A current Guantanamo detainee was an “agent of the Iranian Savama (Ministry of Intelligence and Security)” and “closely associated” with the Taliban, Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG), and al Qaeda, according to a recently leaked threat assessment. The detainee, an Afghan named Haji Hamidullah (Internment Serial Number 1119), joined the HIG in the early 1980s to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan and remained a member of the organization until his capture in 2003.
In a leaked threat assessment dated April 23, 2008, Joint Task Force – Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) analysts concluded that Hamidullah “was one of one of the most significant former Afghan HIG members detained” at Guantanamo because of his extensive involvement in anti-Coalition activities.
Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) previously identified Hamidullah as a HIG “commander…closely connected to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.” The NDS also reported that Hamidullah “was responsible for explosions” and “murdered 71 people.”
The HIG wasn’t the only terrorist organization Hamidullah served, according to JTF-GTMO. Intelligence reports cited in Hamidullah’s file demonstrate a high degree of coordination between the various insurgency groups, including al Qaeda, as well as the intelligence services that support them. In addition to being an “agent” of Iranian intelligence, the leaked file links Hamidullah to a Pakistani intelligence initiative designed to orchestrate the various insurgency groups’ actions.
Intelligence reports cited by JTF-GTMO also raise new questions about the ties between two members of Hamid Karzai’s government and Iran.
The post-9/11 story pieced together by JTF-GTMO analysts begins in January 2002, when Hamidullah and his father (described as a “HIG leader”) left Meshad, Iran – a common transit point for al Qaeda and Taliban fighters – for Kabul. They allegedly did so at the behest of Iranian intelligence.
Upon arriving in Afghanistan, father and son “stayed with Iranian supported warlord Ismail Khan.” Khan, a longtime mujahedeen commander, had fled the Taliban’s Afghanistan in the 1990s for Iran. He returned to Afghanistan, became of the governor of the western province of Herat, and eventually assumed the title of Minister of Water and Energy in Hamid Karzai’s government. Khan’s relationship with Iran is well-known, but he has repeatedly tried to portray it in the best possible light, downplaying any nefarious implications.
However, if the intelligence cited in Hamidullah’s file is accurate, then Khan’s Iranian ties deserve reexamination. In December 2005, more than two years after Hamidullah was captured, representatives of Khan reportedly “met with two Pakistanis and three Iranians to discuss the planning of terrorist acts and to create better lines of communication between the HIG and Taliban.”
In Kabul, Hamidullah also reportedly stayed with his “close friend and fellow HIG operative,” Mullah Ezat Ullah, who is an “Iranian intelligence affiliated Taliban sub-commander in Kabul responsible for many terrorist attacks against coalition forces.” Ullah is “believed to be responsible for the 12 October 2005 rocket attacks on the Canadian Ambassador’s resident in Kabul.”
Hamidullah himself was allegedly involved in numerous terrorist plots.
“In early October 2002,” the leaked file reads, Hamidullah “attempted to smuggle US-made man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) into the region surrounding Kabul International Airport.” Hamidullah “attempted to recruit a HIG member to transport missiles to the airport for an attack against Hamid Karzai’s presidential aircraft.” That same month, Hamidullah planned “attacks against US helicopters using multiple Chinese MANPADS acquired by Hekmatyar” and plotted “a coordinated attack with Taliban operatives to assassinate” a moderate Afghan cleric.
It is not clear what came of all these plots, but intelligence reports clearly indicate that the Afghan insurgency groups work in concert. “Reporting from November 2002” indicated that Hamidullah “attended monthly meetings between HIG and Taliban members to discuss future operatons.” The Taliban’s former deputy minister of agriculture reportedly attended these meetings.
The concerted action did not stop there. According to JTF-GTMO:
December 2002 reporting linked [Hamidullah] to a Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISID) initiative to create an office in Peshawar combining elements of the Taliban, HIG, and al Qaeda. The goal of the initiative was to plan and execute various terrorist attacks in Afghanistan. Members were to attack the foreign headquarters in Kabul in late January 2003.
On Jan. 25, 2003, Kabul police officials “recovered thirty BM-12 rockets emplaced by” Hamidullah. “The rockets were part of a HIG plan to attack French military members located at the airport.”
Several months later, in May 2003, Hamidullah reportedly “led a Taliban-associated thirty-man group which planned an attack against the NDS headquarters.” Then, in July 2003, “HIG leadership tasked [Hamidullah] to conduct a suicide attack against US and coalition forces.”
Hamidullah was captured, along with a dozen others, on July 31, 2003 by Afghan soldiers at the home of an al Qaeda financier identified as Raouf Bari. The leaked file cites an Afghan source “with direct access and a reliable reporting history” as saying that Bari’s capture would “cut off one leg and one arm of al Qaeda.”
The al Qaeda money man and his cohorts did not go down easily, however. The raid at Bari’s home that netted Hamidullah “was met with resistance and resulted in one dead and two wounded.”
Hamidullah’s capture likely disrupted ongoing terrorist plots. He had “requested BM-21 rockets from former Taliban commander Saifullah Rahman Mansour for a planned attack against [ISAF’s] Camp Julien in Kabul.” (Mansour, who was subsequently killed, is repeatedly described in the leaked Guantanamo files as both a Taliban and al Qaeda commander.) The rockets were scheduled to arrive sometime during the first two weeks of August 2003; Hamidullah was detained just days earlier. One month later, according to another intelligence report cited in the file, HIG officials were discussing what to do with Hamidullah’s weapons cache, including “an unknown amount of BM-12 rockets.”
Interestingly, JTF-GTMO found that Mansour and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar had “received two million US dollars from Iranian sources to provide the HIG operational front money for [anti-Coalition] activities.”
A “high” risk, “high” intelligence value detainee
During questioning at Guantanamo, Hamidullah has “consistently” denied any participation in or knowledge of the insurgency, according to the leaked file. Hamidullah has claimed instead that when he was detained he was no longer a member of the HIG and was working to pave the way for King Zahir Shah’s return to Afghanistan. US analysts and interrogators do not believe his denials, finding his account to be “only partially truthful.” With respect to his actions inside Afghanistan, JTF-GTMO found his story to be “fabricated.”
In addition to “multiple” intelligence reports, part of the reason JTF-GTMO analysts do not buy Hamidullah’s story is his knowledge of key actors in the insurgency. The leaked file cites a number of personalities, many of them tied to both the Taliban and al Qaeda, whom Hamidullah accurately identified during questioning.
One such individual is Waheedullah Sabawoon – the HIG’s former intelligence chief who broke with Hekmatyar to join the Northern Alliance in the 1990s. In 2004, Syed Saleem Shahzad of the Asia Times reported that Sabawoon switched sides once again in late 2001 and “called a meeting of about 150 ‘Islamic-minded’ commanders in Kabul to determine the role of Islamic forces in the post-Taliban period.”
The meeting was raided and Sabawoon was jailed, only to be later freed. Shahzad reported that Sabawoon was named Minister of Tribal Affairs because “the Karzai administration felt the need for strong ethnic Pashtun connections to build its power base against the rising popularity of the resistance movement in southern Afghanistan.” But the leaked JTF-GTMO file references a stunning intelligence report on Sabawoon’s alleged activities.
“In November 2005,” the file reads, Sabawoon “provided [anti-Coalition] fighters with Iranian supplied weapons in the Kunar and Kandahar” provinces. Sabawoon’s “associates” are listed as Jalaluddin Haqqani, Mullah Baradar, and the deceased Mullah Dadullah, all of whom are senior Taliban commanders.
In sum, the leaked JTF-GTMO file prepared for Haji Hamidullah’s case links Waheedullah Sabawoon, Ismail Khan, Saifullah Mansour, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Mullah Ezat Ullah, and Hamidullah himself to Iran. The intelligence reports cited in the file cannot be independently evaluated because they are not available to the public. But JTF-GTMO analysts obviously thought they were credible and important enough to include in the threat assessment.
In that same threat assessment, JTF-GTMO concluded that Hamidullah is of “high” intelligence value and poses a “high” risk to the US, its interests, and allies.
Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.