Italian court convicts former Gitmo detainee of terrorism charges

A former Guantanamo detainee transferred to Italy in late 2009 was convicted of terrorism-related charges on Monday. Mohamed Ben Riadh Nasri, who is originally from Tunisia, was convicted “of criminal association with the aim of terrorism and sentenced to six years in prison,” according to the Associated Press.

Nasri’s conviction stems from his involvement in terrorism prior to his detention at Guantanamo. When accepting his transfer in November 2009, Italian authorities agreed to try Nasri on the charges and immediately placed him in custody.

During his time at Guantanamo, Nasri was identified as “one of the most dangerous Tunisian operatives.” A senior al Qaeda terrorist also said that Nasri was the emir of the Tunisian Combat Group (TCG), a known al Qaeda affiliate.

Nasri’s career, as detailed in the US government’s declassified files produced at Guantanamo, demonstrates just how easily jihadists can move from one al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group to another.

In the mid-1990s, Nasri left Italy for Bosnia, “where he received military training and participated in the war [alongside] Bosnian Mujahedin.” Bosnia was a hotspot for jihadists at the time. Some al Qaeda operatives, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and two of the September 11 hijackers, began fighting in Bosnia in the early 1990s.

By the late 1990s, Nasri had compiled an extensive terrorist dossier, with the Italian and Tunisian governments both identifying Nasri as a terrorist facilitator.

In 1998, Nasri was arrested in Italy “for involvement in fabricating false documents and trafficking arms and ammunition,” according to a declassified memo prepared at Guantanamo. Nasri “was condemned in Italy for making and passing counterfeit money, had a warrant order issued for terrorism related crimes and subversion and has an international arrest order on record.”

When Nasri was arrested in Italy, authorities there found “[l]arge amounts of documentation and propaganda related to the Islamic Armed Group (GIA)” in his apartment. “A foreign government agency identified [Nasri] as a member of the” GIA, according to the Gitmo files. The GIA was an al Qaeda affiliate that evolved into the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (known as the GSPC, an acronym of its name in French). In time, the GSPC itself became a core part of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

In 1999, Nasri “was sentenced in Tunisia to ten years in prison for being a member of a terrorist organization operating abroad.”

Nasri took part in the jihad in Afghanistan as well. The US government’s files note that Nasri was trained in two al Qaeda-affiliated camps. Nasri was trained at the Derunta Camp in Jalalabad, “where he learned to use automatic weapons.” The Derunta camp “was one of Osama bin Laden’s most important bases in Afghanistan” and “provided training on the use of explosives.”

A “senior al Qaeda operative” identified Nasri “as having trained at [the] Khalden Camp” too. Khalden provided training consisting “primarily of tactics for escaping from rockets, the use of rocket launchers, the manufacture of explosives and training in destructive techniques.”

In addition to his involvement with the GIA, Nasri allegedly became the leader of another al Qaeda affiliate based in North Africa: the Tunisian Combat Group (TCG). The TCG has opposed the Tunisian government and supported al Qaeda’s efforts elsewhere around the globe.

A senior al Qaeda operative told the US government that Nasri was the “Emir of the [TCG] in Afghanistan.” Another source identified Nasri “as being involved in establishing” the TCG.

Nasri’s involvement with the GIA, TCG, Bosnian jihadists, and training at al Qaeda camps demonstrates, yet again, how seamlessly the various al Qaeda-affiliated groups collude with one another.

During his detention at Guantanamo, where he was given an internment serial number (ISN) of 510, Nasri attempted to deny many of the allegations levied against him. But an Italian court refuted Nasri’s denials, finding that he was in fact a part of the terror network. According to the Associated Press, Italian prosecutors found that Nasri frequently attended the Islamic center in Milan in the 1990s. The US Treasury Department has previously designated the center as the “main al Qaeda station house in Europe.”

Nasri left Milan one final time for Afghanistan prior to his capture in 2001. There, according to an unidentified “source” cited in the US government’s files, Nasri was “in command of an organizational cell.” As the fighting intensified in late 2001, Nasri fled to the Tora Bora Mountains along with other Taliban and al Qaeda operatives. Nasri told US officials at Guantanamo that he stayed in a cave there for 18 days. The cave belonged to an individual who “has ties to al Qaeda by providing forged passports.”

The cave did not protect Nasri from US airstrikes, however. He was wounded during the bombing. Nasri was then captured and detained at Guantanamo.

In Cuba, Nasri allegedly told US military personnel that “he has hated America since he was a baby because it always takes the side of Israel” and “stated that America will eventually receive justice for its crimes against Islam.” Moreover, Nasri said that “the purpose of Islamic extremist groups” is to counteract the West’s “exploitation of Muslim countries’ natural resources.”

Nasri stated that “all Muslim countries will rise up and defeat” the West.

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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