A former Guantanamo detainee who spent nearly six years in detention at Cuba is training Libyan rebels in the city of Derna, according to The Wall Street Journal’s Charles Levinson.
Sufyan Ben Qumu (whose name has also been transliterated as Sofiane Ibrahim Gammu) was transferred from US custody to Libya in 2007. Levinson reports that Qumu, who was imprisoned in Libya after his transfer from Guantanamo, was released by Qaddafi’s regime as part of its reconciliation effort with Islamists in 2008. However, press reports from August 2010 indicate that he was released last year. [See LWJ report, Libya frees ex-Gitmo detainee.]
Declassified files produced at Guantanamo point to Qumu’s multiple ties to al Qaeda and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), a known al Qaeda affiliate. Qumu, according to The Wall Street Journal, is now “training many of [Derna’s] rebel recruits.”
Qumu serves as a rebel commander along with two other jihadists who also fought in Afghanistan. One of the two is Abdul Hakim al Hasadi, who was briefly detained by the US in late 2001 before being turned over to the Libyan government. Al Hasadi’s role in the Libyan uprising has been widely reported and, according to The Wall Street Journal, he “oversees the recruitment, training and deployment of about 300 rebel fighters from” Derna.
Early in the uprising, Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi and members of his government claimed that al Hasadi was himself a former Guantanamo detainee and had established an Islamic emirate in Derna. While al Hasadi has set up a base of operations in Derna, he was not formerly held at Guantanamo. [See Threat Matrix Report, Libyan opposition leader wasn’t held at Guantanamo.]
Qumu also serves alongside Salah al Barrani, who is “a former fighter” from the LIFG. Barrani is al Hasadi’s “field commander on the front lines.”
The extent of jihadist involvement is unclear
The news that Qumu is training Derna’s rebels comes at a time when the extent of jihadist involvement in the Libyan uprising is being hotly debated in the US. Levinson reports that they are “a relatively small minority within the rebel cause,” whose “discipline and fighting experience is badly needed by the rebels’ ragtag army.”
Still, the roles played by men such as Qumu, al Hasadi, and Barrani are likely to be an ongoing cause for Western concern. The city of Derna is a known stronghold for Islamist and jihadist extremists who long opposed Qaddafi’s regime. And while the Derna rebels may be faithfully serving the rebellion’s secular leadership today, it remains to be seen what their plans are for the near future.
Declassified memos produced at Guantanamo paint a troubling picture of the man who is training Derna’s rebels.
Qumu served in the Libyan Army from 1979 until 1990, but his service was marred with trouble. He was “arrested and jailed multiple times for drug and alcohol offenses, going absent without leave and attempted rape.” Qumu “was sentenced to four years in prison for drug trafficking,” but escaped prison and “fled to Sudan in 1992,” at which point he allegedly started serving al Qaeda.
In Sudan, Qumu was a truck driver for a company owned by Osama bin Laden, but his standing soon progressed. He was named to the military committee of the LIFG. In 1998, Qumu joined the Taliban’s forces in Afghanistan, where he fought against the Northern Alliance.
Qumu continued to work with al Qaeda in Afghanistan as well. In memos prepared at Guantanamo, US officials alleged that he “received military training at Osama bin Laden’s training camps in Afghanistan” and his “name and family information” were “listed on a document which contained details of al Qaeda operatives’ families.” The Gitmo files note that the document “is associated with a senior al Qaeda operative.”
US officials at Gitmo also alleged that Qumu “met a senior al Qaeda facilitator between ten and twenty occasions.” One of the al Qaeda-affiliated camps Qumu attended was the Khalden camp, which was run by Ibn Sheikh al Libi, a senior al Qaeda leader who died while in Libyan custody in 2009, and Abu Zubaydah, a senior al Qaeda facilitator who is currently detained at Gitmo. The Gitmo files do not specifically say if either of these two al Qaeda leaders met with Qumu, or if he repeatedly met some other “senior al Qaeda facilitator.”
While in Kabul from August to November of 2001, Qumu worked for al Wafa, a charity that has been designated as an al Qaeda front by the US Treasury Department and United Nations. Sometime after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Qumu allegedly “met with al Qaeda operatives at a guest house in Kabul…to discuss the evacuation of women and children.” He also allegedly delivered equipment to al Qaeda and Taliban forces fighting the Northern Alliance in Mazar e Sharif, Afghanistan in late 2001.
Qumu and Barrani “were on the front lines and couldn’t be reached for comment,” The Wall Street Journal reported. But al Hasadi did make himself available for an interview.
In previous interviews with Western publications, al Hasadi has practiced double-speak with respect to al Qaeda. Al Hasadi has, for example, condemned the Sept. 11 attacks while at the same time praising al Qaeda fighters in Iraq as “good Muslims, not terrorists.” According to The New York Times, al Hasadi praises Osama bin Laden’s “good points” even while trying to distance himself from al Qaeda.
And in an interview with Il Sole, an Italian publication, al Hasadi admitted that he fought against American-led forces in Afghanistan and also claimed to have sent more than two dozen Derna residents off to fight in Iraq.
But The Wall Street Journal found that “his discourse has become dramatically more pro-American.” Al Hasadi claims: “Our view is starting to change of the U.S. If we hated the Americans 100%, today it is less than 50%. They have started to redeem themselves for their past mistakes by helping us to preserve the blood of our children.”
Al Hasadi’s rhetoric marks a stark contrast from his previous actions.
As for Qumu, the declassified Gitmo files note: “A foreign government considers the detainee a dangerous man with no qualms about committing terrorist acts. They believe he was one of the extremist commanders of the Afghan Arabs.”