Freed Guantánamo inmates are heading for Yemen to join al-Qaeda fight

Freed Guantánamo inmates are heading for Yemen to join al-Qaeda fight

Said Ali al-Shihri, Ibrahim Suleiman al Rubaish (ID not confirmed); Abdullah Saleh Ali al Ajmi; and Abdullah Mahs

Tom Coghlan

At least a dozen former Guantánamo Bay inmates have rejoined al-Qaeda to fight in Yemen, The Times has learnt, amid growing concern over the ability of the country’s Government to accept almost 100 more former inmates from the detention centre.

The Obama Administration promised to close the Guantánamo facility by January 22, a deadline that it will be unable to meet. The 91 Yemeni prisoners in Guantánamo make up the largest national contingent among the 198 being held.

Six prisoners were returned to Yemen last month. After the Christmas Day bomb plot in Detroit, US officials are increasingly concerned that the country is becoming a hot-bed of terrorism. Eleven of the former inmates known to have rejoined al-Qaeda in Yemen were born in Saudi Arabia. The organisation merged its Saudi and Yemeni offshoots last year.

The country’s mountainous terrain, poverty and lawless tribal society make it, in the opinion of many analysts, a close match for Afghanistan as a new terrorist haven.

Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, voiced concern about the growing strength of al-Qaeda in Yemen. “Obviously, we see global implications from the war in Yemen and the ongoing efforts by al-Qaeda in Yemen to use it as a base for terrorist attacks far beyond the region,” she said.

A Yemeni, Hani Abdo Shaalan, who was released from Guantánamo in 2007, was killed in an airstrike on December 17, the Yemeni Government reported last week. The deputy head of al-Qaeda in the country is Said Ali al-Shihri, 36, who was released in 2007. Ibrahim Suleiman al-Rubaish, who was released in 2006, is a prominent ideologue featured on Yemeni al-Qaeda websites.

Geoff Morrell, the spokesman for the Pentagon, said: “This is a large question that goes beyond the issue of transferring detainees. The bulk of the remaining detainees are from Yemen and that has been the case for a long time. We are trying to work with the Yemeni Government on this.”

The US Government issued figures in May showing that 74 of the 530 detainees in Guantánamo were suspected or known to have returned to terrorist activity since their release. They included the commander of the Taleban in Helmand province, Mullah Zakir, whom the British Chief of the Defence Staff, Sir Jock Stirrup, called “a key and seemingly effective tactical leader”. Among others who returned to terrorism was Abdullah Saleh al-Ajmi, a Kuwaiti who killed six Iraqis in Mosul in 2008.

The number believed to have “returned to the fight” in the May 2009 estimate was double that of a US estimate from June 2008. US officials acknowledged that more detainees were known to have reoffended since, but the number has been classified.

“There is a historic trend and it continues. I will only say that we have said there is a trend, we are aware of it, there is no denying the trend and we are doing our best to deal with this reality,” Mr Morrell said.

Officials said that a higher proportion of those still being held were likely to return to terrorism because they were considered more of a security threat than those selected in the early stages of the release programme.

Chris Boucek, an expert on the region for the Carnegie Endowment think-tank, said that up-to-date figures for Saudi Arabia showed that 26 of the 120 Saudis released from Guantánamo were either in jail, wanted by the authorities or dead.

Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen expert at Princeton University, said evidence showed that al-Qaeda was seeking to use Yemen to mount a renewed campaign into Saudi Arabia. He cited a recent incident in which two Saudi militants, one the brother-in-law of alShihri, were killed while trying to cross the border in women’s clothing. Martyrdom videos were subsequently posted on militant websites.

The Saudi Government had boasted previously of a zero reoffence rate for Guantánamo detainees who were put through its widely praised rehabilitation programme for al-Qaeda members.

Robert Lacey, who writes about Saudi Arabia, made numerous visits to the Prince Mohammad bin Naif rehabilitation facility north of Riyadh.

“I know a number of young men from Guantánamo who were successfully reintegrated,” he told The Times. “The programme involves the whole family with a mixture of religious re-education, patriotism, guilt and co-opting in terms of being given a car, job and a nice wife.”

However, other analysts suggested that the claims for the Saudi programme were exaggerated. Mr Johnsen pointed out that an attack that nearly killed Prince Mohammad bin Naif, the Saudi head of counterterrorism, in August was mounted by a Yemen-based al-Qaeda terrorist who had offered to join the reintegration programme to get near his target.

“The Saudi programme is nothing but bureaucratised bribery. The ideologically committed terrorists simply won’t listen,” Mr Johnsen said.

The Yemen reintegration programme for terrorists was abandoned on December 10, 2005.

Letters from Gitmo

Letters from Gitmo
By David Frum
AEI.org | November 14, 2006

The 430 prisoners in the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay send and receive 44,000 pieces of mail per year. Lawyers fly in and out on the commercial flights from Miami to the U.S. base to meet with their clients. The International Red Cross inspects the camp and interviews prisoners.And yet the idea persists that
Guantanamo represents some kind of “American Gulag”–and that the detainees are victims of a monstrous miscarriage of justice: innocent goatherds and blameless wedding guests swept up by blind American injustice.

Ten days ago, I joined one of the regular tours of Guantanamo organized by the
U.S. military. Hundreds of
U.S. and international journalists, human rights experts, and parliamentarians had taken this trip before me. (You can read a four-part description of the visit in the next four issues of the Toronto Sun, in articles and photographs by Peter Worthington, who travelled with me.)

Here in this shorter space, I want to focus on something else: the words of the detainees themselves, as posted in 53 PDF volumes at http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/detainees/csrt/index.html.

These statements are excerpted from the testimony of detainees before military tribunals. The evidence against the detainees in many cases remains classified, but you can read the protestations of innocence in full–and determine their credibility for yourself.

Some selections from my own still incomplete reading (citations will be posted Monday at frum.nationalreview.com):

  • One detainee, a Kuwaiti national named as an al-Qaeda operative on a seized al-Qaeda hard drive, was captured as he tried to flee from Afghanistan into Iran. He insisted that he had no association with any terrorist organization. What then had brought him to
    Afghanistan? His answer: He had donated 750 Kuwaiti dinars (“not a lot of money” he added) to an Islamic charity to dig wells in Afghanistan–and had decided to travel from
    Kuwait to see that his money was properly spent.
  • Another detainee, a Yemeni, explained that he had come to
    Pakistan to study medicine at a university. Unfortunately, the particular university he had selected lacked any medical faculty. He ended up instead studying the Koran in a student guesthouse–and when one of his housemates suggested they take a sightseeing tour of
    Afghanistan, he agreed to go along. The housemate’s name? He had forgotten it.
  • A detainee identified by eyewitnesses as a Taliban military judge, who inflicted hideous punishments on hundreds of accused, explained to the tribunal that he was in fact only a humble chicken farmer. The question, “What did you feed your chickens?” baffled this detainee. He answered: “A mixture of foods they sell in the bazaar” (perhaps at the Afghan equivalent of Petco).
  • One detainee was apprehended in possession of a military identity card that named him as a member of an especially vicious Taliban militia. He explained that it was not his own card. It belonged to a friend who had asked him to hold it for him.
  • A Saudi mechanic said that he had journeyed to
    Afghanistan because someone had persuaded him that it was the ideal place to complete his religious education. Who was this person? “I don’t know.”
  • An Afghan detainee intercepted at the Pakistan border carrying a satellite phone, thousands of dollars in cash, without identity papers and riding alongside a noted al-Qaeda explosives expert, explained that he had not realized he needed identity papers to cross the border between Afghanistan and
    Pakistan.
  • A former Egyptian army officer acknowledged that he had undergone training in
    Afghanistan at a camp run by the Kashmiri group, Lashkar-i-Taibi (LiT). However, he said, he had been listening to the BBC in February 2001 and heard an announcer describe LiT as a terrorist organization. After that, he said, he quit the group and had never had anything to do with them again. How had he supported himself in
    Afghanistan over the following year? He had, he said, relied on charity from his fellow Muslims.
  • A young Tajiki told the tribunal that he had attended a training camp at the suggestion of a man he met on a train. He did not know the man’s name. But he had never had any weapons training: He had spent his time carrying firewood.
  • A Saudi detainee, confronted with evidence that he had traveled to Bosnia in the mid-1990s, then to Sudan, then to
    Afghanistan, explained that he had devoted himself exclusively to the construction of mosques. But had his travel not been paid by al Haramain, a well-known front group for al-Qaeda? He knew nothing about that. “If al Haramain is a terrorist organization, why is it my problem? Am I guilty if they are terrorists?”

Or, in the words of that Yemeni would-be medical student without a medical school: “What is the meaning of ‘terrorist’? I don’t even know what that word is.”

That’s his story, and he’s sticking to it.

But what’s the excuse of those in the West who succumb so easily to the deceptions of terrorists who cannot invent even half-way plausible lies?

Click Here to support Frontpagemag.com.