It was announced on 15 August that fifteen more inmates from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility have transferred, twelve Yemenis and three Afghans, to the United Arab Emirates, the largest individual release of the Obama administration. The U.A.E. also took in five “lower-level” Yemeni detainees in November. The Emirates had previously taken in just one—Abdullah al-Hamiri, in 2008—but President Obama leveraged this deal with the Gulf states at the May 2015 meeting when the Khaleejis were deeply concerned about the then-impending Iran nuclear deal, and in exchange for security reassurances, Obama extracted further concessions.
One reason why so many jihadists have been released to the U.A.E., other than having a similar language and culture, is because the U.A.E. has a competent security apparatus to monitor these people. Those released last November were kept in “a custodial rehabilitation program“—a version of house-arrest, basically. The conditions this time around are less clear.
What is clear is just how dangerous the operatives who are being let out of the Guantanamo detention facility are. Every single one of them has been assessed as posing a “high” risk to America, her interests, and her allies. One, Ayub Murshid Ali Salih, was captured while planning a terrorist attack against Americans in Pakistan at the behest of al-Qaeda’s senior leadership. Many of the others were part of the personal security detail of Usama bin Ladin and/or members of the 55th Arab Brigade, a.k.a. 055 Brigade, al-Qaeda’s most elite pre-2001 guerrilla unit, led by Nashwan Abd al-Baqi (Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi), an Iraqi Kurd and former Major in Saddam Hussein’s army, which was used to buttress the Taliban in its war to secure control of Afghanistan. Many also attended al-Faruq, an al-Qaeda-associated training camp near Kandahar.
Perhaps the most interesting man released is Hamid al-Razak (a.k.a. Haji Hamidullah), who was a senior commander of Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin (HIG), one of the big three components of the Afghan insurgency run by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. In the fluid situation of pre-9/11 Afghanistan, al-Razak maintained close connections to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, too. Al-Razak was also an Iranian agent, with a web of connections to other warlords and Sunni jihadists that Tehran supported to spread its influence and after 2001 to subvert the Western-backed government. Al-Razak was also assessed as having knowledge of Russia’s connections to HIG and Moscow’s efforts to work through Sunni jihadists to destabilize Western interests in Afghanistan.
1. Abd al-Muhsin Abd al-Rab Salih al-Busi
Al-Busi (sometimes transliterated Abdul Muhssin Abdul Reb Salah al-Aubaissy) is from al-Mukalla in Yemen, al-Qaeda’s stronghold until recently. Al-Busi was a “member of al-Qaeda” and fought for six months on the front-line with 055 Brigade, according to his threat assessment by the Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) in November 2008. Trained at al-Faruq, al-Busi “openly called for violent actions …, including actions specifically targeting Christians and Jews.”
Al-Busi’s account sees him joining the national police in Yemen at age 18, in 1997, and gradually becoming more determined to believe because of, among other things, the corruption. In 2001, al-Busi says he heard about a fatwa by Shaykh Abdullah bin Jibril calling on Yemenis to go to Afghanistan to help the Taliban fight the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan (“The Northern Alliance”) led by Ahmad Shah Massoud. Another Shaykh, Hamed Badothman, gave the same advice. Al-Busi claims to have gone to Taliban Afghanistan in June 2001 and after three days of prayer in Kandahar been flown to Kunduz to fight the Northern Alliance, remaining there through December 2001.
While al-Busi’s is an average narrative—and parts are credible—the idea of him by-passing training, even if he had been a policeman, is not believable.
Al-Busi was arrested by Gen. Dostum’s forces and handed to the Americans on 28 December 2001, being transferred to Guantanamo Bay detention facility on 9 February 2002.
Al-Busi’s “name and aliases were found on lists in al-Qaeda safe houses,” suggesting he had some depth of connection to the network. Al-Busi was also seen by John Walker Lindh, the Californian convert who joined the Taliban. The at least passing association with Lindh is supporting evidence for al-Busi being trained at al-Faruq.
JTF-GTMO assessed al-Busi to be a “high” risk to the U.S., her interests, and allies; a “high” threat “from a detention perspective” (i.e. he was a difficult prisoner); and of “low” intelligence value.
2. Abd al-Rahman al-Ghayth Sulayman
A Yemeni from Taiz, Sulayman was “a member of al-Qaeda” who “fought” at Usama bin Ladin’s “Tora Bora Mountain Complex” in late 2001, the last stand of the Taliban-Qaeda regime, and on the frontlines as a member of 055 Brigade, reported JFT-GTMO in August 2008.
Sulayman claims he was recruited in Yemen by Ibrahim Baalawi (Abu Khulud), whom he suspected but did not know to be a Taliban loyalist, and mostly went to Afghanistan for the promised money and wife. Finding a wife is a frequent cover-story explaining why jihadists went to Taliban Afghanistan.
In reality, Sulayman cannot have been unaware of who Baalawi was—Baalawi was a major figure from the anti-Soviet jihad. Sulayman arrived in Taliban Afghanistan around 1999 via the notorious al-Qaeda facilitator Sharqawi Ali al-Haji. Sulayman’s claim to have only received basic training is also not credible; he both received advanced training and administered training to others. Sulayman is deliberately vague about large stretches of time, claiming to have stayed at safe-houses. Sulayman “was accused of participating in the torture of a prisoner at the Sarpuza prison in Afghanistan”.
Sulayman’s name was also found on a document published by the London-based Islamic Observation Centre (IOC), a group tied al-Qaeda’s network, especially in Egypt, of people who had fought against the Coalition in late 2001. Sulayman fled Afghanistan with Ali al-Fakhri (Ibn Shaykh al-Libi), Bin Ladin’s military commander, and was arrested by the Pakistanis. He was transferred to the Americans two weeks later on 2 January 2002.
Sulayman was assessed as a “high” risk to the America, her interests, and allies; a “low” threat prisoner; and of “medium” intelligence value.
3. Mohammed Nasir Yahi Khussrof Kazaz
Mohammed Khusruf’s JTF-GTMO file from January 2008 says he was born in February 1950 in Yemen. A “member of al-Qaeda,” Khusruf fought against the Coalition as an al-Qaeda “sub-commander” at Bin Ladin’s Tora Bora Mountain complex. Given advanced training at al-Faruq, Khusruf also “served as a small arms instructor for al-Qaeda”. Khusruf was not a senior leader or operational planner, but he had significant contact with al-Qaeda’s mid-level personnel. Two of Khusruf’s aliases also appeared on lists of al-Qaeda fighters stored on a hard drive captured in March 2003 with Khalid Shaykh Muhammad (KSM), the conceiver and operational planner of the 9/11 atrocity who was among those waterboarded. (The third man who was waterboarded was Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, head of al-Qaeda’s operations on the Gulf who among other things planned the strike on the U.S.S. Cole.)
Khusruf says he is from the Khawlan tribe in Saudi Arabia. After one year of high school, he worked at a yoghurt company and making plastic bags. His brothers sold khat. Khusruf moved into jihadism via a mosque in Taiz and allegedly only went to Afghanistan because of the offer of a salary to teach the Qur’an. Needless to say this is rather implausible. Khusruf spent time in a safe-house operated by Sharqawi Ali al-Haji.
In one of the most audacious reasons yet given for undergoing training at an al-Qaeda camp, Khusruf says that once in Kandahar, at the home of Abu Munther, his recruiter, he “learned Afghans viewed Arabs as enemies and would not differentiate between an Arab who fought against Afghanis and one who was a teacher. Abu Munther repeatedly urged [Khusruf] to receive militant training as a means of self-defense. [Khusruf] relented after several initial refusals.” Khusruf admits to training at al-Faruq.
Khusruf says he saw al-Fakhri at Tora Bora, but “did not speak with him” and then went, between 19 November and 15 December 2001, to stay with Abu Hatib al-Libi because of an injury. Abu Hatib was identified by Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn (almost universally known as “Abu Zubaydah”), one of the three men waterboarded, as a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) who managed a guesthouse in Jalalabad. “Abu Hatib then told [Khusruf that] Afghans had turned against the Taliban and were going to kill all Arabs,” JTF-GTMO records. Khusruf claims to have been among the first to try to flee Tora Bora—through Bin Ladin’s mountain complex, of course—and was captured and moved to U.S. custody on 15 December 2001.
As JTF-GTMO notes, Khusruf’s story is “inconsistent and assessed to be only partially truthful,” which is to say the least of it. Khusruf downplays his role and is sketchy about key details.
“Although detainee claimed he never fired a weapon in Afghanistan,” JTF-GTMO notes, “he admitted receiving AK-47 and Simonov rifle training [from Saba al-Lail a.k.a. Abu Ayoub al-Emirati a.k.a Juhaynah], and was identified as a small arms trainer at al-Faruq Training Camp.” Khusruf himself “acknowledged he provided support to the former al-Faruq Training Camp commander, Abd al-Qadus, to set up fighting positions in Tora Bora.”
Khusruf was assessed as a “high” risk in terms of his willingness to return to jihad against the U.S. and allies; a “medium” threat in detention; and of “medium” intelligence value.
4. Abdul Muhammad Ahmad Nassar al-Muhajari
A Yemeni from Taiz born in 1970, al-Muhajari was a “member of al-Qaeda” tied by family to Bin Ladin’s bodyguards and was a member of a terrorist cell in Faisalabad, Pakistan, created by Abu Zubaydah and Nashwan Abdulbaqi, intended to continue the war against the Coalition, after the Taliban’s ouster, with improvised explosive devices (IEDs), according to his JTF-GTMO file in May 2008. Al-Muhajari also “worked with NGO’s involved in funding jihad in Chechnya and has possible ties to the al-Wafa NGO.”
A university dropout, al-Muhajari says he sold sweets and then religious tapes to get by in the 1990s before travelling to Pakistan in July 2001 for knee surgery and being talked into taking a teaching job in Afghanistan, where he met al-Qaeda facilitators with whom he stayed for six weeks before trying to leave—the Coalition bombing had soured him on the place—and finding that he couldn’t because the jihadists had confiscated his passport. With more than a dozen others, al-Muhajari says he then travelled on a bus from Kandahar to Lahore.
In Lahore, al-Muhajari says he had laser eye treatment and root canal surgery, paying for this with money made from selling religious tapes. Al-Muhajari then moved to Faisalabad in January and February 2002 and met with an Algerian identified as Abdallah Hussayn; also with a Pakistani and Russian, quite by accident in a cab, and moved to their house where fourteen other sick people were staying. The Pakistani government arrested them all on 28 March 2002 when Islamabad and the FBI struck simultaneously against two al-Qaeda safe-houses in Faisalabad, and al-Muhajari was handed to the U.S. in May 2002.
“Nearly all aspects of the detainee’s story … are assessed to be inaccurate,” JFT-GTMO drily noted. Al-Muhajari’s own wife testified that he had been in Taliban Afghanistan before 2001, and his trips between Afghanistan and Pakistan were facilitated by Marwan Qassim Jawan (Abu Ali al-Yafi), a veteran of the Chechen jihad and an al-Qaeda recruiter and financier based in Yemen. Other detainees named al-Muhajari as “a member of al-Asil charity” and later a “representative of the Qawqaz charity,” both of which channelled funds to al-Qaeda’s forces in Chechnya.
The house where prisoner “YM-033″—none other than Muhammad al-Adahi, also released on Monday—”was divided between his family and the employees and families of the al-Wafa NGO.” Al-Wafa was a classic example of the charities al-Qaeda used to provide cover-stories for recruiting jihadists, since the group did actually tend the needy—it just also worked under Bin Ladin’s command and used some of its funds to try to weaponize anthrax.
The two safe-houses wound up in Faisalabad were run by Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, an al-Qaeda affiliate, and under the command of Abu Zubaydah, who was also captured that day. These safe-houses for the “Afghan Arabs” were dotted all over Pakistan in the wake of the Taliban’s fall. Al-Muhajari was a member of Abu Zubaydah’s “Martyrs’ Brigade”:
When escaping from US and Coalition Forces in Afghanistan in late 200I, GZ-10016 [Abu Zubaydah] and IZ-10026 [Nashwan Abdulbaqi] devised a plan to train individuals in explosives and detonators. These individuals would then return to Afghanistan where they would create [IEDs] and teach others to use and create them as well. … Remote detonator training was conducted at the Abu Zubaydah Safe House, while the Issa Safe House occupants (including [al-Muhajari]) are assessed to have provided support functions for the detonator trainees.
The Issa Safe House was also called the “Yemeni House” and the “Crescent Textile Mill House,” and was also overseen by Abu Zubaydah. The bombs created at these two safe-houses were also intended for use against U.S. diplomatic and other facilities in numerous countries.
Al-Muhajari was a “high” risk to the West; a “low” threat prisoner; and of “high” intelligence value.
5. Muhammad Ahmad Said al-Adahi
Born in 1962 in Taiz, Yemen, al-Adahi “is a member of al-Qaeda” who held a “supervisory role” in Usama bin Ladin’s security force in Kandahar, has “connections through his family” to Bin Ladin’s bodyguards, and “lived next door” to Taliban Supreme Leader Mullah Muhammad Umar, JTF-GTMO noted in April 2008.
Al-Adahi had been in the Yemeni military. Al-Adahi claims to have moved to Afghanistan in July 2001 after—in a variation of this well-worn cover-story—escorting his sister to a fiancé who worked in southern Afghanistan for the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO). Even that is not without trouble: IIRO was among a web of well-known al-Qaeda “charities” (called “Allah’s NGOs” by some) that inter alia supported the jihad in Bosnia in the 1990s. Al-Adahi claimed to have attended al-Faruq Training Camp as a student. But none of this is true.
Al-Adahi was at al-Faruq as a trainer and was identified in Taliban Afghanistan as early as 2000. He also has deep family connections to al-Qaeda, which he has continued to lie about. Al-Adahi attended sessions where men accused of being spies were tortured. Arrested in Pakistan in November 2001, al-Adahi was transferred to U.S. custody on 26 December 2001.
Al-Adahi was a “high” risk to the West; a “high” threat prisoner (he had 86 behavioural infractions by 2008, including inciting mass-disturbances); and was of “high” intelligence value.
6. Abdelqadir Hussein Ali al-Mudafari
Al-Mudafari was born in Bayda, Yemen, in 1976 his JFT-GTMO file from May 2008 tells us. A “member of al-Qaeda” and a “former bodyguard” of Usama bin Ladin, al-Mudafari was picked up as part of the “Dirty 30,” a consignment of jihadists, most of them Yemenis, who were rounded up near Tora Bora on 15 December 2001 as the Taliban-Qaeda theocracy collapsed, the first group of Arabs to flee into Pakistan after Bin Ladin told them on 11 December he was leaving. The Dirty 30 consisted of Bin Ladin’s bodyguards, other members of his security detail, and Mohammed al-Qahtani (SA-063), who was intended to be the twentieth death pilot on 9/11 but was refused entry into the United States on 4 August 2001.
Al-Mudafari says he was “called,” rather than recruited, to Afghanistan in November 2000, passing through Karachi to Khost where he taught the Qur’an, explaining his repeated trips to Kandahar as research-oriented. Al-Mudafari claims that he left Afghanistan essentially as part of a crowd—he “received word that all Arabs were leaving Afghanistan, [so] he decided to head to the Pakistani border, fearing he would be associated with [Bin Ladin].”
There is essentially not a word of truth in this. The Qur’an-teaching cover-story was used by multiple detainees—and indeed was given to them directly by al-Qaeda’s leadership who said it was “the best thing they could tell U.S. forces when interrogated”. Al-Mudafari was “resistant to any form of interview and appears to be trained in counter-interrogation methods,” JTF-GTMO noted. “It is clear detainee has decided to withhold whatever pertinent knowledge he retains”.
Al-Mudafari was brought to Taliban Afghanistan via the facilitator Sharqawi in 1999 and became one of Bin Ladin’s bodyguards in August 2001. Trained at al-Faruq, al-Mudafari was probably—according to a non-U.S. intelligence service—a weapons trainer at the Tarnak Farm Training Camp. Rolled up on 12 December 2001 by the Pakistanis in Peshawar, he was transferred to U.S. custody on 26 December.
Al-Mudafari was assessed as a “high” risk to the West; a “medium” threat prisoner; and of “high” intelligence value.
7. Mahmud Abd al-Aziz al-Mujahid
Another Taiz native, born in August 1980, al-Mujahid was “a member of al-Qaeda who served as a bodyguard for Usama bin Ladin for one year” and “has familial ties to al-Qaeda members including other [Bin Ladin] bodyguards and [Guantanamo] detainees,” JTF-GTMO recorded in March 2008. Graduating al-Faruq in September 2000 after his entry into Afghanistan in “late 1999 or early 2000 for jihad,” something facilitated by Sharqawi, al-Mujahid was present during the fighting against Coalition forces at Tora Bora and a member of the “Dirty 30”.
According to al-Mujahid, with the exception of a short stint at a nappy factory he was unable to find work in Yemen and fell back on Islam. He studied at several institutes in Hadramut, Bin Ladin’s ancestral home and current centre of al-Qaeda’s activity in Yemen, but was ejected for radicalism. “Mufeed” (Shaykh Husayn Umar Mahfud) suggested al-Mujahid go to Afghanistan to teach the Qur’an and in July 2001 Mukhtar al-Qadassi assisted al-Mujahid in the purchase of a plane ticket, al-Mujahid says. Al-Mujahid then claims to have taught at a mosque in Kabul, Kandahar, and then—after 9/11—Khost, before deciding to return to Yemen, setting out for the Pakistani border by foot.
Arrested by Pakistan on 15 December 2001, al-Mujahid was transferred to U.S. hands on 26 December.
Al-Mujahid was “very deceptive” and “admitted lying to his interrogators,” JTF-GTMO reports. Al-Mujahid “provided only vague details regarding his activities in Afghanistan” and “used a common cover story of teaching the Koran to hide his true activities.”
A “committed jihadist,” “a good fighter who always carried an AK- 47 assault rifle,” and a “bodyguard who always accompanied” Bin Ladin from sometime not long after the Cole bombing, al-Mujhid “reportedly has knowledge of planned terrorist attacks and is listed on al-Qaeda documents.”
Al-Mujahid was assessed as a “high” risk to the West; a “medium” threat prisoner; and of “high” intelligence value.
8. Saeed Ahmed Mohammed Abdullah Sarem Jarabh
Born on 14 May 1978, Jarabh is from al-Hudaydah, Yemen, his January 2008 JFT-GTMO threat assessment notes. Jarabh is “a member of al-Qaeda who reportedly swore bayat (oath of allegiance) to Usama bin Ladin, served as a bodyguard, and is listed on an al-Qaida affiliated document.” Jarabh also “threatened to kill US personnel on numerous occasions” and “is assessed to have participated in hostilities against US and Coalition forces at … Tora Bora”. Jarabh conceded that he had numerous links to terrorists in Afghanistan and Yemen, including some of the people who orchestrated the attack on the Cole.
Jarabh admits to being interested in joining jihad, in either Chechnya or Kashmir and being encouraged in this interest by Shaykh Muhammad Ibrahim at the Martyrs Mosque in Sanaa. Heeding Ibrahim’s caution on the difficulties of getting into Chechnya, Jarabh turned to South-East Asia. Jarabh claims to have made two trips to Afghanistan working for charities, one in 2000 and the second in August 2001.
At this stage, Jarabh is “vague” about what he did in Afghanistan and “admits only to small arms training at Tarnak Farm [a.k.a. Abu Ubaydah Camp], which is known for providing advanced explosives and poisons training for chosen jihadists and al-Qaeda members.” But he had previously admitted to advanced training at the facility. Jarabh fled to Pakistan in December 2001 with a group of “Afghan Arabs” under Ali al-Fakhri’s command, who were set up. The group’s Pakistani contact convinced them all to leave weapons outside a mosque—and upon entry they were all arrested by Pakistani security forces on 2 January 2002.
Jarabh was “identified … as an associate of Hamza al-Jawfi and explosives expert Abd al-Nasir Ibn Muhammad Khantumani”. Al-Jawfi was a confidante of Bin Ladin’s and one of his principal weapons suppliers, an explosives trainer at al-Faruq, and a member of al-Qaeda’s Shura Council. Khantumani
Jarabh was a machine-gunner at Tora Bora, received training similar to the 9/11 hijackers, and stayed within al-Qaeda’s guest-houses, meaning he was associated with the network even after the Taliban fell. Jarabh “remains committed to jihad” and “expressed his commitment to future acts of aggression against US forces.”
Jarabh was a “high” risk to the West; a “medium” threat prisoner; and of “medium” intelligence value.
9. Mohammed Kamin
From Khost, Afghanistan, Kamin was born on 1 January 1978, according to his JFT-GTMO assessment in April 2005.
Kamin “exhibits a leadership role, as he is an Imam (religious leader) possessing significant ties to al-Qaeda Network leaders”.
Operationally, Kamin was a “key member” of the anti-Coalition forces, participating in “weapons trafficking, explosives training, operational planning, and attacks against U.S. and Coalition forces”. He “worked with the Taliban while they had control of Afghanistan, and “[o]nce the Taliban was removed from power … began working with al-Qaeda”. Kamin was also associated with other groups in al-Qaeda’s network: Jaysh e-Mohammed (JEM) and Harakat-ul-Mujahideen among them, plus al-Qaeda’s North African affiliates.
Kamin was arrested on 14 May 2003 in Khost while acting suspiciously and in possession of a hand-held GPS containing “stored grid points of key target locations” along the Durand Line. The U.S. has been able to extract very little information from Kamin. Kamin was moved to Guantanamo in September 2004 and has insisted ever since he was just transporting the GPS on somebody else’s behalf—Abdul Manan, the leader of JEM.
Kamin moved back and forth from Pakistan transferring weapons, and was linked directly to Ali al-Rufayi, under whose instruction he undertook specialist training on “missiles, mines, [and] rockets,” with a subsequent promise from al-Rufayi to pay Kamin “500 Pakistani rupees per attack that produced casualties”.
Kamin was assessed as a “high” risk to the U.S., her interests, and allies; a “low” threat prisoner; and of “high” intelligence value because of his position at the intersection of so many nodes in al-Qaeda’s network.
10. Zahar Umar Hamis bin Hamdoun
Born in Hadramut, Yemen, on 13 November 1979, Hamdoun is “a member of al-Qaeda who swore bayat (oath of allegiance) to Usama Bin Ladin”. A “veteran jihadist,” Hamdoun “participated in hostilities against U.S. and Coalition forces in Afghanistan,” serving “in a leadership combat position on the front lines and was also an instructor at the al-Qaeda al-Faruq Training Camp, where he provided instruction in physical fitness, weapons, and explosives.” Hamdoun also “possessed phone numbers linked to al-Qaeda facilitators,” including KSM, and was captured at a safe-house operated by facilitator Sharqawi.
Hamdoun got to Afghanistan in early 1999 via Muammar Said Abbud Dayan (Abd al-Salam al-Hadrami), “a known al-Qaeda member,” and 055 Brigade fighter, who reported directly to Nashwan Abdulbaqi. Dayan, who was killed during the bombing in October 2001, provided the air fare to Hamdoun to get to Afghanistan. While Hamdoun claims to have spent two or three months at al-Faruq and then the other eighteen studying the Qur’an at a guest-house under the supervision of an Egyptian, Abu Hassan, there is no reason to believe this.
One of the telephone numbers Hamdoun was found with “may be associated with Hashim al-Balushi, a.k.a. (Abu Hafs), who received a money transfer from [Bin Ladin]-affiliated financier Abu Ahmad al-Harbi in the United Arab Emirates after the fall of Kabul in November 2001. Hashim then forwarded the money to the office of the nongovernmental organization al-Wafa in Herat.”
Hamdoun was captured on 7 February 2002 by the Pakistanis, but only handed over to the U.S. about three weeks later, and moved to Guantanamo on 5 May 2002.
Hamdoun was a “high” risk to the West; a “medium” threat prisoner; and of “medium” intelligence value.
11. Hamid al-Razak (a.k.a. Haji Hamidullah)
An Afghan from Kabul, al-Razak was born in 1963. Al-Razak was a founding member of Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG) in 1980, “head of the Psychological Operations (PSYOP) wing of the HIG,” and a “subcommander,” with “extensive familial ties to HIG leadership and the Taliban,” according to his threat assessment. HIG is led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a close ally of Iran; it is, with the Taliban and Haqqani, one of the three major components of the Afghan insurgency.
Al-Razak participated in the anti-Soviet jihad and was favourably disposed toward the Taliban when they initially rose to power. But much of the detail is missing since al-Razak has successfully evaded questions about his travels into and out of Afghanistan, and what he did while there.
In addition to HIG and the Taliban, al-Razak was “closely associated” with al-Qaeda. Al-Razak was “directly involved in the planning, support and execution of numerous [anti-Coalition] terrorist attacks and other activities in Afghanistan targeting U.S. and Coalition forces.” Al-Razak also had ties to extremist former members of Mahaz-e-Milli (the National Islamic Front (NIF)), a Sufi faction of the Northern Alliance.
Most interestingly: Al-Razak “and his father were employed as agents of the Iranian SAVAMA [or VEVAK] (Ministry of Intelligence and Security).” Al-Razak and his father left Mashhad for Kabul in January 2002 as agents of the Iranian government and were housed by Ismail Khan, an Iranian-supported warlord who is currently Afghanistan’s Minister of Water and Energy. Incredibly, even after becoming a minister, in December 2005 Khan “met with two Pakistanis and three Iranians to discuss the planning of terrorist acts and to create better lines of communication between the HIG and Taliban.”
Al-Razak then took shelter with “his close friend and fellow HIG operative, Mullah Ezat Ullah, a Kabul regional warlord and an Iranian intelligence affiliated Taliban sub-commander.”
Iran’s influence spread to Mullah Abd al-Kabir, a former HIG operative and Taliban Governor of Jalalabad and Wahildullah Sabayun, the former head of HIG Intelligence, who ran for president in 2004 and became the Minister of Tribal Affairs, while dishing out Iranian-supplied weapons to a rogues’ gallery that included Jalaluddin Haqqani, Mullah Berader, and Mullah Dadullah. In the aftermath of the Taliban, al-Razak worked at Iranian direction with the NIF to stir up monarchists and try to bring King Zahir Shah back into the country, no doubt to disrupt the Western-overseen transition. Ullah (Izatullah) was another “Iranian intelligence affiliated Taliban sub-commander,” also in Kabul, who was “responsible for many terrorist attacks against coalition interests”.
At the time al-Razak was arrested by the Afghan army on 31 July 2003, a consignment of rockets were on their way to Kabul via HIG, which had been given £2 million by the Iranian regime to acquire them. Al-Razak was working closely with “Samoud Khan [who] has extensive links with Taliban and al-Qaeda and direct ties with Saifullah Rahman Mansour,” a senior Talib.
HIG also had connections to Russian intelligence and JTF-GTMO assessed that al-Razak was likely aware of those, too, including the ongoing efforts of Russian and Iranian intelligence—working through Hekmatyar’s jihadists—”against the Karzai Afghan government.”
And, of course, al-Razak had connections with Pakistan’s dangerous intelligence apparatus:
December 2002 reporting linked [al-Razak] to a Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISID) initiative to create an office in Peshawar combining elements of the Taliban, HIG, and al-Qaida. The goal of the initiative was to plan and execute various terrorist attacks in Afghanistan. Members were to attack the foreign headquarters in Kabul in late January 2003.
Unsurprisingly, Al-Razak was assessed as a “high” risk to the West and of “high” intelligence value. He was a “medium” threat prisoner.
12. Majid Mahmud Abdu Ahmed
Ahmed’s threat assessment in February 2008 recorded his place of birth as Burayqah, Yemen, on 25 June 1980. A “member of al-Qaeda,” Ahmed “admitted fighting for the Taliban on the front lines against the Northern Alliance for two years,” engaged in hostilities against the Coalition, and was captured as part of the “Dirty 30” at Tora Bora. Like many of that group, Ahmed had been a bodyguard for Usama bin Ladin. Ahmed’s comments since being taken into custody “about America, [Bin Ladin], and his willingness to die for jihad indicate he will pose a significant threat if released.”
Ahmed says he studied at Mahd al-Furqan (The Criterion Institute) in Taiz, Yemen, and decided to fight for the Taliban. Paying $80 to the government to delay his mandatory military service, Ahmed moved to Aden and fell in with the crowd at the Mabir Center, “a well-known mosque and center for dawa (religious mission),” where he studied and preached the Qur’an. Obtaining a fatwa from Shaykh Muqbil bin Hadi al-Wadi, a Salafi revivalist, to travel to Afghanistan, Ahmed was provided with a plane ticket in 1999 to get from Sanaa to Karachi via a Mahd al-Furqan associate.
Ahmed initially maintained—as he had been told to—that he moved into Afghanistan and engaged in teaching and proselytization. Ahmed eventually relented and admitted that he had fought for the Taliban to secure the borders of its statelet against the Northern Alliance, though he continues to deny an association with Bin Ladin. Both Sharqawi and Walid bin Attash identified Ahmed as a Bin Ladin bodyguard.
Retreating to Khost during the intervention, Ahmed was captured by the Pakistanis on 15 December 2001, handed to the Americans on 26 December, and was in Guantanamo by 16 January 2002.
Ahmed received “basic” training at al-Faruq, and one of his aliases—al-Zubayr al-Adani—showed up on lists of attendees at other camps where more specialist training was given, including “advanced” training with explosives under Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Umar (Abu Khabab al-Masri) at the Darunta camp where chemical weapons were tested. Mursi’s son, Mohammed al-Masri, showed up recently as one of the mujahideen in Syria: while it is unclear which group he is part of, he stayed at “a safe house with ties to Ahrar al-Sham”.
Ahmed was as a “high” risk to the West; a “low” threat prisoner; and of “high” intelligence value.
13. Ayub Murshid Ali Salih
Salih was born in Dhamar, Yemen, on 29 April 1978. A “member of al-Qaeda,” Salih’s activities in Taliban Afghanistan are deeply murky, though it is clear he trained at two separate al-Qaeda camps. Salih was rolled up as part of a two-cell “special terrorist team” planning mass-casualty attacks against Americans in Pakistan at the behest of al-Qaeda’s senior leadership.
Salih was with six other men when he was captured at a safe-house in Karachi on 11 September 2002, his May 2008 JFT-GTMO threat assessment says. Anas al-Pakistani was the group’s “caretaker” and the house was run by Hamza al-Zubayr, a senior al-Qaeda trainer at al-Faruq and military commander who had operated under Sayf al-Adel, one of al-Qaeda’s most accomplished operatives whom the Iranian government recently released. Al-Adel is now believed to be in Syria.
A simultaneous raid on another al-Qaeda safe-house in Karachi netted Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a close associate of the 9/11 killers while they were in Hamburg and a key facilitator of the 9/11 massacre itself.
Both of these cells had been planning to use military-grade explosives for terrorist attacks against Western targets in Pakistan, specifically two hotels, the “Midway Hotel” and “Airport Hotel,” near the airport that housed U.S. troops. KSM had provided $30,000 for the operation, including the two cars in which the bombs were to be delivered, and Salih’s house leader, al-Zubayr, was found in possession of the “perfume letter” from KSM which ordered al-Zubayr to speed up the planned attacks.
Salih claims to have arrived in Afghanistan in June 2000, and his passport appears to bear this out. Travelling from his hometown of al-Hudaydah, Salih was facilitated by “Abu Salih, a well-known, wealthy jihadist recruiter,” who gave him the money for a plane to Karachi and $200 for miscellaneous expenses. Salih departed with four other Yemenis and moved to Kandahar “where the group stayed in the Haji Habbash Guesthouse run by Abu Khaloud.”
Salih admits to attending al-Faruq in July and August 2000, which included at least one lecture on jihad by Ayman al-Zawahiri. Salih claims to have then contracted malaria, and after recovery to have “traveled to the Wazir Akbar Khan area of Kabul where he stayed at several guesthouses and attended a one month artillery training course at the Karghar Camp,” led by Abu Abdallah al-Yemeni. Salih then claims he had to have his appendix removed and thereafter “attended a month-long training course on first aid.” Salih is extremely vague about how he departed Afghanistan after 9/11.
While Salih was initially assessed as having been “straightforward,” it was then discovered that this was not so: he “admitted lying to debriefers on several occasions, and … has practiced counter-interrogation methods”. Salih “has changed or forgotten details to his cover story.”
Salih’s capture in one of the Karachi safe-houses is itself indicative. One reason is because of the seniority of those who oversaw these hideouts. Walid bin Attash (Khallad) was a Bin Ladin bodyguard and fixer who had a hand in the Embassy bombings and the Cole attack. Bin Attash “would visit the apartment [Salih was staying in] roughly every two weeks, was the group’s primary facilitator in Karachi and their link to senior people in al-Qaeda.”
Two laptops were found in Karachi, containing inter alia “lectures and essays on terrorist training, executions, assassinations, and guerrilla warfare”. A “hard drive recovered from the safe house where [Salih] was residing contained data that could have been used in targeting aircraft and to support hijacking operations”. Passports of the Bin Ladin family were also found at the safe-houses.
Salih was as a “high” risk to the West; a “medium” threat prisoner; and of “high” intelligence value.
The case of Ubaydallah (or Obaydullah or Obaidallah) has been somewhat in the public domain. Ubaydallah was arrested in Khost by U.S. Special Forces on 20 July 2002. Acting on a tip, the U.S. found Ubaydallah in possession of anti-tank landmines and he became one of the 220 Afghans sent to Guantanamo Bay. In 2011, a team of lawyers went to Afghanistan, interviewed village elders, neighbours, and family members, and concluded that there was a perfectly innocent explanation for it all—or if there wasn’t that at least Ubaydallah should not be in Guantanamo since his offence was so routine he should have been handled by the Afghan justice ministry (and on this last point, they may be on to something).
Ubaydallah was “plainly a member of an al-Qaeda bomb cell,” a Federal judge said in 2010 when denying his claim for a writ of habeas corpus, and the evidence “unmistakeably” points to him having been an insurgent. Ubaydallah was charged in September 2008 with providing material support to terrorism but the charges were withdrawn in July 2011 for technical reasons.
Ubaydallah claims, in a self-evidently contradictory and rambling statement, that the mines were not his and that he hid them from the Taliban. He claims to have failed a polygraph because his heart required medication to stop it racing. By Ubaydallah’s own statement he trained with the Taliban—conscripted, he says, as a powerless teenager for the war against the Northern Alliance. At one point Ubaydallah claims that, despite being conscripted, he was allowed to go home every night because of the government … which at the time was the Taliban. In accordance with the guidance given by al-Qaeda, Ubaydallah claims he was abused in American custody.
Turning to the JTF-GTMO threat assessment, a rather different picture emerges from the stammering young man swept up because of a malicious rumour. Ubaydallah’s “personal account is assessed to be mostly fabricated,” JFT-GTMO noted.
Born around 1980, Ubaydallah—who also went by Biadullah Abajdullah and Haneef—was “a member of al-Qaeda” and an “explosives expert,” who was part of a cell in Khost where Ubaydallah “directly assisted the planning and implementing of attacks against U.S. and Coalition forces”. The cell was directly led by Bostan Karim (AF-975) and under the command of Ali al-Rufayi (Abu Layth al-Libi), another LIFG veteran who worked for a while as al-Qaeda’s spokesman and inter alia had connections with the Khadr family, sometimes ironically referred to as Canada’s greatest contribution to the War on Terror.
Ubaydallah was a member of Tablighi Jamaat (TJ), as was Karim. In a recent speech by Ahrar al-Sham’s deputy, Ali al-Umar, he laid out four Islamist currents—of which he said Ahrar was a synthesis. They are: the Muslim Brotherhood (engage the state to bring about change), TJ (shun the state/politics, engage in proselytization, change will come once Muslims practice correctly), Hizb ut-Tahrir (infiltrate the state and bring it under control via a military coup), and Jihadi-Salafism (violently overthrow the state). Ubaydallah used his TJ membership “to facilitate his activities within this cell,” by hiding his al-Qaeda association behind the JT one and being able to cross borders easier in the guise of a revivalist activist rather than a terrorist.
Ubaydallah and Karim were in the process of preparing IED attacks against Coalition forces when they were arrested. Ubaydallah himself says that Karim had prepared a suicide truck bomb that Ubaydallah was going to drive to Kabul—though Karim was going to be the “martyr”—ten days before they were picked up. Operating under al-Rufayi’s instructions and in collaboration with Umar Ahmad Khadr, Ubaydallah surveyed Khost airport as a possible target for attack. Ubaydallah even made suggestions for attacks such as shooting down a U.S. plane with a Stinger missile; al-Rufayi rejected this. Other inmates were frightened of testifying against Ubaydallah because of his connection to such a senior al-Qaeda member as al-Rufayi.
Ubaydallah was assessed as a “high” risk to the West; a “medium” threat prisoner; and of “high” intelligence value.
Still, as The New York Times explained:
Last spring … the review board decided that he should be sent to a country with a strong reintegration program and monitoring capacity.
“In making this determination, the board noted that the detainee has not expressed any intent to re-engage in terrorist activities, has not espoused any anti-U.S. sentiment that would indicate he views the U.S. as his enemy, that neither the detainee nor his family have any ties to extremists outside of Guantánamo, and that the detainee has been mostly compliant while at Guantánamo,” the review board explained in a report.
15. Bashir Nasir Ali al-Marwalah
Al-Marwalah’s threat assessment in May 2008 listed him as from al-Haymah, Yemen, and his date of birth as December 1979. A “member of al-Qaeda” and an “operative” engaged in efforts to attack Americans, in Afghanistan and at hotels in Karachi, Likely a participant in hostilities against Coalition forces, al-Marwalah was a member of 055 Brigade. Al-Marwalah had prepared to become a suicide bomber. A last will was found at the al-Qaeda safe-house where al-Marwalah was arrested.
Al-Marwalah “was captured at the same safe house as senior al-Qaeda member YM-10013 [Ramzi bin al-Shibh] and al-Qaeda member SA-1456 [Hassan bin Attash].” Al-Shibh, arrested 11 September 2002 in Karachi, is also a Yemeni, was close with the 9/11 killers while they were in Hamburg, including Mohamed Atta, and was a key facilitator of the 9/11 attack. Hassan, brother of the above-mentioned Walid, is not marked out by any special attributes.
While al-Marwalah took a more cooperative tack in dealing with interrogations, this seems to have been mostly to confuse his captors: he gave conflicting information, misinformation, and all the while “never divulged any knowledge of a terrorist operation or associated plans.”
Al-Marwalah did tell the truth about when he went to Taliban Afghanistan—September 2000—but as ever he played down what he did and his associates. Trained at al-Faruq, al-Marwalah fought on the front-lines against the Northern Alliance. Bin Ladin and his then-deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri visited al-Faruq while al-Marwalah was present just before 9/11, and on 12 September al-Marwalah was “directed to evacuate from the camp”. Al-Marwalah then remained in al-Qaeda’s safe-houses until he was captured.
Al-Marwalah’s threat assessment said he was as a “high” risk to the West; a “medium” threat prisoner; and of “high” intelligence value.
The Pentagon statement said that the first six men above “were unanimously approved for transfer by the six departments and agencies”—Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, State, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence—”comprising the task force.” A “consensus” was reached on the other nine that “continued … detention does not remain necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.
In all, 779 people have been held at Guantanamo Bay. The peak population was 684 in June 2003. There are now 61 left and 20 of them have been approved for transfer.
These fifteen have not been “released,” but the dual assumption of their transfer—that they can be kept under control and that U.S. interests are served by having them other than in Guantanamo Bay—is highly dubious.
To give only the most recent example, a Syrian national, Jihad Diyab (Abu Wa’el Dhiab), was transferred to Uruguay in 2014. Diyab was a document forger who had passed through al-Faruq and had connections with an incredible number of jihadi associates, both people and organizations. Among them was Abu Zubaydah, his fellow Syria and 9/11 recruiter Mohammed Zammar, and the Islamic State’s founder, Ahmad al-Khalayleh (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi). In June, Montevideo announced that it had “no idea whatsoever” where Diyab was. Diyab reappeared in Venezuela last month and expressed his desire to move to Turkey, the transit point for most of the foreign Jihadi-Salafists heading into Syria.
There are a significant number of ex-Guantanamo detainees who have simply disappeared. Some reappear, such as Ibrahim Bin Shakaran (a.k.a. Brahim Benchekroun a.k.a. Abu Ahmad al-Muhajir) and Mohammed al-Alami (Abu Hamza al-Maghrebi), two Moroccan former detainees who founded (p. 169) the Qaeda-linked Harakat Sham al-Islam in Syria. Others doubtless will not.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) reported last year that of 653 detainees who had been transferred, 196 (30%) were either confirmed (117) or suspected (79) of rejoining terrorist activity. This underestimates the damage since many others continue to act as recruiters, facilitators, and in other supporting roles for jihadism.
There is a bizarrely widespread view at present that if somebody has been imprisoned in Guantanamo they should be assumed innocent. Some of this is naiveté, an inability to understand that there is actually a difference between providing terrorists a legal defence, and defending terrorists. Some of it is more cynical, with “advocacy” and “human rights” organizations that have proven not only unable to tell the difference but to wilfully deceive by using the former to pursue the latter.
Writing in January after Tariq al-Sawah and Abd al-Aziz al-Suwaydi were released, I concluded:
The race to release the Guantanamo detainees is a political decision based on a calculation—that the immediate danger from releasing hardened terrorists is offset by narrative “strategic gains” against the jihadists’ recruitment propaganda—which is simply wrong. Guantanamo is not a key driver of radicalization and never has been, but the danger of releasing men with specialist skills back into the ranks of the jihadists during an ongoing war is pressing and immediate.
This still stands.
UPDATE (14 SEPT 2016): ODNI released a report stating that it could confirm that nine of the 161 people released from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility during the Obama administration have rejoined the jihad (5.6%)—two of them in the first half of 2016—and eleven (6.8%) are suspected of having done so. 113 of the 532 detainees released or transferred by Bush (21.2%) definitely rejoined terrorist activities and seventy-five (14.1%) are suspected of doing so. Overall, out of 693 people moved from Guantanamo, 208 (30%) are either confirmed [122; 17.6%] or suspected [86; 12.4%] to have rejoined jihadi terrorism.
UPDATE (3 OCT 2016): The Washington Free Beacon obtained documents that showed the Obama administration had expended nearly $26,000 to survey the internal United States for “possible Guantanamo detainee relocation” sites, in explicit violation of Federal law.