Ahmed al-Shayea was known as the "living suicide bomb" — the young Saudi driver of a fuel tanker bomb in Iraq who survived to renounce violence and warn his countrymen of the dangers of jihad.
In the process he became Saudi Arabia's poster boy for a high-profile jihadist de-programming initiative whose secondary purpose is to discourage Saudis from joining al-Qaida. With his burned face and mangled hands, al-Shayea was presented as a vivid warning to young Saudis about the perils of jihad and the untrustworthiness of al-Qaida, which he claimed had tricked him into driving the tanker bomb, which killed 12 people in 2004.
That was until November. Then al-Shayea disappeared from Saudi Arabia, only to reappear reportedly in Syria where — his Twitter feed reveals — he has rejoined the ranks of an al-Qaida franchise, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which is engaged in a civil war with other rebels fighting the regime of President Bashar Assad.
The case of al-Shayea raises questions about the effectiveness of the jihadist de-programming efforts, including the well-known Saudi model, which has boasted of rehabilitating and releasing several thousand former jihadists, including some returned by the U.S.
And al-Shayea is not the only prominent jihadist to have returned to al-Qaida. Despite long denials of any recidivism, four years ago it was revealed that Said Ali al-Shihri, a former inmate at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who was also released to the Saudis under the same program, had re-emerged as al-Qaida's deputy leader in Yemen, one of a number of graduates of the de-radicalization program to return to the group.
The last time Ahmed al-Shayea was in the news, he was in the hospital at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, being treated for severe burns from the truck bomb he had driven into the Iraqi capital on Christmas Day 2004.
Today, he says, he has changed his mind about waging jihad, or holy war, and wants other young Muslims to know it. He wants them to see his disfigured face and fingerless hands, to hear how he was tricked into driving the truck on a fatal mission, to believe his contrition over having put his family through the agony of believing he was dead.
At 22, the new Ahmed Al-Shayea is the product of a concerted Saudi government effort to counter the ideology that nurtured the 9/11 hijackers and that has lured Saudis in droves to the Iraq insurgency. The deprogramming, similar to efforts carried out in Egypt and Yemen, is built on reason, enticements and lengthy talks with psychiatrists, Muslim clerics and sociologists.
"I realized that all along I was wrong," al-Shayea told The Associated Press in a two-hour interview at a Riyadh hotel before returning to an Interior Ministry compound that serves as a sort of halfway house for ex-jihadists rejoining Saudi society.
"There is no jihad. We are just instruments of death," he said.
He says that when he was handed over to the Americans a couple of days after his interrogation at the Iraqi Interior Ministry, he was scared because he had heard about the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.
"But the care with which the American officers carried me down to the car when they came to take me made me relax," said al-Shayea. "One spoke Arabic and tried to put me at ease."
Maybe the Syrians will finish the job that we didn't.
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URL to article: http://www.frontpagemag.com/2014/dgreenfield/saudi-terror-rehab-poster-boy-back-with-al-qaeda/