The number of former Guantanamo detainees confirmed or suspected of rejoining the jihad has grown to 204, according to a summary released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) yesterday. Nearly two-thirds of the jihadists, 128 in total, are at-large. The remaining 76 ex-detainees have been killed, died of natural causes, or were re-captured.
The overwhelming majority of the ex-detainees on the ODNI’s recidivist list, 185 out of 204 (91 percent), were transferred or released during the Bush administration. An additional 19 recidivists (7 confirmed, 12 suspected) were freed from Guantanamo during President Obama’s tenure.
The US government’s list of one-time Guantanamo detainees who have rejoined the fight has grown significantly since 2008, when the first statistics were made public.
In June 2008, the Department of Defense reported that 37 former detainees were confirmed or suspected of returning to the fight. On Jan. 13, 2009, a Pentagon spokesman said that number had climbed to 61. In April 2009, the Pentagon told the press that same metric had risen further to 74.
The estimated number of recidivists more than doubled between April 2009 and October 2010, when the ODNI released an updated analysis saying that 150 former detainees were on the list. Since then, the ODNI’s assessment has steadily climbed, leading to the latest figure of 204 former detainees confirmed or suspected of rejoining jihadist networks.
The ODNI tracks former Guantanamo detainees who are involved in both “terrorist” and “insurgent” activities, including those thought to be “planning terrorist operations, conducting a terrorist or insurgent attack against Coalition or host-nation forces or civilians, conducting a suicide bombing, financing terrorist operations, recruiting others for terrorist operations, and arranging for movement of individuals involved in terrorist operations.”
The US intelligence community’s assessment does not include those jihadists who have communicated with other former detainees or “past terrorist associates” about “non-nefarious activities.” The production of anti-American propaganda is not enough to be considered a recidivist either, according to the ODNI.
In order to be considered a “confirmed” recidivist, a “preponderance of information” must identify “a specific former GTMO detainee as directly involved in terrorist or insurgent activities.” The “suspected” category requires “[p]lausible but unverified or single-source reporting” that identifies a “specific former GTMO detainee” as being “directly involved in terrorist or insurgent activities.”
The current estimate includes 118 “confirmed” and 86 “suspected” recidivists, for a total of 204.
To date, 676 Guantanamo detainees have been transferred. Therefore, the reengagement rate is approximately 30 percent. However, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal that this rate can be misleading.
US intelligence does not track all of the jihadists who were once held at Guantanamo, so even more former detainees could have rejoined terrorist or insurgent groups without the ODNI’s knowledge. There is also a lag time in the ODNI’s reporting. “A February 2010 review of GTMO detainees’ release dates compared to first reporting of confirmed or suspected reengagement shows about 2.5 years between leaving GTMO and the first identified reengagement reports,” the ODNI previously reported.
Former Guantanamo detainees have served jihadist groups in a variety of capacities, ranging from suicide bombers to leadership positions. Both the Taliban and al Qaeda have filled senior roles with alumni from the detention facility in Cuba.
Ibrahim al Qosi, who was held at Guantanamo from 2002 to 2014, reemerged as one of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) most prominent figures late last year. Qosi received a favorable plea deal from prosecutors in the military commission system in 2010. Two years later, he was sent to his native country of Sudan. Since December 2015, AQAP has released several messages featuring Qosi.
Another Guantanamo alumnus, Hamed Abderrahaman Ahmed, was arrested by Spanish authorities in February and charged with running a recruiting network for the Islamic State. Ahmed was held in Cuba from February 2002 to February 2004, when he was transferred to Spain. He was allegedly operating a jihadist network in the city of Ceuta, which borders Morocco on the North African coast, at the time of his arrest.