The Department of Defense announced the transfer of two Guantanamo detainees today. Abdul Aziz Naji, a native of Algeria, was repatriated to his home country. Abd-al-Nisr Mohammed Khantumani, a Syrian, was resettled in Cape Verde, an island republic approximately 300 miles off the west coast of Africa.
Naji fought his repatriation to Algeria, claiming that he would be abused or tortured if he was sent back. The Obama administration said his fears are unfounded and the US Supreme Court refused to hear Naji’s appeal last week, clearing the way for the Obama administration to repatriate him.
An alleged Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET) member and al Qaeda IED trainer
US military officials at Gitmo alleged that Abdul Aziz Naji (whose internment serial number at Gitmo was 744) was a member of Laskar-e-Taiba (LET), a Pakistani-based terrorist organization closely linked to al Qaeda.
A senior intelligence official contacted by the Long War Journal explained that not only was Naji a member of the LET, but he was also the instructor for an improvised explosive device (IED) cell and trained al Qaeda members to build explosives.
According to memos prepared for Naji’s hearings, and available online at The New York Times‘ web site, Naji’s path to Guantanamo began in 2000 when he was on a pilgrimage to Mecca. A veteran of the Algerian military, Naji was inspired to wage jihad and decided he wanted to fight in Chechnya. Naji was told that Chechnya’s borders were well-guarded, so he decided to go to Pakistan instead.
An LET representative arranged for Naji’s trip to Pakistan, giving him a plane ticket and cash for his trip to Karachi. Once in Pakistan, Naji allegedly joined the LET. A memo prepared at Gitmo notes that Naji “advised he was a member of [Lashkar-e-Taiba] for a total of one year and seven months.” Naji trained with the LET in Pakistan, and then lost his leg while allegedly attempting to disarm a mine in Kashmir.
During his testimony before a combatant status review tribunal (CSRT) and an administrative review board (ARB) at Gitmo, Naji tried to downplay his LET ties. But a close examination of his testimony reveals that he admitted he was at an LET training camp. Naji explained to his administrative review board that he was in a mountainous area “that had four camps” and he “was there for four months” with the LET before making his way to Kashmir.
“Some people there were training on light weapons like the Kalashnikov and other weapons,” Naji said during his ARB hearing. “I did not train on them myself because I had trained in Algeria. I did not have to train on anything because I had trained in Algeria.” Naji also denied receiving any training related to mines.
US intelligence officials did not believe Naji’s denials. They found that he was so experienced in building IEDs that he trained al Qaeda operatives in the task.
Naji also conceded some of the allegations levied against him at Gitmo. Naji admitted he was a jihadist during his CSRT hearing, but claimed that “his jihad is against India and not against America.” Naji also conceded during his ARB hearing that he traveled to Kashmir with an armed group of LET members, which indicates he was not pursuing strictly charitable endeavors, as he sometimes claimed.
The declassified Gitmo memos note that at some point during his detention Naji said “that America and Cuba are ‘No Good’ and that shooting Americans is good.” Naji “then raised his arms and pretended to shoot the MPs working the block.” Naji did not deny making these remarks or the violent gesture during his administrative review board hearing. Instead, he claimed it was out of frustration for the way he was being treated.
According to memos prepared at Gitmo, Naji “was arrested at the home of a man affiliated with the Islamic relief society in Peshawar, Pakistan and the Wafa humanitarian organization in Kandahar, Afghanistan.” Al Wafa is a known al Qaeda front, which has been designated by both the United Nations and the US as a terrorist organization.
An experienced jihadist who allegedly fought alongside his son at Tora Bora
In declassified memos prepared at Gitmo, US military officials alleged that Abd-al-Nisr Mohammed Khantumani (whose internment serial number at Gitmo was 307) was an experienced jihadist who fought “in the same group in Tora Bora, Afghanistan” as his son, who was also detained at Gitmo.
Abd-al-Nisr is a veteran of the Syrian army who first arrived in Afghanistan in 1999. The declassified Gitmo files note that Abd-al-Nisr “was identified by a foreign government service as receiving several military courses at al Qaida camps” and was reported to be “experienced in handling explosives.” A “foreign government service” also identified Abd-al-Nisr as a “radical terrorist who fights with the forces of Osama bin Laden.”
In 2001, Abd-al-Nisr’s family joined him in Afghanistan, where he allegedly “owned a house next door to a known al Qaeda/Taliban guest house and worked in the guest house.” Abd-al-Nisr’s son Muhammed (whose internment serial number at Gitmo was 312) was one of the family members who moved to Afghanistan. According to the files prepared for Muhammad’s hearings at Gitmo, he was trained at al Qaeda’s notorious al Farouq camp.
The father and son pair allegedly fought at Tora Bora in late 2001, and one Gitmo file alleges that Abd-al-Nisr was “proficient at using a rocket propelled grenade launcher” while fighting there.
The two then crossed over the border into Pakistan where they were detained. They reportedly participated in a prisoner revolt against Pakistani police.
During Abd-al-Nisr’s combatant status review tribunal, both Khantumanis testified and denied any ties to terrorism. Both were approved for transfer by the Obama administration, and Muhammed was transferred to Portugal on August 28, 2009.
The declassified files for Abd-al-Nisr contain a number of other intriguing allegations. For instance, one file notes that he was “named as a member of the Abu Zarqawi group.” This is likely a reference to Abu Musab al Zarqawi’s al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist network, which was headquartered in western Afghanistan prior to the September 11 attacks. In the same file, US military officials also claimed that Abd-al-Nisr’s “name was included in a computer file used by suspected al Qaeda members.”
Despite denying any affiliation with al Qaeda during his Gitmo tribunal, US officials learned that the elder Khantumani was so respected by his fellow detainees that he was “named as a leader in [the] camp and a part of the Islamic court.”
There is an old rule with respect to prisons. It is difficult to be a big fish on the inside if you are not a big fish on the outside. US intelligence officials say the same rule applies to Gitmo.
The declassified Gitmo files also allege that al Qaeda operatives in custody identified both of the Khantumanis as fellow al Qaeda members.
“Approved for transfer,” not “cleared for release”
In its announcement of the two detainee transfers today, the Defense Department said they had been “approved for transfer.”
There is widespread confusion over detainee transfers. It is frequently, and wrongly, reported that detainees have been “cleared for release.” But as President Obama’s Gitmo task force explained in its final report, which was completed in January of this year, only a handful of detainees (all Uighurs) were approved for release.
Neither Abdul Aziz Naji, nor Abd-al-Nisr Mohammed Khantumani was cleared for release.
“It is important to emphasize that a decision to approve a detainee for transfer does not reflect a decision that the detainee poses no threat or no risk of recidivism,” the task force wrote. The task force explained further that the word ‘transfer’ “is used to mean release from confinement subject to appropriate security measures.”
The DoD explained in its press release today that the “United States coordinated with the governments of Algeria and Cape Verde to ensure the transfers took place under appropriate security measures.”
Are you a dedicated reader of FDD's Long War Journal? Has our research benefitted you or your team over the years? Support our independent reporting and analysis today by considering a one-time or monthly donation. Thanks for reading! You can make a tax-deductible donation here.