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Another ‘High Risk’ Al Qaeda-Tied GITMO Detainee to be Released

The Obama administration, in its continuing effort to close down Joint Task Force-Guantanamo (JTF-GITMO), announced it will release another one of the remaining most dangerous jihadists, Libyan national Omar Mohammed Khalif Abu Bakr.

An August 20 JTF-GITMO Periodic Review Board (PRB) document reveals officials have determined that detaining Khalif “is no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

The PRB said Abu Bakr’s deteriorating health and “constructive role in the detention environment” are factors in the administration’s decision to order his release.

“While the board acknowledges the detainee’s past terrorist-related activities and connections, it found that the risk the detainee presents can be adequately mitigated,” the PRB concluded – a decision glaringly at odds with past recent decisions the Abu Bakr should remain in DOD custody because of the “high risk” danger he was assessed to pose to the US and its interests.

His attorney, Ramzi Kassem, told the Miami Herald that his client is missing most of his right leg and is blind in his left eye, which are factors the PRB considered in its decision that Abu Bakr should be released to an unspecified Arab-speaking country where his “physical and mental health needs” can be addressed.

“He is actually quite cogent and articulate and has played a recognized mediating role between prisoners and the guard force over the years,” Kassem said.

According to reports, a military official who testified before the PRB in June described Abu Bakr as “peaceful, compliant, and also has quite a sense of humor.”

A DOD profile of Abu four months earlier stated, “There are no indications that he is in direct contact with any terrorists outside Guantanamo, but he has attempted to relay greetings to several Libyan former detainees, including one who has emerged as an extremist leader and would be well-positioned to facilitate [his] reengagement [in jihad] should he wish to rejoin the fight. He also probably would be able to use his past connections to the LIFG to reinitiate contact with extremists in Libya.”

Continuing, the profile stated that if he is “repatriated to Libya, [he] probably would seek out his remaining family members in his hometown of Al Bayda, which is situated between Darnah and Benghazi, areas where extremists operate freely. The Libyan Government has been unable to combat terrorism effectively since the revolution in 2011.”

The profile noted that, “Large areas of the country — including the region where [Abu Bakr] was Born — are only looselygoverned, enabling a broad range of terrorist groups to establish footholds.”

Nevertheless, in its Unclassified Summary of Final Determination, the PRB stated that, “by consensus [they] determined that continued law of war detention of the detainee does not remain necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

The PRB stated, “While the Board acknowledges the detainee’s past terrorist-related activities and connections, it found that the risk the detainee presents can be adequately mitigated by: the detainee’s significantly compromised health condition; the detainee’s record of compliance with camp rules, and positive, constructive role in the detention environment, including mediating concerns raised between other detainees and guard staff; and the detainee’s recent engagement with his family illustrating his intent to move forward in a positive manner.”

“The PRB recommends transfer to a country with the ability to provide structured, inpatient medical care to adequately address his physical and mental health needs. The Board recommends transfer to an Arabic speaking country to facilitate the detainee’s medical treatment and in accordance with his preference. The PRB also recommends appropriate security assurances as determined by the Guantanamo Detainee Transfer Working Group, with special attention to those that would mitigate the threat the detainee may pose with respect to propaganda, recruitment, and training of others.”

Held at the Guantanamo Bay detention center for 13 years, Abu Bakr consequently has been cleared for release by the PRB, which includes representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The board was created in 2013 to review the cases of more than three dozen detainees designated for continued detention under DOD control without charges or trial by the Guantánamo Review Task Force appointed by Obama in 2009 to determine whether these remaining detainees should be released, put on trial or continue to be held without charges or trial.

The administration’s decision to release Abu Bakr is in glaring contrast to past recent JTF-GITMO determinations that he continued to be a “high risk.”

On September 12, 2007, and again in its August 22, 2008 assessment, JTF-GITMO recommended Abu Bakr continue to be detained under DOD control because, “If released without rehabilitation, close supervision and means to successfully reintegrate into his society as a law abiding citizen, it is assessed detainee would immediately seek out prior associates and reengage in hostilities and extremist support activities.”

Although JTF-GITMO’s leaked classified report on Abu Bakr stated that, “Since transfer to JTF-GTMO, detainee has been mostly compliant with guard force and staff, he’d nevertheless “has threatened to kill US personnel on several occasions.”

JTF-GITMO also stated he “continues to withhold information of intelligence value, and also shares his extensive explosives knowledge with other detainees.”

Also in contrast to the PRB’s August 20 Unclassified Summary of Final Determination that Abu Bakr’s deteriorating health factored into the decision to release him is in contrast to the classified 2008 JTF-GITMO report that Abu Bakr was “in overall fair health,” and determined that he continued to be a “high risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies; that he was considered, “A high threat from a detention perspective; and “of high intelligence value.”

His leaked JTF-GITMO file revealed he “is an admitted member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group(LIFG), was reported to be a senior member who served on the LIFG military (operations) committee and confirmed he swore bayat (allegiance) to the LIFG.”

“Prior to detention,” the file stated, Abu Bakr “was identified as the commander of a militant training camp and acknowledged serving as trainer. He was identified as an explosives and weapons trainer at LIFG and Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan” and “also helped reestablish Al-Qaeda camps following their destruction by US bombings in 1998.”

In addition, Abu Bakr “acknowledged receiving advanced training at facilities in Afghanistan and Sudan where he worked for a company owned by Usama Bin Laden (UBL),” and “was also identified as an arms dealer who provided support to UBL in Sudan and flew from Sudan to Afghanistan aboard a plan chartered by UBL.”

Continuing, his classified 2008 JTF-GITMO file stated he “is an acknowledged participant in hostilities against US and Coalition forces, and was identified as a military sub-commander during hostilities in Afghanistan. He is assessed to be a participant in a cell under the leadership of Zayn Al Abidin Muhammad Husayn, aka Abu Zubaydah, which intended to conduct IED attacks against US and Coalition forces,” and “is a long-time associate of UBL and has affiliations to other senior Al Qaeda leaders and operatives, including Ayman Al Zawahiri [Al Qaeda’s leader following the CIA-led raid that killed Bin Laden at his compound in Pakistan on May 2, 2011], Sayf Al Adl Nashiri [the mastermind of the USS COLE bombing), and deceased Al Qaeda military commanders."

A citizen of the Palestinian territories, Abu Zubaydah was a senior member of Al Qaeda with direct ties to multiple high-ranking terrorists such as UBL.

According to his leaked classified 2008 JTF-GITMO file, he “has a vast amount of information regarding Al Qaeda personnel and operations and is an admitted operational planner, financier and facilitator of international terrorists and their activities.”

He “participated in hostilities against US and Coalition forces and was involved in several plans to commit terrorist acts against the US, its interests and allies.” He “received militant training during the late 1980’s, became a trainer at Al Faruq in 1994 then went on to oversee the administration of [the] Khaldan Training Camp in Khowst, Afghanistan.”

He “was captured while attempting to establish a ‘Martyrs’ Brigade’ in Pakistan whose intention was to attack US and allied targets using remote controlled improvised explosive devices.

He remains one of 17 high-value jihadists at GITMO the Guantánamo Review Task Force has recommended for prosecution.

As with Abu Bakr, Zubaydah’s JTF-GITMO file also stated that, “If released without rehabilitation, close supervision and means to successfully reintegrate into his society as a law abiding citizen, it is assessed [Zubaydah] is likely to seek out prior associates and reengage in hostilities and extremist support activities. Since transfer to JTF-GTMO, detainee has appeared to be cooperative during interviews but may also have been withholding information and employing counter interrogation techniques.”

According to his classified August 2008 JTF-GITMO Sayf Al Adl Nashiri “is an admitted member of the LIFG [as was Abu Bakr] reported to be a senior member who served on the LIFG military (operations) committee and confirmed he swore bayat (allegiance) to the LIFG. Prior to detention [he] was identified as the commander of a militant training camp and acknowledged serving as trainer.”

Adl Nashiri also “was identified as an explosives and weapons trainer at LIFG and al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan [who] helped re-establish Al Qaeda camps following their destruction by US bombings in 1998.” He also “acknowledged receiving advanced training at facilities in Afghanistan and Sudan where he worked for a company owned by Usama Bin Laden.”

Adl Nashiri “was also identified as an arms dealer who provided support to UBL in Sudan … flew from Sudan to Afghanistan aboard a plan chartered by UBL” and “is an acknowledged participant in hostilities against US and Coalition forces … identified as a military sub-commander during hostilities in Afghanistan.”

He also was assessed to have been a participant in the cell Abu Bakr was a member of “under the leadership of … Abu Zubaydah, which intended to conduct IED attacks against US and Coalition forces.” He was “a long-time associate of UBL and has affiliations to other senior Al Qaeda leaders and operatives including Ayman al Zawahiri …”

In June, Homeland Security Today reported that a week after the one-year travel ban expired for the five “high risk” former top Taliban- and Al Qaeda-linked Guantanamo detainees who were exchanged for captured US Army Sgt. Robert Bergdahl, giving the Taliban jihadists the right to return to Afghanistan and rejoin the jihad against the West and America, the Obama administration released another six “high risk” Yemeni Al Qaeda operatives to Oman in a move that infuriated both Republicans and Democrats, as lawmakers ruminate new restrictions on further transfers.

Yemen is home to Al Qaeda’s most dangerous affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The latest transfers were made in spite of the fact Obama’s own intelligence advisors confirmed one-third of released detainees have re-engaged in jihad.

"Despite the high terror threat to our country, the President continues to open the jail cells at Guantanamo Bay, giving potential terrorists the ability to return to the fight,” House Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul said following the Pentagon’s announcement they’d released six more of the most hardened Islamist jihadists in custody.

McCaul said, “The lack of a comprehensive detainee policy has led this President to make reckless decisions affecting American security. The President needs to be up front with the American people, rather than have the release of dangerous detainees buried in a Saturday news dump.”

Homeland Security Today reported in-depth in its January 22, 2015 report, There Will be Blood: Freeing the Vilest of the Vile from GITMO, that the five senior Taliban- Al Qaeda-linked detainees the administration released in June 2014 were freed because the administration has consistently claimed that the remaining GITMO detainees – the last and most dangerous of whom pose a high risk of re-engaging in jihad — is because “GITMO continues to inspire violent acts around the globe.”

“We are committed to closing the detention facility. That’s our goal and we are working toward that goal,” Ian Moss, a spokesman for the Department of State on GITMO issues has said.

Following the administration’s June release of the five top Taliban leaders (who were among the fundamentalist group’s most extreme and dangerous) as part of the prisoner swap for Bergdahl, Homeland Security Today Contributing Writer Godfrey Garner (who retired from US Special Forces in 2006 having served two military tours and six civilian government related tours in Afghanistan) wrote, “Professionals in the Intelligence Community are convinced these men will return to the religiously mandated jihad against America and will be welcomed back with open arms, free to renew their formal ties with Al Qaeda. And in light of their ‘heroic’ time in enemy captivity, they will be hailed as idols seen as having been victorious against America. Fueled by their stature and their renewed commitment to jihad, they will be an asset to Al Qaeda/Taliban anti-America efforts.”

“While the political implications of their release will be debated for some time, the truth about what their release means is nothing short of prophetic. Few can argue that their return to jihad is anything but a foregone conclusion,” Garner stated. “Their release and perceived victory will be used by Taliban and Al Qaeda commanders to strengthen the morale and commitment of their fighters and girder the already growing jihadist infrastructure in the region.” And, “This reinforced foundation will in time serve as an impetus that will result in a resurgent terrorist base of operations in Afghanistan as well as other Al Qaeda bases of operations in the region.”

In other words, the administration’s release of admittedly dangerous Islamist jihadists has become a far better recruitment tool than the administration’s reason for shutting down GITMO in the first place, if intelligence authorities are correct, and it would increasingly appear they are.

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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