In the wake of 9/11, Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda called for a number of attacks within Saudi Arabia against the government and Saudi society. Abrahim was in Riyadh on 9/11 and discusses what was going on at the time. In 2013 he started working for Vinnell translating US Army manuals for use by the Saudi National Guard in their operations against terrorism. He also discusses the the Sunni/Shia divide and how that has played out against the backdrop of violence in Iraq.
Interview conducted on April 18, 2015 in Manhattan, New York.
Present: Richard Hayden and Abrahim Alfawzan
Transcribed by Richard Hayden
Richard Hayden: What is your full name?
Abrahim Alfawzan: Abrahim Alfawzan.
RH: What military-related contracting work did you do?
AA: I did translation for Northrop Grumman working with the Saudi National Guard.
RH: Where did that occur?
AA: In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
RH: What were the dates of that work?
AA: I worked from, I think, November 2013 until June 2014.
RH: What motivated you to do the work that you did?
AA: For one thing, I’m a dual citizen so I’ve always wanted to get some military experience and for me to be able to join a military branch would be viewed as foreign in Saudi which makes it a little difficult and complicated. So this was a great opportunity to work for a US military contractor working with the Saudis and it would give me an ability to be in Saudi because I have family out there. It was working between both of them, basically facilitating the US Army and the Saudi National Guard, being able to translate and connect them. I thought it was a great opportunity for me to get some experience.
RH: How did your family feel about your decision?
AA: They supported it. They supported the fact that I would be coming back to be around them because most of them lived in Riyadh.
RH: Where were you on September 11th?
AA: September 11th I was in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. I was going to high school there. I was off school already. Around Saudi time it was around four and five PM. I was just off school and I was literally watching Fresh Prince of Bel Air and they cut off the show to put the news on.
RH: What specific memories do you have of that day?
AA: The memories I only had is just what was on TV. I remember they cut off the show to show the first tower, went back to the show, and when the second tower hit all the channels basically cancelled everything and it was just that on TV. I was a little young at the time. I hadn’t visited New York before. We’d go to the West Coast a lot but we did definitely relate to what happened. What we did not relate and what I saw from people’s reaction out there is everyone was pissed off. They thought, “we’re pretty sure you’re going to blame the Arabs. They’re probably going to blame us.” You had probably twenty percent of the people saying, “Israel had something to do with it to get us to be blamed.” And then you had about, maybe, forty percent were saying, “yes, it’s bin Laden.” And then when you go look into the people who thought it was bin Laden, you’d see some that support what he did and others that thought it was stupid and that he should not have engaged in that attack.
RH: What was the mood like in Riyadh in the weeks that followed?
AA: It was basically just waiting for the next step that the US would take. Because whatever that next step would be in that region, everyone was worried to see what would happen. There was some concerns of what kind of pressure the Saudi government would get, the Saudi people would get. I think the weeks and the months that followed, the pressure ended up changing some of the books that they teach in middle school and high school, religious study books. They took out things that mention jihad. They looked into those but not everyone supported the change. Others did. It was mixed feelings. That’s how it was.
Some people did not think that it happened so when Afghanistan was mentioned to go and attack there, people were confused and saying, “oh, bin Laden had nothing to do with it. It’s just an excuse to go.” Others were OK with it. The one that I did not see any support for was Iraq. Every time it gets mentioned everyone was like, “what’s this?”
RH: I know that some people seem to know but once the US started to focus on bin Laden, did the mood shift at all?
AA: When they focused on bin Laden?
RH: I know that the US started focusing on bin Laden at the outset but then when it became apparent that it was Al Qaeda, how did the public opinion shift at all?
AA: You’ve got to understand that the Saudi government was against bin Laden at the time so it’s not the easiest place to speak in Saudi. There’s still a lot of people in private that would mention that they support bin Laden and his move. They felt that he was gaining some power out there. Others wanted him gone from the beginning because they would still be with the Saudis and be fighting bin Laden and Al Qaeda and team up with the US.
People were concerned about the attacks that he wanted to initiate in Saudi. One of his videos that showed up – we were watching Al Jazeera at the time. Al Jazeera was big back then. It was the only one, the only channel that puts everything out and wasn’t controlled by any government at the time. It was supported by the government but it wasn’t controlled by any government to the point that a lot of governments don’t want Al Jazeera and their journalists out there.
So we watched the bin Laden videos, the whole videos. He sent the videos to Al Jazeera because he knew they would put the whole thing on. We watched it and it got to a point where he was saying that, he was telling people to fight the Saudi government and blow up the oil. That’s when everybody was like, “OK. What are we doing now?” [laughs]
[interview paused momentarily to allow waiter to bring our coffee]
RH: So everybody was able to watch Al Jazeera and see that bin Laden was sending all these videos that said to destroy Saudi society?
AA: The oilfields in Saudi, he decided to attack them. Within these years, 2002 to 2005, there were plenty of attacks out in Saudi. They were targeting foreigners in Saudi and they were targeting Saudis themselves at some point.
The company that I worked for, Vinnell, was attacked in their camp a couple of times. Some of the people I worked with were there during the attacks. I think it was 2005. They lost seventeen people. They had their camp almost outside of the city but three cars came in and had guns. No one has guns inside the camp. They forced the guy at the door to open the gate. He was a Saudi and religious – a guy with a beard. That’s what they told me. He was an Arab guy with a beard. I don’t know where he’s from but they spared his life. They specifically told him, “we’re not going to shoot you because you have that beard but open up that gate.” So he opened the gate and they went in just basically shooting everyone and their car exploded after they escaped. I think they found out that someone that works inside the camp, a Filipino national, he helped them out and gave them maps of what’s inside. He left the country but he got caught after a while.
These years this just happened constantly. Another guy that worked for Vinnell got stopped at a checkpoint. There were a lot of checkpoints in Riyadh. I can easily go drive from my house to my cousin’s house and run into three to four checkpoints. They would look for suspicious cars or people on their Saudi list of terrorism. One of the Americans that worked for the company was going through a checkpoint but it was a fake checkpoint and they dragged him out of the car and took him out. He was the guy that they ended up beheading in 2005.
RH: Al Qaeda was responsible for all of these?
AA: It was Al Qaeda, yes. It was Al Qaeda or people that affiliated with Al Qaeda because in the bin Laden video he was telling people his plan. He was telling people what to do. He was telling people just don’t have contact with him directly but they affiliated with him so they were like, “there’s three of us. We can do it. We can do what sheikh bin Laden says.”
During my time I remember I had a friend, Osama was his uncle, he was from the bin Laden family. They were a really wealthy family but none of them were religious at all. They were extremely liberal, they were friendly to the point that after the attacks they all put in their passports that – they travel a lot – they all put in their passports, “not related to Osama.”
RH: You lived in proximity to some of them at some point? In your e-mail you said you lived across the street?
AA: Yes. I think it was my last year in high school or the year before that. I think it was 2004. There were two or three terrorist attacks, one on the Saudi Ministry of the Interior and another on the Saudi Special Forces or something like that. It was two different attacks and it was all over the news. Not a lot of people were killed. I think no one was killed but a lot people were injured.
The attacks were not successful but they ended up following one of the cars that detonated one of these bombs and it happened to be in front of my house. The leader of Al Qaeda at the time was just sitting there in an apartment building across the street. So they followed the car and they went in. A lot of these people, you can’t just knock the door and say, “we’re going to arrest you.” They’re already ready. They have their suicide vests on. They’re ready to die. You’ve just got to try to shoot them and end it, you know? So it was just a mass shootout for three days in the neighborhood. We had RPGs flying out to different buildings. It was just seven people where civilians lived in the middle of the city where it’s not a war. It’s not that easy. It took some time but the Saudi Special Forces were designed, they made that branch just for terrorism after 2001 or 2002. They killed all of them. They had to find a way to destroy them.
I don’t know how many years he had been living across the street and planning all these attacks but they basically were just hiding there. They had two or three people that were able to go out. One guy, they used his computer and all that.
RH: At the time, how did you feel about what was going on around you?
AA: I feel, when I was there it was just, you never know. It’s just a group of people or some individuals that dress like a civilian. You never know who it is and when that person decides to do some attack. And I was just thinking, using the violence was not going to be able to stop them. It wasn’t the best way to do it. I’ve seen videos out in the city at the time. One guy, apparently, they suspected that he was a member of Al Qaeda or that he was affiliating himself with them, he was just shopping at the grocery store and he noticed cop cars standing outside so he thought, “oh, they’re coming for me.” He comes out with a gun and just starts shooting all of them until he was shot. He could have killed anyone walking by. You never know. I could have been in that store shopping with this guy and I would not know.
But that’s what I was thinking. I was thinking having them fight and using force and having them use force wasn’t going to stop it and it hasn’t stopped it. It’s still going. New groups are showing up now. We’re looking at ISIL. No one expected that they would have that much power out there.
RH: As soon as the war in Iraq started, were there any changes in Saudi Arabia? Did security get tighter or were there any concerns about the war spilling over?
AA: I’m pretty sure the border, the border between Saudi and Iraq, yes. Inside Saudi I think that most of the concern was just the Saudi terrorists that would be there within the country. Security was tighter. I left in 2006. Since 9/11 until I left it was just really, extremely tight in every shape or form. You don’t want to say the wrong thing, you know? So yes, they did a great job with security. It has been a lot safer right now and there isn’t much going on with random attacks or even just a random person doing it. When I was there this last time when I went to work I’ve seen some pictures that I get on What’s App. Some guy is holding the ISIL flag and they would write down the region and it would be a region in Saudi. Then three or four days later we would get another message that follows up that this guy was caught.
RH: So let’s move onto your contracting experience. You said you worked for Northrop Grumman, correct?
RH: What did you do exactly?
AA: I translated US Army manuals and weapons manuals. The department I went to, they developed the training. They get the same training the US Army has and they develop it in different ways and I would translate that to the Saudi National Guard.
RH: Did you work with US forces as well?
AA: A lot of the ones that worked were veterans. The active ones, I think, they would just show up every once in a while. They weren’t full-time, obviously. Part of the attacks and the big payouts in Saudi was not having US forces in Riyadh. So they would have the base in Bahrain and they would come every once in a while. They would not stay. The ones that stayed there were not active.
RH: What was it like training the National Guard? It was just translation? Did you go out to the field with them at all?
AA: No. Vinnell developed these and then they trained. They had people out there training them. What I put out there are documents that the National Guard would teach themselves with, orient themselves. Sometimes in the field they would have an American out there and they would have copies of what had been translated but my division was just office work. I don’t go out in the field. It’s too hot. Thank God. [laughs]
RH: [laughs] It does get hot over there. Let’s see. What are some of the notable events that occurred during your job as a contractor?
AA: I liked doing that work because I liked working with both sides, the Saudis and the Americans. Most of the people that I worked with in the office were Americans but with the tight security, still right now, we don’t see many people. When the Saudi National Guard got themselves up you would see one or two of them a week. I think in my division we had probably thirteen Americans and seven Arabs. They were not all Saudis. There was a Jordanian and there was a Syrian. We’d kind of just stick together. We don’t move around too much. There’s always security out there. You park your car far away from the building. It wasn’t easy. The Americans lived in the camp and I’m Saudi so I have friends out there and I have family. I noticed one thing, I can’t be texting the Americans that I know, “oh, let’s go hang out.” Or I can’t go bring my friends to go into camp. I can go to the camp and play basketball for instance but I can’t bring any of my friends out because they have to undergo a background check.
So the tight security, it’s understandable but it’s something that I really noticed out there. And actually one of the people in the company was shot in March, possibly March last year. Actually, no. It was the end of the year. It was probably August.
RH: Did the compound that you worked at find itself targeted at all?
AA: After the attacks in 2005 I think there’s really tight security now. It’s extremely tight to the point that I still, working for the company, I park all the way out there. I can’t go in. The people that live in the compound, they would not be able to bring any people in. They could bring in their cars but before going in there was a lot of tight security. They usually look under the car and even if you say you don’t have anyone inside the car, they’ll still look into it just in case. Because one guy could be bringing one girl in and that could destroy the whole thing.
The Saudi National Guard is managing the whole thing outside. It just takes one car to drive around twice and they’ll stop you. One thing the Saudis are good at is security arrangements. One thing they’re good at right now, especially after 9/11, there wasn’t so much fear before that but one thing I saw that they got really good at is security. And yes, there are things that you can do out there that you can’t do here with rights and all that. If someone stops you out there you can’t be like, “oh, you have no right to stop me.” I don’t see that anyone is taking advantage of that. It’s just everyone understands it. They’re like, “I’m not doing anything wrong. You can look at my stuff. You can do that.”
I just wanted to add, driving to my dad’s house I remember we drove up to the neighborhood, my friend was coming in the house but he was smoking a cigarette. I told him to drive around, just loop around the neighborhood until he finishes his cigarette and he literally drove one time and there was a cop behind us. He stopped us and just checked our IDs and asked why we were driving around. It was a normal neighborhood. It wasn’t like it was a diplomatic quarter or there were a lot of foreigners there or it was a military base. It was just a normal neighborhood and it was like, “cool. Here’s my ID. I just live right here but cool.” [laughs] It makes me feel safe walking into my house.
RH: After you finished in June of 2014, did you come straightaway to the United States or did you stay in Saudi Arabia for a little while longer?
AA: I came to New York to finish grad school.
RH: And you’ve been studying here ever since?
RH: As you were doing this contractor work, I already asked about your family, we already got this. Actually, you already covered most of my questions. That’s good!
AA: I talk a lot sometimes. [laughs]
RH: That’s cool. That’s what we want. Feel free. Talk as much as you want. Let’s talk a little bit about Iraq’s current state. How do you feel about the rise of ISIS and the current direction that Iraq is taking?
AA: I just think that there is a lot of international and outside influence in the country and interests that is not making Iraq progress at all. Whether it’s the US involvement, the Saudi, the Turkish, the Iranian involvement, it’s not necessary and they have a lot of influence that is now making a poor country that went through many years of war, to bounce back and be stable. What makes it more difficult, I think the divisions that are within the society, they’re just embedded there. Saddam put them there. They’re too deep to break them up until all these sides – the Kurds, the Sunnis, the Shias – just get along within a day or two. I think that after Saddam’s regime was gone, these groups went out for power and wanted their own thing. I don’t think they were ready to live together in peace yet.
RH: What is the general view of Saudis as to what’s going on in Iraq right now?
AA: You know, looking at what happened in Iraq I think they’re all related, all the Arab Springs that happened. Everyone back in Saudi, a lot of people got excited at the changes that were happening. I’m sure that a lot of people in the West thought that, “oh, democracy is happening in Iraq. That might spill over into the region and bring more democracy to the region.” But that just wasn’t true. A lot of people in Saudi thought the same thing. “Oh, maybe we’ll see Iraq get a lot better. There’s an Arab Spring happening. Maybe we’ll see changes here.” But now everyone rallies around Al Saud and is like, “you guys give us security and stability. I don’t think we need any of these rights – the right to vote for anyone else.” So I think everyone is looking at all these failures including the other countries of the Arab Spring. Not specifically Iraq but Iraq is part of it. The security doesn’t exist anymore there and it became one of the most dangerous countries. A lot of people see that it’s just failed and a lot of people look at the country and say, “I don’t know if Saudi is ready for any changes.”
RH: What are some of the misconceptions that people who are not from Saudi Arabia or the Middle East might have about the current situation?
AA: In Iraq?
AA: In my opinion I think one of the misconceptions is the divide the society has. People blame Nouri al-Maliki for his policies and I don’t think that his policies contributed to the failure, the state. It was the divisions between them that was imbedded since Saddam took over. I don’t think Iraqi society was ready for democracy. Or it will just take a while. A lot of people don’t think that just enforcing democracy upon them was the right decision.
RH: This might not be relevant but are there any lessons you learned while contracting over there that are relevant to the current situation in Iraq?
AA: Nothing that I would add.
RH: Can you talk a little bit about the Sunni/Shia divide?
AA: Whatever happened in Iraq, that divide that happened in Iraq happened the same way in Syria right now. It’s happening all over the Middle East currently. I have friends that text me or send me links or video. I’m getting it right now. This last month it’s been a daily event where I get something about the Sunni/Shia divide. An argument of two people on TV. There’s one Egyptian TV channel and they brought Sunni and Shia and they were discussing differences. He asked them the question of, “the Egyptian Shias, do they affiliate themselves with Iran or do they affiliate themselves with Egypt?” There is always that question and I’ve heard that question multiple times in Saudi with the Shia minority. It’s a small number of Shias out there but the question of if they affiliate themselves with Iran, it’s always out there.
And it’s within the Saudi led invasion or involvement in Yemen. They’re fighting the Shias there and I get – do you mind if I show you one of these pictures that I get?
AA: Somebody would draw a picture of the Iranian influence. [searches for picture on his phone, emerges with a photo that this friend e-mailed him] So this is grainy, this map. Somebody drew this. This is Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. What do you see in this map?
RH: It looks like there’s a map of a hand holding a snake that’s surrounding the Middle East. Saudi Arabia, Yemen, parts of Iran and Iraq and Syria.
AA: And you see, it starts from southern Lebanon and what this says [pointing to the body of the snake] is, “Iranian influence.” Right now it went southern Lebanon, Bashar in Syria, Iraq is controlled by the Shias, Iran and now Yemen and this is what they say is the hand of Salman, King Salman. That’s the Iranian influence and I get these daily. I‘ve never seen them to that magnitude when I lived in Riyadh. It’s almost unheard of. One thing is because a lot of the Shias lived in the east. The only Shias I’ve met in Riyadh were going to college there and they would leave on the weekend. But now it’s a big topic and you can see the divide. It’s kind of scary. It can blow up even more.
RH: How do the Kurds fit into all this?
AA: The Kurds?
AA: The Kurds are just seen as different. I don’t think it comes back to religion. It just comes back as they want their own state. But that decision, people fight them because it will take part of Iraq, Syria and Turkey. No state, even if they have a little piece of land that they don’t use, no state would want to get rid of any part of it, especially part of the population. So that comes back to it. I don’t think it’s a big topic in the Gulf.
RH: How do you think the nuclear negotiations between the US and Iran, or, I should say, the partner countries and Iran, if they are able to reach a deal how will that effect relations in the Middle East?
AA: I don’t know what goes on between them in private, there’s a lot of talks in private, from what I see, right now I think Obama is meeting all of those heads of state at Camp David this month some time so that will show what the deal is. I think it’s one of the things that got the Saudis and all of the other Arab states to get together and made it easy to go into Yemen to the point that I read an article in the Huffington Post last week that there were talks by Qatar, Saudi and Turkey to go into Syria and do the same thing. Turkey says that, “we don’t want to send my troops by themselves.” I think it made it seem like a move by the Sunni and officially Arab states, you can also include Turkey, of saying, “we can get together.” It’s a way to show Iran that you can fix your relations with the US but we can still get together and protect ourselves. Because you have to understand, they’re fighting the Shias in Yemen and if anything happens in Syria, they’re fighting the Shia-controlled government.
RH: Is there any common ground between, how can I say this right?, is there any common ground between Saudi Arabia and Iran? Or maybe the question is better asked, is there any common ground between the Shiites and the Sunnis?
AA: I think there should be. I’m studying Governance and Rights and what I said about Saddam and how these divisions happen, I think the government should do more to try to get these populations together. You’ve got to mix them up and move them around. I mean, they do. Especially in Saudi, they do a great job. They give them everything they need. They have this huge scholarship program from the Saudi Ministry of Higher Education and a lot of Saudi Shias they go into that program but it’s not like they discriminate against them in any sort. You’ve got to talk to them to see how they feel, what they view. I know one of the things that they view is their religious freedom that they want. They have some sort of religious freedom but they probably want more or they want their Shia books to be taught in school rather than what the Saudi Sunni government wants. This is my assumption of some of the things that they would want to ask for but they’re still getting a lot. It’s not like Saddam.
So I don’t know. I’ve met a number of Shias and if they don’t discuss religion then it will be fine. It’s when they start touching on the religious topic it gets, I think just the fact that they both call themselves Muslims, that’s when it’s like, “wait, no.” I can see a Muslim hanging out with a Jewish person but they know that he’s Jewish so don’t use the name of Islam to change the belief. I think that’s where it gets touchy.
RH: Alright. Anything else to say about the Sunni/Shia split before we move on? I have a couple more questions.
AA: No. I just hope that it doesn’t get bigger than it is right now. I’ve been to a lecture, I don’t know if you had Peter Hoffman as a professor.
RH: I have not. No.
AA: They talk about, they think that the Saudi government and Iranian government should work together to diffuse this before it gets any bigger. It’s an option out there. It might not happen. It’s unlikely.
RH: Do you have any funny stories about your time as a contractor?
AA: That I have to think about for a second. There’s nothing. I had an amazing time to see some of the Saudis that never went to the US or met an American coming together. I had an amazing time, every once in a while we would cook food together or bring food together and having some of the Americans try the Arabic food and the other way around the same thing. Just to have the people come in. I thought it was great to see how they connect and communicate with each other. I thought that was amazing. There’s not much funny stuff.
I liked when I was in Saudi, I’m a big sports guy and in Saudi they’ve only got soccer and if they go outside of soccer it’d be soccer in Europe. I like that too but being in Saudi I enjoyed going to work and just go hang out and talk about basketball. [laughs] That was nice. And when I’d get out it was like two different societies. I saw the two different societies within hours of each other. It was amazing. For me it was two parts of me. I lived here and I lived there and I’d go out and switch it up every once in a while. I’d get off work and go hang out with some Saudi friends and I’d say something about Kevin Durant and then be like, “never mind. I can’t talk to you guys about this.” [RH laughs]
RH: What are some of the things that you did to facilitate communication between the Arabs and the Americans on your staff?
AA: When they say jokes or we just talk about normal talks, it wasn’t technical or it wasn’t on the books, and they’d say some slang that would come out and we’d start laughing, some of the things I’m like, “I’ll translate that to you. I’ll tell you what that means.” [RH laughs]
RH: Alright. Now that you have been on both sides, I touched on this a little bit earlier but what are some of the common misconceptions that both Saudis and Americans share about what’s going on right now?
AA: Misconceptions between Saudis and Americans about what’s going on between the two countries or what’s going on between Iraq?
RH: With Iraq.
AA: There’s a good number of Saudis that have misconception about why the US is there. They think they’re using the country rather than fixing it. They’re not understanding that the plan didn’t go right. This is just war and they didn’t expect to be there that long. It’s costing the US money. When I say some I mean nine percent or ten percent of the people that I’ve seen would have that idea, “oh, they’re just occupying Iraq. They want to leave making it a country they depend on, an ally.” Of course any country would do that. Look at what Saudi is trying to do in Yemen. They don’t want the Iranian influence there. Having the idea that there’s profit out there, I don’t think that’s true.
RH: Then on the American side?
AA: The American side, not much. We really didn’t touch on it much, especially the Americans that I worked with. One thing we don’t talk about very much is politics, just to make it a good environment, especially having two different people, the Saudis and Americans, working together. It’s one of the topics that you try not to touch on sometimes.
But I’ve had friends, some of the ones that I worked with went to Iraq and one of the things that I would mention is the job opportunities after you are done as a veteran. Some of the things that they discussed at some point. Some of these people ended up working in Saudi and they thought it was a great opportunity for them because they didn’t like the fact that they weren’t finding opportunities like that out in the US.
RH: Is there anything that the average American and anything that the average Saudi could help do to reduce the conflict in Iraq? Actually, let me broaden this. Is there anything that the average American and the average Saudi can do to help reduce the conflict in Iraq or maybe the Sunni/Shia schism?
AA: On a personal level, on an individual level, just try to connect with one another. That’s the only way. One of the guys I’ve worked with was Shia, Saudi Shia, from the eastern province of Saudi. We had Sunnis making the person who comes to them from the east, that did not grow up around the Sunnis, comfortable to be around. I think that’s the most important thing and making sure you acknowledge the common things about you rather than the differences. It’s as simple as that but I think it comes back to governing. It’s a bigger picture than one individual. There will always be one individual that makes things worse. Getting that person as a Shia to come work in Sunni-dominated Riyadh, that’s a good move for him. They need to be able to go outside and be around the Sunnis and have the Sunnis be around them and know that there are others. Obviously the Sunnis were working with people that were Christians on the base and yes, you’ll have some similarities but you need to accept the differences too.
RH: Is there anything that I left out that you would like to address?
RH: Alright. I have two more questions. After bin Laden was killed, what was the reaction in Saudi Arabia to that?
AA: First of all, I think a lot of them did not see him as an enemy. Especially before 9/11 he was actually considered a hero for what he did in Afghanistan. After, there was a good amount of people that wanted him stopped but they don’t think he is doing all the work now. He established that idea for following what he did so him being killed didn’t matter much because people are still going to do the things, you know? There’s still that idea, there’s still Al Qaeda, there’s still the extremists that see themselves as mujahedeen. So I didn’t see a big reaction.
I was in Portland, Oregon when it happened and nothing that I heard was excitement. Some people just actually didn’t believe that he was killed. They’re like, “he’s probably dead years ago. They just did that because Obama wants to get reelected.” Or something like that. There wasn’t any support like the ones I saw here in the US. He was the enemy of the US more likely than anything else. In Saudi he initiated attacks with other people. He told people to do it but he never did it himself.
RH: My last question is, what specific accomplishment are you most proud of during your time as a contractor?
AA: Just being able to do it. I think just going out there and doing it. I had a lot of people tell me not to go into that field or to work in a place like that. It can be dangerous. I’m proud that I did. Working there in Riyadh, being at work at five in the morning, being a civilian doing that. Having other friends that have their degrees go to work at nine, I wake up at 3:30 to drive forty-five minutes outside of Riyadh to go into work. Everyone was like, “I can help you find another job.” And I was like, “no. I like what I’m doing.” I think it’s just an amazing experience. I’m improving myself in the language. I’m seeing a side, getting a little bit of exposure of the military industry. I can’t join, I thought of joining, but I wanted to do maybe the National Guard or something like that but it’s not that easy to do it so I was like, “this is good.” Then I can go grab that experience and go do the whole bit some way or another and go do a graduate program after that. I got calls from Linked In and, someone in Human Resources, they wanted me to work for them. They’ll pay more but I’m like, “I like what I’m doing right now.” For me it’s temporary and it’s a learning experience. For me, that’s what I’m proud of, just going. And actually leaving Portland. I had a job there at the time and I’m like, “I’m leaving everything. I’m going to go try something.”
RH: Alright man, anything else?
AA: No. I’m good.
RH: All right. Thank you very much. Shukran!