The Department of Defense released two al-Qaida bomb experts Monday from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The two Libyan terrorists will go to the custody of the sub-Saharan African country of Senegal.
Salem Abdu Salam Ghereby and Omar Khalif Mohammed Abu Baker Mahjour Umar both had extensive terrorist histories and close ties to top ranking al-Qaida leaders like Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Both hailed from Libya and belonged to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), an al-Qaida affiliate.
Ghereby is thought to have fought with bin Laden when U.S.-led coalition forces attacked bin Laden’s compound in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, in December 2001. Bin Laden supposedly narrowly escaped capture during the firefight. Ghereby is believed to also have expertise in bomb making and was deemed “high risk” by a Department of Defense (DoD) report when he was captured. Ghereby apparently was not very good at his job, having lost an eye and some fingers during his time as an al-Qaida explosives trainer.
While Ghereby was deemed dangerous to U.S. security, Umar’s security threat is an order of magnitude greater. Not only did he pose a high security risk when caught, analysts at the DoD warned in a review that he would likely seek to continue terrorist activities if released.
“If released without rehabilitation, close supervision, and means to successfully reintegrate into his society as a law abiding citizen, it is assessed detainee [Umar] would immediately seek out prior associates and reengage in hostilities and extremist support activities,” said the 2008 threat assessment.
Umar was a “long time” close associate of bin Laden, knew al-Zawahiri personally and held a leadership position in LIFG. He is also reported to have known Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the infamous leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, and was responsible for deaths of dozens, if not hundreds, of U.S. military personnel in Iraq during the occupation. According to DoD reports, Umar was also an “explosives and weapons trainer at LIFG and al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan.”
The Guantanamo Review Task Force, set up by the Obama administration to review detainees, reiterated the security threat posed by Umar in 2010. Inexplicably, five years later a separate periodic review board found that detaining Umar was “no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”
The review board’s report said that Umar exhibited apparent good behavior, which included “compliance with camp rules,” mediating disputes between guards and prisoners and his supposed “intent to move forward in a positive manner.” Apparently this was enough to approve the release of a career terrorist who spent decades dedicated to violent jihad.
The case of Umar is not the first time a detainee who was deemed high risk to U.S. security has been released by the Obama administration. According to the Long War Journal, a website which tracks terrorist activity, Umar is the fifth detainee listed as high-risk released from Guantanamo since September 2015. A sixth detainee who was recommended for prosecution by the Guantanamo task force was also released due to the recommendation of the periodic review board.
With the two Libyan terrorists being transferred to Senegal, significant questions remain as to how long they will be detained by the Senegalese government and what kind of security measures will be taken to ensure they do not pose a threat to the U.S. in the future, concerns for which Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook outright refused to provide details.
“I’m not going to get into the details about the specific circumstances these two individuals will deal with in Senegal itself. I would refer you to the Senegalese government, but we worked closely with the government of Senegal, and again, we appreciate their efforts in this behalf. And this will aid us in responsibly closing Guantanamo,” said Cook.
The security apparatus for released detainees has, in at least one case, shown to be ineffective. Ibrahim Qosi, who was also caught during the battle of Tora Bora, was held in Guantanamo for around nine years before he was released in a plea deal. He was initially handed over to authorities in his native Sudan, but later found his was into the ranks of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), becoming a pseudo-celebrity featured in a propaganda film.
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