HIG facilitator properly detained at Gitmo, judge finds

On Friday, Sept. 3, DC District Judge John Bates issued an order denying a petition for writ of habeas corpus filed by Guantanamo detainee Shawali Khan. The order was terse, and did not set forth Judge Bates’ reasoning. So it is not possible to tell what evidence Judge Bates relied upon in his ruling.

But declassified files produced at Guantanamo reveal that American officials found that Khan was a member of the Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG) terrorist organization and received training on “cannons, radios, rockets, mortars and RPGs” at a “HIG training camp in Pakistan.”

Furthermore, American officials allege that Khan was tasked with facilitating attacks against US forces at Camp Gecko (now Firebase Maholic), outside of Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Camp Gecko was formerly the home of Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s supreme leader, and was reportedly built with funds supplied by Osama bin Laden in the mid-1990s. The camp is currently used by US Special Forces.

US intelligence and military officials at Gitmo identified Khan’s uncle as Zabit Jalil, a HIG commander who fought against the Soviets and still “has a direct association with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar,” the notorious al Qaeda and Taliban-affiliated insurgency leader. According to declassified files, Jalil “attends meetings with” Hekmatyar and “maintains contacts with extremist Arabs and Kashmiris in Pakistan as well as specialists that manufacture the radio-controlled detonation devices.”

In September 2002, Jalil allegedly “directed” Khan “to carry out a terrorist operation targeted at” US forces at Camp Gecko. Jalil sent a “second unidentified individual who was allegedly an explosives expert from Jalalabad, Afghanistan to assist” Khan in the attack.

That same month, Khan allegedly tried to purchase “two rockets through an intermediary.” In November 2002, he “delivered a radio-controlled binary detonation device and two blasting caps to an operative working within his organization.” These items were “to be used in conjunction with two [Chinese] mines” in the attack against US forces.

Khan was captured on Nov. 13, 2002. When the Americans searched his property, they found a number of damning items. According to one memo prepared at Gitmo, Khan “had a notebook at his home when he was captured that contained Arabic writing and pictures of Usama bin Laden.” Another declassified memo reads:

Upon capture, numerous weapons were found in [Khan’s] family orchard to include 2 tanks, rockets, Kalashnikovs and other guns. [Khan] was also found with a 50-meter spool of detonation cord.

Khan, who was given the internment serial number (ISN) 899 at Gitmo, was asked about all of this during his combatant status review tribunal (CSRT) and administrative review board (ARB) hearings. Khan denied any affiliation with the HIG and said he was not part of a terrorist plot against Camp Gecko. Khan claimed that he was merely a shopkeeper who sold gas and petrol products. Khan admitted that he drove a car for his uncle, but said his uncle worked for the Karzai government. Khan also denied that his uncle was a current HIG commander, saying that he served the HIG long ago.

When Khan was asked about the detonation cord recovered at his home, he claimed that he picked it up off the street and intended to use it for running electricity. Khan was also asked about paperwork American officials found in his possession showing that his uncle transferred light arms to another individual. Khan said that his uncle kept the paperwork so he could keep track of arms that were going to be turned over to the Karzai government.

Khan conceded that he served the Taliban during the 1990s, but said he was forced into service as a conscript because he couldn’t pay the Taliban’s tax. “It’s kind of like a tax, any regime that comes into power, it’s like a tax, it was around $50,000 our money, and one person [sic] supposed to give them or contribute,” Khan said during one of his ARB hearings. “It’s been running for last hundred years by force, they conscript people and these Taliban, they took me there by force as a soldier, which is I had no other choice.”

A HIG facilitator

US officials clearly do not believe that Khan was an unwilling jihadist. Instead, they determined that Khan was a terrorist facilitator who helped coordinate the clandestine activities of HIG cells inside Afghanistan.

Khan allegedly worked with a cell leader named Noor Agha, who “brought supplies and explosives from Pakistan through border crossing points in the Spin Buldak district.” Agha “received his orders and operational supplies” from Khan’s uncle, Zabit Jalil, who was headquartered in Quetta, Pakistan.

Khan acted as a messenger between HIG cell members and Agha. “Materials and direction for operations were controlled by Noor Agha with the cells kept separate from each other through communications passed by” Khan, one declassified memo reads.

As for Khan’s petrol shop, US officials concluded that he “used the shop to conduct meetings and as a contact point with other members within the cell.”

Khan claimed that he was wrongly detained and sold for a bounty by some of his fellow Afghans. No evidence supporting Khan’s bounty allegation has surfaced. And Judge Bates clearly does not think that Khan was a mere shopkeeper.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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