SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, (AP) – A Kuwaiti freed from Guantanamo Bay carried out a suicide car bombing recently in Iraq, the U.S. military said Wednesday, confirming what is believed to be the first such attack by a former detainee at the U.S. military detention center in Cuba.
Abdallah Salih al-Ajmi took part in one of three suicide bomb attacks last month that targeted Iraqi security forces in the northern city of Mosul, said U.S. Navy Cmdr. Scott Rye, a military spokesman in Baghdad. At least seven people were killed in the attacks.
Al-Ajmi’s American lawyer said incarceration at Guantanamo may have turned the Kuwaiti into a terrorist. But the U.S. military says he was already an enemy combatant when he was brought to Guantanamo in 2002 after being captured in Afghanistan.
Up to 36 former Guantanamo detainees have resumed hostilities against the U.S., including some who have been taken back into custody or killed, the Pentagon says. Al-Ajmi is apparently the first to have become a suicide bomber, said Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman.
“There is an implied future risk to U.S. and allied interests with every detainee who is released or transferred from Guantanamo,” Gordon told The Associated Press.
Military documents show al-Ajmi, 29, had a history of discipline problems at Guantanamo Bay, where he was held for more than 3 1/2 years. According to one report, al-Ajmi said in August 2004 that “he now is a jihadist, an enemy combatant, and that he will kill as many Americans as he possibly can.”
Tom Wilner, a lawyer who represented al-Ajmi and other Kuwaiti prisoners at Guantanamo, said his client once appeared for a meeting with a broken arm and that al-Ajmi said he had suffered the injury when guards tried to stop him from praying.
Wilner, who met with al-Ajmi about five times in 2005, said he appeared “particularly angry” about being confined without charge.
“I don’t know whether the experience of being kept down there in isolation radicalized him,” Wilner said.
Despite his problems at Guantanamo, in 2005 al-Ajmi was transferred to Kuwait, which was supposed to ensure he would no longer pose a threat.
But in May 2006, a Kuwaiti court acquitted him of being a member of al-Qaida and raising money for the terror organization. The court also acquitted four other former Guantanamo prisoners.
Dubai-based al-Arabiya television last week reported al-Ajmi had carried out a suicide attack, but the U.S. military could not confirm it until Wednesday. Rye said authorities determined he entered Iraq through Syria and that al-Ajmi’s family confirmed his death.
His cousin Salem al-Ajmi told AP in Kuwait that the former prisoner had settled down and married after coming home. He and his wife had one child, with another on the way. But several weeks ago, he suddenly started disappearing for days at a time. Then, on April 30, an unknown man called another relative to say al-Ajmi had died in Iraq, the cousin said.
“We were shocked by the news,” Salem al-Ajmi said. “After his return from detention, his life was normal.”
A Web site frequently used by Islamic militants displayed a banner headline Wednesday saying “Goodbye Abdullah al-Ajmi, the hero of the heroes.”
In a password-protected section of the Web site, someone identified as al-Ajmi calls conditions at Guantanamo “deplorable” and urges Muslims to pursue suicide operations.
“It is your duty to free your Muslim brothers from the hands of the polytheists and infidels,” he says, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group, a Washington-based group that monitors terrorist Internet traffic.
The three suicide car bombings last month killed at least seven people and wounded 28, Mosul officials said. It was not yet known which one al-Ajmi allegedly carried out.
Wilner called al-Ajmi’s alleged participation a “tragedy” that could have been avoided with formal court hearings, rather than military hearings, for all Guantanamo prisoners to determine if there are grounds to hold them.
“The lack of a process results in tragic mistakes on both sides,” the lawyer said.
Khaled al-Odah, who heads a private group that campaigns for the release of Kuwaitis at Guantanamo, said the suicide attack should not be held against those still detained there, including his son.
“It is a very sad event and we are grappling with what happened,” al-Odah said.