Fayiz al Kandari. Screen shot of the video from the SITE Intelligence Group.
An audio message to the Syrian people purportedly from a current Guantanamo detainee has been released online by jihadist forums, according to the SITE Intelligence Group. The message is reported to be from Fayiz al Kandari, a Kuwaiti who has been held at Gitmo since 2002. American intelligence officials have identified al Kandari as an al Qaeda propagandist who was allegedly close to Osama bin Laden.
“The people’s morale is high, praise be to Allah,” al Kandari says in the message, according to a translation provided by SITE. “The only thing that is making us sad is the situation in Syria. By Allah the Great, we are crying for them and we are giving supplications for them, and our cries are with them. We aren’t forgetting them in our prayers.”
In an apparent reference to Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad, Al Kandari says “if my staying here [in Guantanamo] forever would free them [the Syrian people] from that criminal…I would have chosen that.”
It is unclear how al Kandari was able to release his message from captivity.
A “high” risk
American intelligence officials at Guantanamo previously determined that al Kandari is a “high” risk to the US and its allies and recommended that he remain in US custody.
According to a leaked Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) threat assessment dated Apr. 15, 2008, these same officials found that al Kandari was “a committed member of al Qaeda who served as [an] advisor and confidant to Osama bin Laden.”
Al Kandari “has numerous connections to senior al Qaeda members and was an influential religious figure for al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan,” the JTF-GTMO file reads. Al Kandari “also provided ideological training to al Qaeda trainees at the al Farouq Training Camp and the Islamic Institute in Kandahar.” Al Farouq was al Qaeda’s primary training camp in pre-9/11 Afghanistan, and the Islamic Institute was a school for indoctrinating suicide bombers and other would-be martyrs.
JTF-GTMO identified al Kandari as an “al Qaeda propagandist who produced and distributed multimedia recruitment material and wrote newspaper articles paying tribute to the 11 September 2001 hijackers.” Al Kandari was so trusted within al Qaeda, JTF-GTMO analysts concluded, that he “had advanced, though probably limited, knowledge of the” Sept. 11 attacks.
Habeas petition denied
Al Kandari and his advocates have claimed that he was merely a charity worker in the Taliban’s Afghanistan and that he was wrongly detained. In September 2010, however, a DC district court judge rejected al Kandari’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus, finding that his story about being a charity worker was “implausible” and “not credible.” [See LWJ report, Judge finds that Kuwaiti Gitmo detainee was no charity worker.]
After al Kandari entered Afghanistan in 2001, he made his way to the Al Wafa charity office in Kabul. Al Wafa has been designated by both the US and UN as a front for al Qaeda. The “charity” was frequently used as a cover for al Qaeda operatives traveling to and from Afghanistan. Prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, al Wafa had offices in Pakistan as well as a substantial network inside Iran that was used to funnel fighters and other jihadist recruits to al Qaeda. Al Wafa had extensive ties to al Qaeda’s most secretive operations, too, including the terrorist organization’s pre-9/11 anthrax program.
Al Kandari admittedly saw Osama bin Laden’s spokesman, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, and other al Qaeda operatives at the Al Wafa office he visited. Thus, al Kandari’s ties to Al Wafa are a major red flag, and not evidence that he was a legitimate charity worker.
Two of the al Qaeda operatives whom al Kandari saw at the Al Wafa office in Afghanistan went on to carry out the Oct. 8, 2002 attack on US Marines then training on Faylaka Island in Kuwait. One Marine was killed and another wounded in the attack.
US intelligence officials concluded that al Kandari and Abu Ghaith played instrumental roles in recruiting the cell, which launched the Faylaka Island attack months after al Kandari was detained. One of al Kandari’s family members, a terrorist named Anas al Kandari, was a member of the cell. In a leaked JTF-GTMO threat assessment, Anas is identified as Fayiz’s cousin. Anas al Kandari and the other al Qaeda terrorist Fayiz met at the Al Wafa office were killed in the shootout with the Marines.
Officials at Gitmo concluded that Fayiz “mentored and advised Anas al Kandari and other members of the six-person cell” that carried out the Faylaka Island attack.
In late 2001, al Kandari made his way to the Tora Bora Mountains. At the habeas proceeding in September 2010, Al Kandari and his attorneys tried to offer a benign explanation for this, but the DC district court found that al Kandari was armed at Tora Bora and also admittedly met with several senior al Qaeda and Taliban commanders.
Identified by “high value” detainees
According to the leaked JTF-GTMO threat assessment for al Kandari, the Kuwaiti was repeatedly identified as an important al Qaeda figure by high-value detainees in US custody.
Top al Qaeda operative and current Guantanamo detainee Abu Zubaydah identified al Kandari “as a scholar” and told American officials that he taught “at the Islamic Institute in Kandahar where [al Kandari’s] responsibilities included making audio tapes in 2001.”
Zubaydah, who was subjected to waterboarding and other so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, told US officials that al Kandari received weapons training in the Khalden terrorist training camp in 1997. (The reporting from Zubaydah appears to be dated in the years after he was subjected to controversial interrogation techniques in 2002. Some of the reporting, for instance, apparently comes from 2005.)
Al Kandari himself admitted at some point in custody that he knew Zubaydah, who allegedly helped facilitate al Kandari’s travel.
Another high-value detainee who identified al Kandari is Hassan Ghul. Ghul is best known for his role in giving up crucial intelligence that ultimately led to Osama bin Laden’s demise. Namely, Ghul provided intelligence on bin Laden’s chief courier, who years later was followed to bin Laden’s safe house in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
Along with Zubaydah, Ghul identified al Kandari as “a scholar who brought many religious books with him to Khaldan.” For some unknown reason, Ghul was eventually transferred to Pakistani custody and subsequently released. Ghul reportedly rejoined al Qaeda’s ranks.
Still another high-value detainee who identified al Kandari is Mohamedou Slahi. According to the JTF-GTMO file, Slahi “reported [al Kandari] is well known among other JTF-GTMO detainees as a religious advisor,” who “held speeches in al Qaeda training camps and at the front lines.” Slahi was one of al Qaeda’s recruiters for the 9/11 plot and was one of the few detainees held at Guantanamo who was subjected to a specially approved, and harsh, interrogation program.
A fourth important Guantanamo detainee who identified al Kandari is an Egyptian named Tariq Mahmud Ahmad Al Sawah. In a separate leaked JTF-GTMO file, dated Sept. 30, 2008, US intelligence analysts identified Sawah as an al Qaeda explosives expert who designed, among other deadly inventions, the prototype for the shoe-bomb used by Richard Reid in his failed December 2001 terrorist attack. Sawah “continues to be a highly prolific source and has provided invaluable intelligence regarding explosives, al Qaeda, affiliated entities and their activities,” according to JTF-GTMO.
Sawah identified al Kandari as a “religious instructor” at al Qaeda’s al Farouq training camp. Al Kandari allegedly trained there at the same time as several of the 9/11 hijackers.
Behind the wire, JTF-GTMO’s analysts found, al Kandari continued to provide “religious” instruction by issuing fatwas that promote “suicide and deadly attacks against JTF-GTMO personnel.”
Substantial advocacy network
Fayiz al Kandari has an extensive network of advocates who have agitated for his release for years. Numerous web pages portraying him as an innocent charity worker are devoted to his cause. Al Kandari’s advocates have also helped frame coverage of him in the press. For instance, in August 2011, CNN published an article that whitewashed al Kandari’s well-documented al Qaeda ties.
Al Kandari himself is an especially effective propagandist, according to the leaked JTF-GTMO file prepared for his case. One of his propaganda tapes was entitled, “Jihad, Your Way to Heaven.” Thousands of copies were distributed in Kuwait, one captured jihadist stated. Other recordings, distributed online, encouraged recruits to fight in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, and elsewhere.
Al Kandari’s latest message, assuming it is really from him, is the first in years. In it, according to SITE’s translation, he prays for “Allah to release me from captivity.” Al Kandari also requests that someone post his greeting to the Syrian people “on Facebook or YouTube,” both of which were founded well after al Kandari was detained.
“By Allah the Great, we will be victorious,” al Kandari says in his message. “I swear by the One, the Only, we will be victorious. Say to them, say to them that now is the stage just before victory.”
Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.