1 The Long War Journal: Algerian court sentences ex-Gitmo detainee to 3 years in prison
Written by Thomas Joscelyn on January 17, 2012 6:04 PM to 1 The Long War Journal
Available online at: http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2012/01/algerian_court_sente.php
An Algerian court sentenced an ex-Guantanamo detainee to three years in prison on Monday for his involvement with an extremist group. Prosecutors had sought a 10-year prison sentence for Nadji Abdelaziz, according to Agence France Presse.
Abdelaziz, whose internment serial number at Gitmo was 744, was transferred to his home country on July 19, 2010. That same day, another Guantanamo detainee was transferred to Cape Verde, an island republic approximately 300 miles off the west coast of Africa. In a press release announcing the transfers, the Defense Department explained that the "United States coordinated with the governments of Algeria and Cape Verde to ensure the transfers took place under appropriate security measures." [See LWJ report, Two Gitmo detainees transferred to Algeria, Cape Verde.]
According to declassified and leaked documents prepared by US intelligence officials, Abdelaziz is a member of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET) and also served al Qaeda. A leaked Joint Task Force-Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) memo, dated May 12, 2008, describes Abdelaziz as an al Qaeda "courier" and an "admitted member" of Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Senior al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah chose Abdelaziz to be an "instructor ... for the Martyrs Brigade, a Faisalabad cell that intended to conduct improvised explosive devices (IED) attacks against US and Coalition forces," according to the JTF-GTMO memo.
Zubaydah, who is still detained at Guantanamo, had a close working relationship with LET and was captured at an LET safe house in Faisalabad, Pakistan on March 28, 2002. Abdelaziz was captured two months later, on May 29, 2002, along with another Algerian who was transferred to Guantanamo. That Algerian, Mustafa Ahmed Hamlily, was transferred to his home country in July 2008. According to JTF-GTMO, both Hamlily and Abdelaziz had ties to al Wafa, a designated terrorist organization that serves al Qaeda but portrays itself as a charity.
Abdelaziz was originally recruited for jihad by a network of LET operatives in Saudi Arabia, after Abdelaziz traveled there well before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. After arriving in South Asia, Abdelaziz traveled to LET training camps, and lost a leg in an explosives accident. (Abdelaziz claimed he lost the leg while searching for mines.)
It was at the LET's training camps, according to the JTF-GTMO memo, that Abdelaziz acquired expertise in using explosives. And it was Zubaydah who wanted Abdelaziz to use this expertise to train members of Zubaydah's newly formed al Qaeda brigade.
Zubaydah's Martyrs Brigade
The May 2008 JTF-GTMO memo cites Zubaydah as a key source of information on Abdelaziz. Zubaydah's detention and interrogations are controversial because he was placed in the CIA's enhanced interrogation program and subjected to so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, in 2002.
Zubaydah explained, according to the JTF-GTMO memo, that Abdelaziz "lost his leg in Afghanistan, but still wanted to work with [Zubaydah's] group in Faisalabad." Zubaydah "thought of optional duties [Abdelaziz] may be able to perform which would not require [Abdelaziz] to stand, and finally decided [Abdelaziz] could be an instructor."
Zubaydah explained further that as of "the time of his capture in March 2002, [Abdelaziz] still had not arrived to Faisalabad from Lahore."
Zubaydah's "original plan was to flee Afghanistan and travel via Pakistan to Iran, where he would set up a base of operations for the Brigade." Zubaydah, the JTF-GTMO memo continues, "claimed Abu Musab al Zarqawi had agreed to send 15 of his best men to join with members of [Zubaydah's] Khalden group to form the Brigade." The "intent was to train and place suicide bombers or remote-controlled explosive devices in an effort to attack US targets." The "Khalden group" refers to a number of operatives who were either trainers or trainees at Zubaydah's Khalden terrorist training camp.
Abdelaziz was allegedly en route to Faisalabad, where he intended to join Zubaydah's brigade, when Zubaydah and other members of his brigade were apprehended by American and Pakistani forces.
Once in detention, Zubaydah was one of several operatives who identified Abdelaziz. In addition to tying Abdelaziz to the Martyrs Brigade, Zubaydah told authorities that Abdelaziz was "possibly" one of the al Qaeda operatives he helped escape from Afghanistan. Zubaydah also told authorities that Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET) played an instrumental role in helping Zubaydah and the other terrorist operatives escape Afghanistan. An LET network of "facilitators" provided "the safe houses, as well as transportation and security for these moves," according to Zubaydah.
Another detainee who identified Abdelaziz was Binyam Mohamed, who was held by the CIA, then at Guantanamo, and finally transferred to the UK in 2009. Mohamed "confirmed" that Abdelaziz was present at an al Qaeda safe house in Lahore when Mohamed and Jose Padilla were researching a "radiological explosive device (dirty bomb)." Padilla was captured in April 2002 in the US after he was identified as an al Qaeda operative. Padilla and Mohammed had abandoned the idea of a dirty bomb by this time, and allegedly had settled on a plot to attack high-rise apartment buildings.
Several members of Zubaydah's Martyrs Brigade ended up at Guantanamo. Zubaydah has been the subject of much mythology in the years following his capture. It is widely claimed that he was not even a member of al Qaeda when he was detained, despite his close ties to many other senior al Qaeda operatives and detailed knowledge of the terrorist organization's inner workings.
Interestingly, Zubaydah's Martyrs Brigade openly proclaimed its allegiance to Osama bin Laden, in a video that was translated for use during military commission proceedings at Guantanamo. The deceased al Qaeda chieftain is referred to as the "sheikh" throughout the video.
"We and the sheikh are one," the translation of the tape reads. "We have been working together for almost 10 years, but we were hoping to keep this work secret ... hidden." The translation continues: "In 2000 or 2001, the matter lost its secrecy. We were forced to make ourselves known because of what took place in Afghanistan and thereafter."
Osama bin Laden "is our Sheikh and our example, may God reward him well on our behalf and on behalf of all Muslims," Zubaydah's "organization of martyrs" declared. "As they say in the media that we participate with him in some operations, this makes us proud and is an honor for us and we pray to God to grant him and us success ...."
Zubaydah's brigade also declared bin Laden to be "our brother, and our Emir for many years."
A "high" risk who was not forthcoming
JTF-GTMO deemed Abdelaziz a "high" risk to the US and its allies. JTF-GTMO also recommended that the US continue to hold Abdelaziz in custody. More than two years later, he was transferred to Algeria.
JTF-GTMO's analysts did not think that Abdelaziz ever admitted his real role. Abdelaziz "is only partially truthful" and "has not been completely forthcoming about his connections to extremists including members of al Qaeda despite his admitted involvement with the [LET]." Abdelaziz was withholding information and engaging in "intentional deception to hide his affiliation with al Qaida and his activities in Afghanistan."
Abdelaziz "possesses unique skills of use to extremist elements and is not hampered by his physical handicap," JTF-GTMO concluded.
Abdelaziz will not be able to put those skills to use for at least three more years, if the Algerian court's decision is upheld on appeal.