From left to right: Mohamedou Ould Slahi, Osama bin Laden, Ramzi Binalshibh, and Mohammed Atta.
A US federal judge has ordered the release of a top al Qaeda recruiter for the 9/11 attacks from custody at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba.
Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who was identified by the 9/11 Commission as a key recruiter of al Qaeda’s Hamburg cell, was ordered to be released from the prison by US District Judge James Robertson, according to The Wall Street Journal. Slahi was also allegedly an important facilitator of the failed millennium bomb plot at Los Angeles International Airport in 1999. Robertson’s ruling on Slahi’s detention has not been disclosed, and is currently classified.
Slahi is known to have recruited several al Qaeda operatives before his detention in Mauritania in November 2001. His most high-profile recruits were the top members al Qaeda’s cell in Hamburg, Germany — the key planners and operatives of the 9/11 attack. He was “a significant al Qaeda operative,” who was “well known to U.S. and German intelligence,” according to the 9/11 Commission’s final report.
While in Hamburg in 1999, Slahi arranged for Ramzi Binalshibh, one of the key facilitators of the 9/11 operation, and three of his cohorts to travel from Germany to Afghanistan so that they could train in al Qaeda’s camps and swear allegiance to Osama bin Laden. Binalshibh’s three friends were: Mohammed Atta, Marwan al Shehhi, and Ziad Jarrah–the suicide pilots of American Airlines Flight 11, United Airlines Flight 175, and United Airlines Flight 93, respectively.
Binalshibh, Shehhi, and Jarrah met with Slahi in late 1999. Slahi convinced the three terrorists to travel to Afghanistan for training instead of rushing off to Chechnya to fight the Russians. Slahi told the operatives to obtain a Pakistani visa and then provided instructions on “on how to travel to Karachi and then Quetta, where they were to contact someone named Umar al Masri at the Taliban office,” according to the 9/11 Commission.
“Following Slahi’s advice, Atta and Jarrah left Hamburg during the last week of November 1999, bound for Karachi,” the 9/11 Commission report concluded. “Shehhi left for Afghanistan around the same time; Binalshibh, about two weeks later. Binalshibh remembers that when he arrived at the Taliban office in Quetta, there was no one named Umar al Masri. The name, apparently, was simply a code; a group of Afghans from the office promptly escorted him to Kandahar. There Binalshibh rejoined Atta and Jarrah, who said they already had pledged loyalty to Bin Laden and urged him to do the same. They also informed him that Shehhi had pledged as well and had already left for the United Arab Emirates to prepare for the mission.”
Facilitator of the millennium bombing plot
Just one month after recruiting the Hamburg cell, Slahi traveled to Montreal, Canada. While there, Slahi attended a local mosque, where he reportedly met with an al Qaeda cell that was prepared to conduct an attack inside the US.
After weeks of attending daily prayers, an Algerian immigrant named Ahmed Ressam left the mosque to carry out a bombing at the Los Angeles International Airport in December 1999. The LAX attack was part of the failed millennium plot; attacks were also planned at sites in Jordan. Ressam was arrested while crossing the Canadian border at Port Angeles, Wash., by an alert agent. Border guards found large amounts of explosives and detonators. Jordanian intelligence also foiled the plot there just weeks before it was to occur.
The US government has long suspected that Slahi activated Ressam’s cell for the millennium plot. The government’s unclassified files produced at Guantanamo note that Slahi is “a suspected facilitator of the failed millennium bombing conspiracy.” Shortly after Ressam was detained, Canadian and US authorities began investigating Slahi, but they apparently did not have enough evidence to arrest him.
Slahi fled Montreal in January of 2000 for his home in Mauritania, where he was detained just two months after the 9/11 attacks.
Slahi in Gitmo
Slahi’s detention at Guantanamo has been controversial because of the interrogation techniques used on him. Slahi is one of the few detainees held at Guantanamo who had a special, and harsh, interrogation plan approved for his questioning.
A military prosecutor decided he could not prosecute Slahi due to the interrogation techniques, yet he admitted that Slahi was one of the most dangerous al Qaeda operatives in custody.
“Of the cases I had seen, [Slahi] was the one with the most blood on his hands,” said Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Crouch, during an interview with The Wall Street Journal in 2007.
Slahi denied many of the US military’s charges against him during hearings at Gitmo. Yet during his first administrative review board hearing, he admitted that he had sworn allegiance to Osama bin Laden.
“I was in jihad and I swore bayat to Bin Laden and everything but that was a very long time ago,” Slahi told his review board.
During his denials, Slahi also admitted to transferring thousands of dollars to Abu Hafs al Mauritania, his cousin and brother-in-law. Abu Hafs al Mauritania is a top al Qaeda theologian and longtime spiritual advisor to bin Laden.