Ex-Guantánamo inmates return to militancy in Yemen
Militants in Yemen threatened Monday to strike the US Embassy for a second time.
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A Pentagon spokesman said on Jan. 13 that of the 520 detainees released from the controversial military camp in Cuba, 18 had "returned to the fight" and another 43 are under suspicion of being involved in extremist activities. He declined to name them.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Turki, of the Saudi Interior Ministry, says the government's rehabilitation program remains a viable one despite the men's reversion to extremist activities.
"I cannot consider the program a failure if one or two who went through it did not comply" with its requirements, he says, noting that 117 Saudis released from Guantánamo had gone through the so-called Care Program.
An unknown number of Saudi extremists caught in – or attempting to go to – Iraq have also completed the program. About 3,200 other militants, nearly half of them still in Saudi prisons, have received religious and psychological counseling as part of the larger Saudi rehabilitation campaign.
Al Qaeda in Yemen
The two ex-Guantánamo inmates who surfaced in Yemen appeared in the video posted Friday. One, Said Ali al-Shihri, was described as a deputy leader of the new merged group. Turki says that Mr. Shihri, who spent six years in Guantánamo, was handed to Saudi authorities in late 2007 and stayed in the Care Program for five months. He was provisionally released in mid-May 2008 pending a court appearance.
As with most other Guantánamo returnees, the Saudis did not have evidence of criminal wrongdoing against Shihri. In such cases, Turki says, the men were charged with the minor violation of traveling to Afghanistan, a country Saudi passport holders are barred from visiting.
Muhammad al-Awfi, who also appeared in the video, returned from Guantánamo at the same time as Shihri, Turki said. He adds that the families of both men informed the authorities of their disappearances and "joined the search for them."
The Interior Ministry is "still investigating" the disappearance from their homes of two other Saudis released from Guantánamo whose whereabouts remain unknown, Turki says. He did not know their names or when the US military transferred them to Saudi authorities.
Last year, Turki disclosed that at least two graduates of the rehab program were rearrested for returning to extremist activities. He said on Sunday that they had not been at Guantánamo and were detained for "minor violations."
On Monday, Agence France-Presse reported that the Interior Ministry said in a statement that nine militants have been rearrested since the beginning of the program.
The defection of former Guantánamo inmate Shihri was first reported by The New York Times. The Friday video showed Shihri and Mr. Awfi, along with two Yemenis, touting the two groups' unification under the old name of "Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula."
One aim of the video, wrote Mr. Hegghammer, "was to humiliate Saudi authorities, who have let al-Shihri and al-Awfi, both former Guantánamo detainees (ISN# 372 and 333 respectively) and graduates of the famous rehabilitation program, slip away. Unless al-Shihri and al-Awfi are agents (which I doubt), their appearance is indeed extremely embarrassing for Saudi authorities."
The group's magazine, Sada al-Malahim, or "Echo of Glorious Battles," invited readers to submit questions to its e-mail address, a sign that the group "is not about to collapse anytime soon," Hegghammer noted.