A former Guantanamo detainee transferred from the detention facility to Afghanistan on Dec. 19, 2009, has already returned to the Taliban’s ranks, according to multiple intelligence officials contacted by the Long War Journal. The former detainee was identified in documents produced at Guantanamo as Abdul Hafiz (as well as an alternative name, Abdul Qawi) and given an internment serial number of 1030.
During the more than six years he was held at Guantanamo, Hafiz was repeatedly identified as “a suspect in the murder of an International Red Cross worker in Afghanistan.” Memos produced at Guantanamo also alleged that Hafiz participated in the jihad against the Soviets, ran madrassas and recruited young men to fight for the Taliban, was “responsible for maintaining contacts with Mullah Mohammed Omar,” and fought in a 40-man militia comprised of fighters from the Taliban and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s insurgency group. [For a profile of Hafiz, see LWJ report: “Gitmo detainee implicated in Red Cross murder transferred to Afghanistan.” ]
Despite the fact that Hafiz was implicated in the murder of an ICRC worker, and alleged to have substantial ties to senior Taliban officials, he was transferred to Afghanistan. Shortly thereafter, Hafiz rejoined the Taliban.
Targeting charities in Afghanistan
Earlier this week, Newsweek‘s Declassified blog reported that Mullah Omar had replaced Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Omar’s top military deputy, with two Taliban militia leaders after Baradar was captured in Pakistan last month. The two Taliban militia leaders are Mullah Abdul Qayum Zakir, himself a former Gitmo detainee, and Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor.
“As one of their first orders of business only three days ago,” Newsweek reported, “Zakir and Mansoor reshuffled several [Taliban] shadow provincial governors in an effort to improve the insurgency’s effectiveness.”
Newsweek added: “They also appointed another former Gitmo detainee to head a committee in charge of handling the insurgents’ hefty ransom demands for their kidnap victims and for dealing with nongovernment-aid organizations who are considering-or may already be running-projects in areas under Taliban influence.”
Although Newsweek did not name this other “former Gitmo detainee” appointed by Zakir and Mansoor, senior intelligence officials tell the Long War Journal that the description matches what is known about Abdul Hafiz.
This is not the first time that Abdul Hafiz has been tasked with targeting charity workers operating in Afghanistan.
On March 27, 2003, Taliban forces kidnapped and murdered Ricardo Munguía, an employee of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). A few weeks later, in April 2003, US Special Forces raided a Taliban stronghold where perpetrators of the attack were hiding.
“We believe we have killed the assassin that attacked the ICRC worker,” Army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Doug Lefforge said at the time. Seven others were captured, including a few who were suspected of involvement in Munguía’s killing. “Now that we have these people, we can verify which group they’re from,” Lefforge added. “They are still being interrogated.”
Abdul Hafiz was shipped off to Guantanamo. While he was detained at Gitmo, Hafiz was repeatedly accused of being a suspect in Munguía’s murder. For example, a Feb. 22, 2005, memo prepared for Hafiz’s first administrative review board (ARB) hearing identified him as “a suspect in the murder of an International Red Cross worker in Afghanistan.” Other documents identify the Red Cross worker in question as Munguía.
A key piece of evidence pointing to Hafiz’s role in Munguía’s killing was his satellite phone. The phone “has been linked to the ICRC murder,” according to memos prepared at Gitmo by US officials. During his combatant status review tribunal (CSRT) and ARB hearings, Hafiz did not deny that he was in possession of the satellite phone, which had his fingerprints all over it. But Hafiz claimed that the phone was not his, and that he did not know how to use it.
Hafiz’s claim is dubious, to say the least. When Hafiz was captured in April 2003, according to a memo produced at Gitmo, US forces found him “attempting to call an al Qaeda member who is linked to the murder of an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) worker.” In other words, Hafiz apparently knew how to use the satellite phone at the time of his capture.
The “al Qaeda member” Hafiz was attempting to contact was not identified in the government’s documents, but a handful of high-level Taliban and al Qaeda leaders have been tied to Munguía’s murder. One of them is Mullah Dadullah Akhund, who was the Taliban’s senior military commander until he was killed in 2007. The terrorist team responsible for the kidnapping and shooting contacted Dadullah by satellite phone shortly before Munguía was murdered.
While at Gitmo, Hafiz was also accused of being “affiliated with the death of two individuals in Kabul, Afghanistan.” It is not clear who those two individuals are, however, as they are not identified in the US government’s documents.
First reported recidivist released by the Obama administration
John Brennan, who is President Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser, confirmed in a Feb. 1 letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that the recidivism rate for former Gitmo detainees had risen to 20 percent. This figure included both “confirmed” and “suspected” cases documented by the Pentagon in a regularly updated analysis of recidivism.
Brennan argued that all of the recidivists had been transferred or released during the previous administration. “I want to underscore the fact that all of these cases relate to detainees released during the previous Administration and under the prior detainee review process,” Brennan wrote. Brennan cited “significant improvements to the detainee review process” that had been made by the Obama administration.
Brennan added that the Pentagon’s updated recidivism “report indicates no confirmed or suspected recidivists among detainees transferred during this Administration, although we recognize the ongoing risk that detainees could engage in such activity.”
Abdul Hafiz’s recidivism highlights that risk. He was transferred to Afghanistan just a few months ago and has already assumed a leadership position within the Taliban’s ranks once again. By some estimates, it takes an average of one and a half years for Gitmo recidivists to rejoin the fight.
Hafiz returned to the fight in far less time.