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Six More ‘High Risk’ GITMO Detainees Released by Obama; Lawmaker Calls it ‘Reckless’

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 Friday released another six “high risk” Yemeni Al Qaeda operatives to Oman in a move that has 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 Saturday 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.

For the first time since2001, “Al Qaeda” wasn’t mentioned in a Presidential State of the Union address when President Obama gave his latest on January 20, 2015. Obama also said, “As Americans, we have a profound commitment to justice. So it makes no sense to spend $3 million per prisoner to keep open a prison that the world condemns and terrorists use to recruit. (Applause). Since I’ve been President, we’ve worked responsibly to cut the population of GITMO in half. Now it is time to finish the job. And I will not relent in my determination to shut it down. It is not who we are. It’s time to close GITMO. (Applause).

Yet, in November, 2012, the Obama administration pressured Iraq not to release senior Hezbollah leader Ali Mussa Daqduq — who’d been captured by US troops in Basra on March 20, 2007 and eventually turned over to Iraq for prosecution — because the administration believed he’d likely commit more acts of terrorism against US forces if he were released. The US said the Hezbollah operative was guilty of kidnapping, torturing and murdering US soldiers in Iraq. Two Iraqi courts found him not guilty and ordered his release against the US’s wishes.

The contrast to the administration’s release of potentially dangerous Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives – both organizations share the same goal; global jihad — is glaring.

Indeed. Officials said there’s a high recidivism rate among the most hardened jihadists so far released. If that’s true, then the release of Taliban and Al Qaeda members this year whom the Department of Defense (DoD) declared several times should not be released because of the risk they pose, is at odds with Obama’s executive order “to effect the appropriate disposition of individuals currently detained and promptly close” GITMO in a manner that’s “consistent with the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States.”

National Security Council spokesman Ned Price Saturday repeated Obama’s argument that keeping GITMO open gives Islamist jihadists a reason to carry out attacks against the United States.

“As the president has repeatedly made clear, the administration is determined to close the” facility, Price said. “We are taking all possible steps to reduce the detainee population at Guantanamo and to close the detention facility in a responsible manner.”

"It is not in our national security interest to continue to detain individuals if we as a government have determined that they can be transferred from Guantanamo responsibly,” stated said Ian Moss, who works on detainee transfers at the State Department.

“Not in our national interest to continue to detain them?” sarcastically quipped one of several counterterrorism officials Homeland Security Today interviewed on background because they aren’t authorized to discuss the matter.

This “doesn’t seem to me to be consistent with protecting our national security … or, as the President said in his State of the Union address, working responsibly to cut GITMO’s population!” the official said.

“There’s just not much intel to back up [the administration’s reasoning] for letting these terrorists loose. There’s just not,” another one of the counterterrorism officials earlier expressed to Homeland Security Today.

“So, let me get this straight; releasing hardened, devoutly Islamist jihadists – the true believers whose minds aren’t going to be changed — is going to stop Al Qaeda, its affiliates, ISIS and other jihad groups and organizations to suddenly stop recruiting and carrying out jihad? That’s just messed up,” another official stated.

Rep. Howard P. McKeon (R-Calif.) chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Sen. James Inofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, stated in a joint statement last year that the administration’s release of so many of the most dangerous jihadists “may have consequences for the rest of our forces and all Americans. Our terrorist adversaries now have a strong incentive to capture Americans.”

“The war on terror has reached a lethal phase, and it is insane to be letting these people out of GITMO to go back to the fight,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

“It’s extremely troubling that the Obama administration has sent six dangerous terrorists to Oman, which borders Yemen — a country engulfed in civil war and that serves as the headquarters for Al Qaeda’s most dangerous affiliate," said Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), a member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services.

But, "Even more disturbing,” she said, “is the fact that the administration has not provided sufficient assurances to Congress or to the public that these terrorists will not return to the battlefield. If they are not securely detained, no one should be surprised if they travel to Yemen and re-engage in terrorist activities," she said.

2016 GOP presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), added, "President Obama is once again putting his legacy above the safety and security of Americans. We need an effective detention program, not continued transfers of prisoners to countries without clear requirements for their monitoring to ensure they don’t return to the battlefield."

Retired US Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, who served as director of the National Security Agency and CIA, has said the exchanges could endanger Americans in the future.

“I tried to be generous when [Bergdahl’s trade] was first announced because of ‘no man left behind,’ but in the cool light of day, I think it was a bad move,” he told the Washington Times, adding, “I’m troubled we did this for someone whom there was good evidence at the time, was a deserter, and now beyond that you have a precedent that the US does indeed negotiate over hostages.”

A March report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) said 116 former GITMO detainees “have returned to terrorism.” Of these 116, 23 are back in custody, 25 are dead—some killed in American drone strikes—and 68 are at large.

Another 69 released detainees are “suspected of reengaging” in terrorism and 55 appear to nowhere to be found.

More than 55 different countries have accepted freed GITMO jihadists – some are nations where Islamist jihadism is well-rooted, like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen — a fact the ODNI’s report conceded raises serious problems.

“Based on trends identified during the past eleven years, we assess that some detainees currently at GTMO will seek to reengage in terrorist or insurgent activities after they are transferred,” the ODNI’s report stated, noting that, “Transfers to countries with ongoing conflicts and internal instability as well as active recruitment by insurgent and terrorist organizations pose particular problems.”

The reason we know released detainees have returned to jihad is because they’ve made it perfectly clear they have. And that, is not in dispute.

“But whatever the number, one top Al Qaeda or Taliban leader is one too many,” a senior counterterrorism official 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. With that said, it’s very likely at least several of the five Al Qaeda detainees from Yemen just released from GITMO will soon appear on jihadi recruitment posters.

Now we have the ‘Al Qaeda 6’

The six Yemeni-borne Al Qaeda jihadi detainees just releasedto Oman under an unspecified agreement — the Oman News Agency reported the men would be living there “temporarily” without elaborating — are Emad Abdullah Hassan, Idris Ahmad Abd Al Qadir Idris, Jalal Salam Awad, Sharaf Ahmad Muhammad Mas’ud, Saa’d Nasser Moqbil Al Azani and Muhammad Ali Salem Al Zarnuki.

According to the Department of Defense, “As directed by the president’s January. 22, 2009 executive order, the interagency Guantanamo Review Task Force conducted comprehensive reviews of each of these [detainees’] cases,” and, “As a result of that review process, which examined a number of factors, including security issues, these men were unanimously approved for transfer by the six departments and agencies comprising the task force.”

The previous year, though, on October 31, 2008, Joint Task Force-GITMO (JTF-GITMO) stated Emad Abdullah Hassan was considered too “high” of a “risk,” and that he should remain under “continued detention under DoD control.” JTF-GITMO made the same determination on October 4, 2007.

In fact, the previous year – late in the year – JTF GITMO “assessed” all six of the Al Qaeda jihadists just released to Oman posed too serious a risk to set them free.

Senior counterterrorism officials familiar with the detainees told Homeland Security Today nothing had changed between the last time the six were deemed too dangerous to release and about a year ago when Oman reportedly agreed to accept them.

“No one I know of, including JTF-GITMO analysts, believed these six should have been released,” one of the counterterrorism officials stated, adding, “personally, I expect to see all of them back in Al Qaeda’s, or ISIS’ ranks, in short order … much like we’ve seen with the earlier release of the Al Qaeda-linked “Taliban 5.”

Hassan’s leaked secret JFT-GITMO file stated, “If released without rehabilitation, close supervision, and means to successfully reintegrate into his society as a law abiding citizen, it is assessed detainee would likely reengage in extremist activities. Since transfer to JTF-GTMO, detainee has threatened to kill the guard staff, has expressed support for suicides … and has been mostly uncooperative during custodial interviews.”

According to his secret JTF-GITMO file, he was “assessed to be a member of Al Qaeda, a facilitator and recruiter of extremists who reportedly swore bayat (oath of allegiance) to Usama Bin Laden (UBL) and was selected to be a body guard for the Al Qaeda leader. Detainee is associated with an Al Qaeda cell in Pakistan previously controlled by senior Al Qaeda facilitator Zayn Al Abidin Muhammad Husayn, aka Abu Zubaydah … This cell was reportedly preparing to conduct a terror campaign using improvised explosive device (IED) attacks against US and Coalition forces in Afghanistan. Detainee traveled to Afghanistan for the purpose of engaging in combat and trained at Al Qaeda’s Al Faruq [training] Camp.”

“While in Afghanistan,” his JTF-GITMO file says, he “traveled to Tora Bora, where he probably participated in hostilities against US and coalition forces before fleeing to an al Qaeda safe house in Faisalabad, Pakistan. Detainee and other suspected Al Qaeda members were later captured in this safe house by Pakistani security forces.”

On February 14, 2007, and again on January 26, 2008, Idris Ahmad Abd Al Qadir Idris was assessed by JTF-GITMO to continue to be detained by the Defense Department because he was considered to be a “high risk” who “is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.”

His leaked classified JTF-GITMO record revealed that he “is assessed to be a member of Al Qaeda and was identified as a bodyguard for Usama Bin Laden beginning shortly before the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. Detainee is also assessed to be an Al Qaeda recruiter associated with a Salafist network in Yemen. Detainee transited through multiple extremist support guesthouses, received militant training at the Al Qaeda Al Faruq Training Camp in
Afghanistan, and is assessed to have received advanced training.”

Idris fled “Bin Laden’s Tora Bora Mountain complex with a group of 30 fighters, including other Bin Laden bodyguards, collectively known as the Dirty 30. Detainee’s name was found on Al Qaeda affiliated documents.”

Jalal Salam Awad also twice was recommended by the Defense Department to remain under detention under its control at GITMO because he was considered a “high risk” jihadist “likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.”

Awad’s leaked classified JTF-GITMO file said he was “assessed to be a member of Al Qaeda and identified by a senior Al Qaeda facilitator as a Usama Bin Laden bodyguard. Detainee accepted facilitation for his travel to Afghanistan from a well known Al Qaeda recruiter and sub-commander in [Bin Laden’s] 55th Arab Brigade.”

The 55 Arab Brigade served as Bin Laden’s primary battle formation supporting Taliban objectives, with bin Laden participating closely in the command and control of the brigade, according to the Defense Department.

Continuing, his JTF-GITMO file stated he’d “admitted receiving militant training at a Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) camp and is assessed to have received additional training at the Al Qaeda Al Faruq Training Camp.”

He also “occupied guesthouses affiliated with senior Al Qaeda operatives Mustafa Faraj Muhammad Muhammad Masud al Jadid Al Uzaybi, and Nashwan Abd Al Razzaq Abd Al Baqi. Detainee was captured with individuals involved in terrorist attacks against the US, had extensive links to explosives, or provided support to Al Qaeda. Detainee reportedly possessed information on [Bin Laden’s] intentions when he fled Afghanistan and expressed a threat to US forces at JTF-GTMO.”

On February 14, 2007, and September 10, 2008, JTF-GITMO said Sharaf Ahmad Muhammad Mas’ud should remain under Defense Department detention because he, too, was considered too much of a risk to let loose.

His leaked secret JTF-GITMO file stated that if he were to be “released without rehabilitation, close supervision, and means to successfully reintegrate into his society as a law abiding citizen, it is assessed detainee would seek out prior associates and reengage in hostilities and extremist support activities. Since transfer to JTF-GTMO, detainee has preached Islamic extremism expressing a willingness to return to the fight, and has lectured other detainees citing extremist poetry that refers to Usama Bin Laden. Detainee has been deceptive and continues to withhold information of intelligence value possibly indicating his continuing support for extremism.”

“Additionally,” his JTF-GITMO file stated, he’d “verbally expressed his disdain for America and President Bush, and has encouraged and led mass disturbances among the other detainees.”

He also “is an Islamic extremist and an Al Qaeda affiliated fighter who went to Afghanistan for militant training and to participate in extremist activities including combat. Prior to detention, detainee received specialized training in spying, codes, surveillance and the use of electronic devices to construct explosives. Detainee fought against US/Coalition forces and was captured after fleeing [Bin Laden’s] Tora Bora Mountain Complex of Afghanistan with senior Al Qaeda trainer Ali Muhammad Abd Al Aziz Al Fakhri … Detainee’s travels were facilitated through the Al Qaeda network with senior Al Qaeda facilitator Abdu Ali Al Hajj Sharqawi … providing direct assistance.”

Saa’d Nasser Moqbil Al Azani also twice was deemed to be too dangerous to be released and should remain in the Defense Department’s custody because he was considered a “high risk” who would “likely pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies” if released.

His secret JTF-GITMO file said he was “assessed to be a senior Al Qaeda member and a close associate of Usama Bin Laden’s religious advisor, Abu Hafs Al Mauritani. Detainee provided religious training at the Al Qaeda affiliated Islamic Institute [and] is associated with senior Al Qaeda leaders and operatives. Detainee’s name appears on Al Qaeda associated documents,” and “was recruited through the Jamaat Al Tablighi, possibly for special operations.”

A JTF-GITMO analyst said, “The Al Tabligh school is a reference to a school operated by the Jamaat Tablighi,” which is “a proselytizing organization based in Pakistan and a National Intelligence Priorities Framework (NIPF) Counterterrorism (CT) Priority 3 Terrorist Support Entity (TSE). Priority 3 TSEs have demonstrated intent and willingness to provide financial support to terrorist organizations willing to attack US persons or interests, or provide witting operational support to Priority 1 and Priority 2 terrorist groups.”

The final Al Qaeda member the Obama administration released to Oman Friday is Muhammad Ali Salem Al Zarnuki, who the Defense Department also twice said should remain in its custody because he, too, was considered a “high risk … likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies” if he were released.

JTF-GITMO said in his file that he “is a member of Al Qaeda with multiple affiliations with senior-level Al Qaida members [who] served on the front lines of Kabul, Afghanistan as a member of Usama Bin Laden’s 55th Arab Brigade.”

He was assessed to have “received basic and possibly advanced training at Al Qaeda supported compounds and training camps” and “was reported staying in multiple Al Qaeda associated guesthouses and was captured in an Al Qaeda affiliated safe house in Pakistan which was controlled by Zayn Al Abidin Muhammad Husayn.”

“High-level Al Qaeda membersidentified him as being in Afghanistan as early as 1998,” his JTF-GITMO file said, adding that he was “assessed to have been recruited through an Al Qaeda facilitation network moving fighters from Yemen to Afghanistan.”

According to Hassan and Al Azni’s JTF-GITMO files, “additional information about” them is available in a Special Compartmented Information (SCI) supplement, meaning highly sensitive top secret intelligence on the two jihadists exists buttressing the cases against them.

Editor’s note: Also read the Homeland Security Today reports, ‘Taliban 5’ Members Said Trying to Re-engage Jihad Networks Puts All Freed, Dangerous Jihadists in Spotlight; If Jihadi Groups Form Alliances, Threat to West Will be Unprecedented; and, The Potential that Jihadi Groups will Unify … and With it, More Savagery.

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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