On Thursday, April 2, a federal judge ruled that Guantanamo detainee Hedi Hammamy is being held for good reasons. Judge Richard Leon of the DC District Court found the US government’s evidence was sufficient to show that Hammamy supported al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Hammamy, who is also known as Abdul Haddi bin Hadiddi in the US government’s unclassified Guantanamo files, was arrested by Pakistani authorities in April 2002 and transferred to Guantanamo months later. Government prosecutors demonstrated that Hammamy’s passport was recovered in a cave in the Tora Bora Mountains, which were the main fallback zone for fleeing al Qaeda and Taliban forces after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001. Judge Leon concluded that Hammamy offered no plausible explanation for how his paperwork ended up there. Prosecutors also argued that Hammamy took part in the battle of Tora Bora.
Hammamy’s story does not begin at Tora Bora, but instead years earlier in North Africa and Italy. At the time of his capture by Pakistani authorities, Hammamy was wanted by at least two other governments for his role in international terrorism.
The US government’s prosecutors relied on evidence gathered by Italian authorities, who investigated Hammamy’s terrorist ties in the 1990s. Italian officials charged Hammamy with participating in a prolific terrorist network that, among other plots, targeted the 1998 World Cup tournament in France. Hammamy is also wanted by the Tunisian government for his alleged role in al Qaeda’s web there.
According to the unclassified files produced at Guantanamo, a warrant for Hammamy’s arrest was first issued in Italy in June 1998, the same month the World Cup tournament began.
Along with his brother, Hammamy was suspected of belonging to an al Qaeda network that operates out of Northern Africa and stretches across all of Europe. In the late 1990s, the keystone of that network was the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (better known by an acronym of its French name, the “GIA”).
The GIA was one of al Qaeda’s most violent affiliates and infamous for the extreme tactics it used during the Algerian civil war of the 1990s. For example, GIA members frequently beheaded Algerian civilians who did not conform to its radical creed. In a terrorist attack that foreshadowed the September 11 attacks, the GIA also orchestrated the hijacking of a French airliner in December of 1994. The hijackers reportedly intended to crash the airplane into the Eiffel Tower. Ahmed Ressam, who has been convicted of taking part in al Qaeda’s millennium plots and planned to detonate a car bomb at the LAX airport, was also a member of the GIA.
Because of the GIA’s extreme violence, Islamists in Algeria found it difficult to recruit citizens to its cause. Thus, Osama bin Laden and GIA leader Hassan Hattab ousted some of the GIA’s members and rebranded the organization the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, better known as the GSPC, an acronym of its French name. The GIA/GSPC has been tied to numerous terrorist plots in Europe. The GSPC, in turn, formally joined other al Qaeda affiliates to create al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which is al Qaeda’s current banner in North Africa.
Italian authorities suspected that Hammamy and his brother were members of the GIA. Their cell operated out of Bologna, Italy. According to unclassified files produced at Guantanamo, their group “specialized in document forgery, and counterfeit currency, recruitment of individuals to form terrorist cells, logistical support to terrorist groups operating in North Africa and associated European cells, and harboring wanted criminals.”
One memo produced at Gitmo summarized the activities of the terror network in Europe that Hammamy belonged to as follows (emphasis added):
“In 1999, [Hammamy] and others were charged for having promoted, constituted, organized, and directed an association to conduct violent terrorist acts against democratic institutions. The charges included furnishing logistical support to Islamic terrorist organizations, supplying refuge and fake documents, financing the organization through fake currency, using stolen vehicles, possessing Algerian Armed Islamic Group propaganda, training individuals towards the armed struggle and other terrorist acts, promoting and inducing individuals to participate in military training in Afghanistan and Bosnia, recruiting men to participate in the armed struggle in former Yugoslavia and elsewhere, and promoting activities aimed at carrying out terrorist acts in France during the 1998 World Cup tournament.”
Al Qaeda’s plotting against the 1998 World Cup soccer tournament prompted investigations across Europe: in Belgium, Britain, France, Italy, and Sweden. Dozens of suspects were detained, and Belgian authorities successfully prosecuted an Algerian named Farid Melouk who, like Hammamy, belonged to the GIA. French intelligence officials have confirmed that al Qaeda intended to attack the World Cup games as well as other targets.
Hammamy was briefly detained in Italy. But he was apparently freed, so he fled. Hammamy was still wanted in Italy at the time of his arrest in Pakistan in 2002. Hammamy was also wanted in Tunisia. The Guantanamo files prepared by the US government for Hammamy’s case note that Hammamy “was sentenced, in absentia, by the Permanent Military Tribunal of Tunis to ten years in prison, without possibility of review, for belonging to a terrorist organization active on foreign soil in times of peace” on February 20, 1999.
“Several warrants against the detainee were issued by the Tunisian Department of National Security,” one Guantanamo memo reads.
Hammamy fled to South Asia with the help of a Pakistani missionary organization named Jamaat Tablighi (JT). The JT claims that it only assists charitable efforts, but counterterrorism officials in the US and elsewhere have found that the group is used as a cover for al Qaeda members traveling around the world. The unclassified Guantanamo files produced by the Department of Defense include dozens of references to the JT, which secures paperwork for fugitive terrorists and new recruits traveling to South Asia to train and fight.
According to the US government’s Guantanamo files, Hammamy “obtained a visa from the Pakistani embassy in Casablanca, Morocco with the assistance of the [JT].” He traveled to Karachi, Pakistan in January 2000 and just two months later, in March, Hammamy applied for refugee status from the United Nations. Incredibly, despite the fact that he was wanted by two foreign governments for his ties to terrorism, Hammamy “eventually received a valid United Nations refugee card.”
Hammamy’s career demonstrates the high degree of fluid cooperation between al Qaeda and other radical Islamist organizations around the world, including al Qaeda’s affiliates. Hammamy is of Libyan origin and a Tunisian citizen. Yet, Hammamy and his brother were members of the Algerian GIA. The GIA/GSPC is tightly integrated with al Qaeda’s other North African affiliates. And when Hammamy wanted to evade authorities, he readily received assistance from the Pakistani-based Jamaat Tablighi, which has a substantial presence outside of South Asia, throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe.
In Pakistan, Hammamy linked up with the al Qaeda network once again. He traveled to Afghanistan and eventually retreated with al Qaeda and Taliban forces to Tora Bora in late 2001.
All the while, the US government’s files note, Hammamy was a “dangerous terrorist” who facilitated the work of his fellow terrorists around the globe.
Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.