Ahmed al-Darbi - Convicted al Qaeda Operative

darbi flip 8 copy

I met Ahmed al-Darbi on 20 September 1997, when visiting an al Qaeda front company in Yemen. I was an international field service technician installing new machinery and he was the maintenance mechanic at the factory building I was working in.

Ahmed al-Darbi was arrested in Azerbaijan in 2002 and was quickly transfered to US custody at Guantanamo Bay military prison. After turning state witness in 2014, al-Darbi admitted to being an operational member of al Qaeda as part of his plead deal. After over fifteen-years in Guantanamo al-Darbi was transfered to Saudi custody where he is expected to serve a four-year sentence in a rehabilitation centre before his final release.

Details of my 1997 meetings and conversations with Ahmed al-Darbi

The first task of my six day installation visit to Yemen was to unpack the shipping crate and install the machine, about 1½-days work. When I arrived at the factory on Saturday 20 September someone had already completed that first task - the complex machinery had been setup perfectly, an impressive task for anyone not familiar with it. The machine operators who I was to be training for the next few days told me the factory mechanic had set the machine up. I spoke with the mechanic just long enough to confirm that everything was correct and to compliment him on his technical ability. We weren’t formally introduced and he said very little. Although appearing pleased with my praise regarding his machine installation he didn’t linger and soon left to attend to other matters.

My Second Meeting with Ahmed al-Darbi

My next meeting with al-Darbi was on Wednesday 24 September; I’d finished training the machine operators and had asked to spend sometime with the mechanic, showing him the routine maintenance tasks and some fault finding techniques. As the operators handed over to the mechanic they introduced him as Dino, whilst laughing between themselves. The mechanic looked put-out by this and so I asked him what I should call him; he said "Call me Dino” but with more than a hint of resignation in his voice, as though accepting an insult.

I now realise that “Dino" was a reference a children’s cartoon character, Darby the Dinosaur, and was used by the Pakistani employees to belittle Saudi al Qaeda member al-Darbi in front of me, a visiting British service technician.

I spent 2-hours alone with Dino. There was no small talk or general conversation, we spoke only of the techincal details of the machine and its maintenance. Dino displayed a very subtle, dry sense of humour and working with him was a pleasure. When the two machine operators returned the four of us chatted for a few minutes. The operators were demeaning to Dino, joking at his expense in front of me, initially about Dino’s young age - he was only 22. Dino made clear that he was "only the factory mechanic” which prompted the operators to mock him again, with the suggestion that he was low level worker. The operators highlighted that the company name YemPak was an abreviation of Yemen/Pakistan and then belittled Dino further because they were Pakistanis and Dino was not, as though that connection elevated them in some way. Dino didn’t react to this provocation but I did; I interupted the operators to tell them that from what I’d seen that week, Dino was the brightest and most technically able person in the company. I liked Dino and I was happy to stand in his defense. My interjection stopped their barracking of him and Dino took the chance to make his excuses and return to whatever he was doing.

Dino had been working in a seperate section of the factory, the brick built offices that occupied one end of the building. The offices were marked out of bounds the entire week I was there, due to installation work I’d been told and so I asked Dino what he was doing. He told me that he was installing scanning and laser etching equipment used to manufacture printing plates, kit I was familiar with and that I was interested in seeing. But Dino told me that it was too dangerous” for me to see, saying there were “wires everywhere”. I thanked Dino for his time and we bid each other goodbye.

My Third and Final Meeting with Ahmed al-Darbi

HSA Mohamad A Salem saeed alrobaidi

I saw Dino once more, on my last morning in Yemen. He assembled for the group photo and is shown here, standing besides Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. I don’t recall speaking with al-Darbi that morning and I left the HSA compound within a few minutes of this photo being taken.

I was not even aware who Ahmed al-Darbi was until I saw on the news that he’d been scheduled for release from Guantanamo Bay prison in May 2018. It was only then that I made a connection between the man introduced to me as Dino in 1997 and the convicted al Qaeda member Ahmed al-Darbi. 

I still have significant addition testimony regarding Ahmed al-Darbi’s role in al Qaeda that I am unwilling to share until my status as a trial witness or suspect has been clarified.

Truly, for some of us nothing is written, unless we write it 
© Anthony C Heaford - The Quiet Mancunian