A former Guantanamo detainee who has targeted charity workers in Afghanistan was deemed a “high risk” who was “likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests, and allies,” according to a recently leaked threat assessment. The former detainee, who was known as Abdul Hafiz at Guantanamo, was implicated in the murder of an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) worker prior to his detention. After being captured by US forces during a raid in Landay Village, Kandahar Province in April 2003 and detained at Bagram, Hafiz was transferred to Guantanamo.
According to the leaked assessment, dated May 19, 2008, US officials concluded that Hafiz should remain in US custody. Regardless, he was transferred to Afghanistan on Dec. 19, 2009, and shortly thereafter was named the head of a Taliban council tasked with targeting charity workers. [See LWJ report, Former Gitmo detainee targeting Afghan charities.]
The same assessment notes that Hafiz was part of a joint Taliban and Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG) group that was trained by Pakistani military officers to attack Westerners in Afghanistan.
The chief piece of evidence connecting Hafiz to the ICRC worker’s murder was his Thuraya satellite phone. “At the time of his capture” on April 22, 2003, the recently leaked Gitmo assessment reads, “[Hafiz] was attempting to call Mullah Haji Satar on the Thuraya phone.” Mullah Satar was the Taliban commander responsible for the charity worker’s assassination. Satar was killed the day before Hafiz was captured.
American officials had intercepted calls made to and from the phone “on multiple occasions” during the weeks leading up to Hafiz’s capture. The traced calls and numbers stored in the phone’s memory traced back to “senior Taliban commanders in Quetta,” Pakistan. In addition to Satar, Taliban leaders Mullah Abdul Basir and Mullah Abdul Hakim were in contact with the phone’s owner.
Satar, who is described as the “on-scene commander” for the Red Cross raid, used his own “phone to report to his superior in Quetta, [Pakistan] and to request and receive authorization to kill the ICRC worker.”
According to the leaked assessment, the group responsible for the March 2003 raid on the ICRC convoy “consisted of 40 to 60 Taliban and HIG fighters who were ordered by a Quetta-based Taliban commander on a mission to conduct attacks against Westerners and Afghans sympathetic to the Afghan Transitional Authority.”
A few months earlier, in January 2003, militant groups under the command of the same Taliban commanders received training from Pakistani military officers. An intelligence report cited in the Gitmo file reads:
Three Pakistani military officers provided one month of training for the group in explosives, bomb-making, and assassination techniques. This training was conducted in preparation for a planned spring campaign to assassinate Westerners.
Ties to senior Taliban leaders
While at Guantanamo, Hafiz attempted to hide his true identity. Although he initially gave his name as “Abdul Hafiz,” he later attempted to retract this identification, claiming he was someone else. Other detainees in US custody knew him by various names, including “Abdul Hafiz.”
Hafiz denied that he owned the satellite phone, even though he was captured in a locked room attempting to call Satar. When asked if it was his voice on the intercepted calls, he “acknowledged that Abdul Hafiz might sound similar to him and that Americans might mistake Hafiz’s voice for his own.”
Polygraphs administered to Hafiz in Bagram indicated that he was “deceptive when asked questions regarding his association with” Mullah Satar and other insurgency leaders. Interrogators at Guantanamo found Hafiz to be deceptive, too.
Intelligence analysts worked to piece together Hafiz’s story. One detainee told US officials that Hafiz admitted he “has a friend Mullah Dadullah who is still in Afghanistan fighting against US forces.” According to other reporting, Dadullah was “assessed to be the Taliban commander responsible for ordering the death of” the ICRC worker.
Although Dadullah was subsequently killed, one of the most lethal Taliban fighting groups carries his name to this day. The Mullah Dadullah Front is led by another former Gitmo detainee, Mullah Zakir, who is now one of the Taliban’s top military commanders.
Hafiz was “captured with a phone list that included the names and phone numbers of HIG and Taliban commanders and fighters,” according to the Gitmo file. One of the Taliban leaders on this list was Mullah Abd al Razzaq Akhund, the “former Taliban Minister of Interior and a senior Taliban militia commander based in Quetta.”
Just last month, Newsweek reported that Akhund is the Taliban’s current “shadow governor of Kandahar province” and targets American soldiers with IEDs while “his fighters constantly terrorize Afghan security forces and civilians.”
The leaked assessment shows that the man known as Abdul Hafiz sought to hide his “true role” from US analysts and interrogators. The intelligence officials who authored the assessment found in fact that he had “frequent direct access to senior HIG and Taliban commanders based in Quetta.” Hafiz also “has knowledge of and may have participated in the ICRC convoy ambush that resulted in the killing of an ICRC volunteer,” they found.
As it turns out, their concerns were warranted. According to intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal, Hafiz currently targets charity workers and civilians in Afghanistan.