ODNI: 204 former Guantanamo detainees are confirmed or suspected recidivists

The number of former Guantanamo detainees confirmed or suspected of rejoining the jihad has grown to 204, according to a summary released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) yesterday. Nearly two-thirds of the jihadists, 128 in total, are at-large. The remaining 76 ex-detainees have been killed, died of natural causes, or were re-captured.

The overwhelming majority of the ex-detainees on the ODNI’s recidivist list, 185 out of 204 (91 percent), were transferred or released during the Bush administration. An additional 19 recidivists (7 confirmed, 12 suspected) were freed from Guantanamo during President Obama’s tenure.

The US government’s list of one-time Guantanamo detainees who have rejoined the fight has grown significantly since 2008, when the first statistics were made public.

In June 2008, the Department of Defense reported that 37 former detainees were confirmed or suspected of returning to the fight. On Jan. 13, 2009, a Pentagon spokesman said that number had climbed to 61. In April 2009, the Pentagon told the press that same metric had risen further to 74.

The estimated number of recidivists more than doubled between April 2009 and October 2010, when the ODNI released an updated analysis saying that 150 former detainees were on the list. Since then, the ODNI’s assessment has steadily climbed, leading to the latest figure of 204 former detainees confirmed or suspected of rejoining jihadist networks.

The ODNI tracks former Guantanamo detainees who are involved in both “terrorist” and “insurgent” activities, including those thought to be “planning terrorist operations, conducting a terrorist or insurgent attack against Coalition or host-nation forces or civilians, conducting a suicide bombing, financing terrorist operations, recruiting others for terrorist operations, and arranging for movement of individuals involved in terrorist operations.”

The US intelligence community’s assessment does not include those jihadists who have communicated with other former detainees or “past terrorist associates” about “non-nefarious activities.” The production of anti-American propaganda is not enough to be considered a recidivist either, according to the ODNI.

In order to be considered a “confirmed” recidivist, a “preponderance of information” must identify “a specific former GTMO detainee as directly involved in terrorist or insurgent activities.” The “suspected” category requires “[p]lausible but unverified or single-source reporting” that identifies a “specific former GTMO detainee” as being “directly involved in terrorist or insurgent activities.”

The current estimate includes 118 “confirmed” and 86 “suspected” recidivists, for a total of 204.

To date, 676 Guantanamo detainees have been transferred. Therefore, the reengagement rate is approximately 30 percent. However, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal that this rate can be misleading.

US intelligence does not track all of the jihadists who were once held at Guantanamo, so even more former detainees could have rejoined terrorist or insurgent groups without the ODNI’s knowledge. There is also a lag time in the ODNI’s reporting. “A February 2010 review of GTMO detainees’ release dates compared to first reporting of confirmed or suspected reengagement shows about 2.5 years between leaving GTMO and the first identified reengagement reports,” the ODNI previously reported.

Former Guantanamo detainees have served jihadist groups in a variety of capacities, ranging from suicide bombers to leadership positions. Both the Taliban and al Qaeda have filled senior roles with alumni from the detention facility in Cuba.

Ibrahim al Qosi, who was held at Guantanamo from 2002 to 2014, reemerged as one of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) most prominent figures late last year. Qosi received a favorable plea deal from prosecutors in the military commission system in 2010. Two years later, he was sent to his native country of Sudan. Since December 2015, AQAP has released several messages featuring Qosi.

Another Guantanamo alumnus, Hamed Abderrahaman Ahmed, was arrested by Spanish authorities in February and charged with running a recruiting network for the Islamic State. Ahmed was held in Cuba from February 2002 to February 2004, when he was transferred to Spain. He was allegedly operating a jihadist network in the city of Ceuta, which borders Morocco on the North African coast, at the time of his arrest.

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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  • Paratrooper says:

    I have yet to see any links to actual documentation support your stories. All your links point to are articles you have written.

    99.9% of anything that happens judicially with the department of justice, under the UCMJ is all classified information and not available to the public. Hell, it’s not even available to most law enforcement agencies unless they have special clearance.

    Anyone who actually believes the government would release terrorists is a complete moron and has probably never served in the military – and has no understanding whatsoever of what a DOD court martial, the UCMJ or what goes on.

    Wow. Just. Wow.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    “I have yet to see any links to actual documentation support your stories. All your links point to are articles you have written.”

    How about this, an official DdD document that names multiple GTMO alumni who were released only to return to the jihad:


    DoD used to release fact sheets such as these. Since we’ve learned who is in GTMO, and who has been released, we can track some of those who have returned to the fight. They often appear in jihadist propaganda, or are killed on the battlefield.

    If you follow the links in the reports we’ve written, you will see the original source.

    “Anyone who actually believes the government would release terrorists is a complete moron and has probably never served in the military – and has no understanding whatsoever of what a DOD court martial, the UCMJ or what goes on.”

    I served in the military. I do have an understanding of the UCMJ and the court martial process. I like to think I am not a “complete moron.” The fact is the US military has released 676 detainees from GTMO, and at least 30 percent of them have returned to wage jihad against us.

    My advice is not to be so naive and continue to insist that it is impossible for the US government to make such mistakes.

  • James says:

    Did you even read the report Paratrooper? It takes you to an ODNI.GOV report … sounds like someone doesn’t want to see the truth.

  • j house says:

    Are you not aware that the the DOD and Wikileaks have dumped loads of data about the individual ‘detainees’ themselves, what they are alleged to have done to deserve detention, and as Bill points out, more information about what has happened to them after their release.
    Besides, they are NOT under the jurisdiction of the DOJ. These are MILITARY tribunals and the ‘detainees’ are being held by the DOD, not the DOJ.
    The government has in fact released these terrorists to third countries that have released them, and many are back in the fight.

  • Doulomb says:

    @Mr. Roggio and Mr. Joscelyn

    The U.S. government has confirmed to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism that field commander Othman al-Ghamdi (a former Guantanamo detainee) “no longer poses a threat” which is obviously a euphemism for death by drone.


    Thought you’d like to know. Maybe your sources have more information?

  • Verneoz says:

    I must say you are very uninformed. No where in this article does it mention anything that relates to the UCMJ – the UCMJ applies to US military service members…not to enemy combatants captured on the battlefield.


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