Belgium police have arrested two former Guantanamo Bay detainees in Antwerp who were recruiting for al-Qaida operations in Syria.
One of the detainees, 37-year-old Moussa Zemmouri, wrote a book following his release from Gitmo in 2005, in which he proclaimed his innocence, CNN reports. Police nabbed Zemmouri and an Algerian referred to as only Soufiane A. The two men were held in Guantanamo from 2001 to 2005, after which they were both transferred to Belgium, where police kept them under tight surveillance.
Zemmouri was originally thought to have belonged to the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group. He was caught by Pakistani police after trying to leave Afghanistan through the southern border and then given over to the U.S. for custody.
He allegedly spent time in Afghanistan at a jihadist training camp, which was sponsored by al-Qaida. A UK Muslim prisoner advocacy organization called CAGE argued vociferously at that time that he had no ties to terrorism.
“We have dismantled a serious recruiting network for Syria,” a counterterrorism official in Antwerp told CNN, in the aftermath of the arrests.
Belgian authorities charged Zemmouri and Soufiane with “participating in the activities of a terrorist group.” What’s more, police initially arrested Soufiane and several others while they were in a car with a weapon, poised to commit a robbery. Zemmouri was not at the scene at the time.
More than 300 individuals in Belgium, all known to authorities, have traveled to Syria to join militant Islamic groups. Belgium is a ripe recruiting target. Per capita, Belgium has been the largest contributor to militant groups in Syria.
The White House is in the middle of a final push to close Guantanamo Bay, with one of the principal justifications being that it functions as a recruiting strategy for militants, who make use of the facility’s existence in propaganda efforts. Republicans have so far successfully stymied most of the administration’s attempts, though 6 more detainees were released in June under new Defense Secretary Ash Carter. Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel famously resigned, in part because of his opposition to pressure from above to speed up the pace of transfers.
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