Number of Released Gitmo Detainees Returning to Terrorism Increases

ODNI reports say three more released terrorists confirmed and three killed since January

Senior leaders of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula / AP
September 9, 2013

Three additional terrorists once held at the Guantanamo Bay prison were confirmed as having returned to terrorism after their release, and two others joined the ranks of those suspected of rejoining jihad against the West, according to a U.S. intelligence report made public last week.

The report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) also reveals that three of the confirmed returning terrorists were killed since January, when the last report to Congress was made public.

Of the 603 terrorists released from the prison, 100 are now confirmed as having returned to terrorism. Of those, 17 are dead, 27 are in custody, and 56 are free. Released detainees suspected of having returned to terrorism number 74, including two that are dead, 25 that are in custody, and 47 no longer being held.

By contrast, in January there were a total of 97 released prisoners who returned to terrorism and another 72 who were suspected of re-engaging in terrorism.

Thomas Joscelyn, a terrorism analyst with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said releasing Guantanamo inmates increases the danger they will return to jihad.

"Once a detainee is transferred from Guantanamo to his home country, or a third country, there is no guarantee that appropriate security measures will be put in place," Joscelyn said in an email. "Yet, the U.S. government frequently requires the receiving country to enact such measures as part of the transfer agreement. Thus, even detainees who are known to be very dangerous have rejoined the fight after leaving Guantanamo."

The ODNI report also warned against the unconditional release of additional prisoners from the detention facility because of the risk they will go back to terror attacks or insurgent activity.

"Based on trends identified during the past ten years, we assess that if additional detainees are transferred without conditions from GTMO, some will reengage in terrorist or insurgent activities," the report said. "Transfers to countries with ongoing conflicts and internal instability as well as active recruitment by insurgent and terrorist organizations pose a particular problem."

President Barack Obama in May announced that he was lifting a ban on the transfer of Guantanamo inmates to Yemen, where the al Qaeda affiliate Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has emerged a major threat. The group has orchestrated several attempted terrorist attacks, including the attempted bombings of U.S. airliners and threats to attack U.S. facilities overseas.

Obama announced May 23 that he was lifting the ban on transfers of former prisoners to Yemen so that the inmates’ status can be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. In a speech, he also announced a renewed push to close the prison located at the U.S. naval base located on a U.S.-controlled enclave of the communist-ruled island.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was formed by several former Guantanamo inmates in 2009, including Nasser Al Wuhayshi, a former secretary to Osama bin Laden, and Said Al Shihri, who was killed by a U.S. drone in January.

Last month, the U.S. government ordered the closure of 19 embassies over concerns that Yemen-based al Qaeda terrorists were plotting attacks.

Additionally, the al Qaeda affiliate in Libya known as Ansar al Sharia is led by a former Guantanamo inmate named Abu Sufian bin Qumu.

U.S. intelligence agencies in August discovered that Ansar al Sharia is operating two terrorist training camps in Libya, at Benghazi and Darna, where Qumu is based. The camps are being used to train Libyan and foreign jihadists who are dispatched to al Qaeda-backed rebels in Syria.

The ODNI report said increase in returning terrorists took place between Jan. 14 and July 15.

The names, nationalities and other details about the released prisoners were not included in the two page report to Congress required under a provision of the 2012 Intelligence Authorization Act.

The slight growth in the number of Guantanamo inmates who return to terrorism could complicate efforts by Obama to close the controversial facility that currently houses around 164 terrorists, including several directly involved in plotting the Sept. 11, 2011 terror attacks, notably Khalid Sheikh Mohammad.

"Former [Guantanamo] detainees routinely communicate with each other, families of other former detainees, and previous associates who are members of terrorist organizations," the ODNI report said. "The reasons for communication span from the mundane (reminiscing about shared experiences) to the nefarious (planning terrorist operations). We assess that some GTMO detainees transferred in the future also will communicate with other former GTMO detainees and persons in terrorist organizations."

The House Armed Services Committee in June approved language in the fiscal 2014 defense authorization bill that would prohibit the president from closing the Guantanamo Bay prison.

Currently, more than 100 of the inmates are engaged in a hunger strike.

The Obama administration wants to transfer some 84 of the detainees to their home countries. A total of 56 of the 84 approved detainees are Yemeni nationals.

The defense bill also would prohibit the president from transferring detainees back to Yemen.

The Pentagon announced Aug. 29 that two detainees were transferred to Algeria.

The men were identified as Nabil Hadjarab, 34, and Motai Sayab, 37. There are still 84 men at the facility in Cuba who have been cleared for release or transfer. Currently, there are 164 men being held at Guantanamo.