Ex-Guantanamo detainee dies fighting Assad in Syria
An Army officer enters Camp VI at U.S. Navy base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, August 2012.
The Miami Herald (MCT)
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — An Islamic opposition group in Syria has posted a video of the funeral of a former Guantanamo prisoner, the first known report that one of the 500 or so captives released during the Bush administration joined the Syrian insurgency to topple Bashar Assad.
The Syrian Islamic Movement posted the video Monday on YouTube. It shows the body of a fallen fighter in his 30s or 40s and a rebel leader, Sheik Abu Ahmad al Muhajir, eulogizing the man as Mohammed al Alami, a Northwest African veteran of the jihad in Afghanistan “who went through hardship for the sake of God in the prison of the Americans in Guantanamo for five years.”
U.S. Defense Department officials who help track released Guantanamo detainees had no comment Tuesday.
Aaron Zelin, editor of the jihadology blog from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the posting from the Aug. 5 funeral confirmed reports of a former Guantanamo prisoner’s death in Syria that had been floating around the Internet for weeks.
“We finally have evidence with this video from a credible media outlet within the jihadi media sphere,” said Zelin, who had already seen it when a Miami Herald reporter contacted him Tuesday about the overnight posting.
“Obviously there’ve been cases of people (Guantanamo detainees) who’ve gone back to continue the fight,” he said. “It’s not surprising. But it is interesting.”
Some might argue that the appearance of a former Guantanamo detainee among the fighters in Syria was only a matter of time.
Foreign fighters aligned with al-Qaida have become a growing presence there, with Egyptians, Saudis, Tunisians, Libyans and even Britons and Canadians filling out the ranks of Islamist extremist fighting groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham and Jaish al Muhajireen, or the Army of the Immigrants, which reportedly is led by a Chechen.
“Syria is probably the biggest jihad since the jihad in Afghanistan in the 1980s,” Zelin said, and for “foreigners seen as more of a clean jihad” than attacking U.S. troops and targets.
The foreign fighters’ growing influence — the Qaida-linked groups are considered the most effective of the rebel fighting forces — has complicated U.S. plans to provide support to anti-Assad rebels.
Alami was brought to Guantanamo from Afghanistan on Feb. 2, 2002, and repatriated Feb. 7, 2006, in a transport that released two other Moroccans, a Ugandan citizen and seven Afghans during a period when the Bush administration was thinning the prison camps, according to Pentagon records made public through the Freedom of Information Act and by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
They show Alami was born in Fez, Morocco, on Jan. 19, 1976, claim he fought U.S.-backed Northern Alliance forces in Afghanistan after 9/11, and was captured by Pakistani Army units trying to flee the country.
Once at Guantanamo, he recanted an admission to U.S. interrogators that he received al-Qaida training, saying in a transcript that he was “beaten and threatened with death.”
The records don’t make clear why he was let go. But they show Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the prison commander in 2003, advising against it. Miller argues that Alami admitted to training at the al-Farouq paramilitary camp in Afghanistan and saw Osama bin Laden there during a visit “to encourage and reinforce the trainee’s commitment to the cause of jihad.”
The records of many since-released Guantanamo captives claimed bin Laden sightings or association during their early interrogations.
Zelin said Morocco’s king likely jailed the returned Guantanamo prisoners, “but he pardoned a lot of people” in recent years.
The Pentagon today holds 164 detainees at Guantanamo, including two Moroccans — one cleared for release by a 2010 Obama administration task force, another classified as an “indefinite detainee.” During the Bush years, the Pentagon repatriated more than 530 of the 779 prisoners held at Guantanamo since Jan. 11, 2002. Obama, vowing to close the prison, had his administration repatriate or resettle about 70 more.