamah, a former desert resort half an hour’s drive north of the Saudi Arabian capital. Though he did not realise it, he was at another of life’s crossroads. In Thumamah, he could use an indoor swimming pool and a gym, and eat in an air-conditioned dining hall with hundreds of other al Qaeda supporters. There was kasba (meat with rice) or the Najd region speciality, hashi (baby camel). In the evenings, they would paint or play football. On weekends, their wives would join them.

After few months at Thumamah, Khaled was released, with a monthly allowance of 3,000 Saudi riyals, a car and a job. “When I look back at the dark days of my life, it seems like a miracle that I am alive today,” said Khaled, the first reformed al Qaeda man to speak to the Indian media. “My life has suddenly changed for good.”


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