London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Following the pledge by President Barack Obama to close down Guantanamo Bay within a year, the USA is facing a challenge, namely that a number of the detainees who have been released from Guantanamo have rejoined to the Al Qaeda organization.
According to US sources, around 61 detainees of the 520 released, are suspected of resuming terrorist activities, a number which constitutes around 11 percent of the total number of detainees releases since the prison was opened in 2002. While according to the US Department of Defense 18 of these 61 ex-detainees have “returned to the fight” upon their release from Guantanamo Bay. The number of detainees currently imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay currently stands at 245.
A video released by Al Qaeda in Yemen showed two ex-Guantanamo detainees who now hold high-ranking positions in the organization. Abu Sufyan Al Azdi Al Shahri and Abu Al-Hareth Muhammad al-Oufi were both detainees at Guantanamo Bay and who upon their release completed the “Munasaha” program [Advisory Committee, a Saudi Arabian government sponsored program which aims to rehabilitate Islamic militants].
The afore-mentioned video shows Abu Baser Al Naser Al Wahshi, one of the 23 members of Al Qaeda who had escaped from the maximum security prison in Sana run by the Political Security Organization in February 2006, and who is on the most wanted list in Yemen on charges of forming an armed group, and planning to blow up oil facilities in Yemen.
The video, which was released on a fundamentalist website, shows Al Wahshi announcing the unification of “Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula” under one name and leader.
The video shows Wahshi sitting next to Abu Sufyan Al Azdi, Al Shahri, a Saudi national and ex-Guantanamo detainee (prisoner no. 372) and deputy of Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula, as well as Abu Al-Hareth Muhammad Al Oufi, another Saudi national and former Guantanamo Bay detainee (prisoner no. 333) and field commander of the group. The video also showed Yemeni national Abu Hureira Al Rimi, who is the military commander of Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula.
Former detainee Al Shahri is quoted in the video as saying “By Allah, imprisonment only increased our persistence in our principles for which we went out, did jihad for, and were imprisoned”
Commenting on the recent developments, a Saudi Interior Ministry Source stated that the Kingdom had made every effort to rehabilitate the terror suspects by providing them with necessary counseling. “In all 218 terror suspects, including Guantanamo returnees, have benefited from this program,” the spokesman said, while commenting on media reports that two Saudis who had spent time in the US prison camp in Cuba, had joined Al-Qaeda groups abroad.
“These reports show that Saudi society is totally against the deviant group and will not allow them to operate within the Kingdom,” he said, adding the action of such Guantanamo returnees could affect the release of remaining prisoners.
It is believed that Al Shahri, prisoner no. 372, was responsible for the recent attack against the US embassy in Yemen which left 12 dead, and which occurred less than a year after his release from Guantanamo.
A US anti-terrorist official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, revealed that “Said Ali Al Shahri who was released from Guantanamo Bay has indeed become one of the leaders of Al Qaeda in Yemen.”
Commander Jeffrey Gordon, Pentagon spokesman declined to comment specifically on Said Ali Al Shahri. However he did say “We remain concerned about ex-Guantanamo detainees who have re-affiliated with terrorist organizations after their departure” adding “We will continue to work with the international community to mitigate the threat they pose.”
During an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Commander Gordon confirmed that the 16 high-value detainees currently detained at Camp 7 are the real obstacle to the closure of Guantanamo Bay. He disclosed that Camp 7 was top secret, its whereabouts unknown, and that even he himself had not personally visited it.
Of the 16 high-value detainees, there are the 5 who are accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks; Khalid Sheik Mohamed, Walid Bin Attash, Ramzi Bin Al Shibh, Ali Abdul Aziz, and Mustafa Al Hawsawi. There is also Mohamed Al Qahtani the alleged 20th hijacker, and Hambali, the Indonesian leader of Al Qaeda in South-East Asia.
Just days before Barack Obama took office a report was released confirming that 18 former detainees had indeed taken part in new terrorist offences. The report also revealed that 43 others were also suspected of involvements in attacks. This number represents around 11 percent of the 529 detainees to have been released from the controversial prison. President Obama issued a decision to close down Guantanamo Bay on his first day in the White House.
Peter Bergen, a terrorism analysis for CNN revealed that the Pentagon had named only a few of the 18 former detainees [to have committed terrorist attacks upon their release from Guantanamo]. He added that if these 18 are “confirmed” as having returned to the fight, then this figure actually represents only 4 percent of the detainees to have been released. Bergen also pointed out that some of the Guantanamo detainees are perhaps not terrorists at all, but were accused of this by local villagers for the purposes of revenge.
US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates played down the importance of the number of ex-detainees who have resumed the fight, he said “It is not as big a number if you’re talking about 700 or a thousand [detainees]…who have been through Guantanamo.”
Pentagon officials refused to disclose how they had reached the statistical conclusions made in the report citing security reasons, saying that to disclose such information could reveal how US intelligence is gathered.