The Blog

From Gitmo to Hamburg?

Three terror detainees may soon be sent to the city that gave us Mohamed Atta.

12:27 PM, May 8, 2010 • By JOHN ROSENTHAL
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Whereas the government’s plans to bring Gitmo detainees to Germany has drawn fire from the CDU and CSU, numerous opposition politicians from the Greens and the Social Democratic party (SPD) have embraced the idea, insisting that Germany has to do its part to “help close” Guantánamo. Interviewed by the German daily Die Welt, Green party parliamentary leader Renate Künast accused the CSU of “pure populism” for “act[ing] as if Qaida fighters were supposed to be brought to Germany.” Künast’s remark is in keeping with the general assumption in German news coverage that the decision of U.S. authorities to release a detainee from Guantánamo is tantamount to an admission that he had been “wrongfully” detained.

But, as it happens, the identity of the three candidates currently under discussion has been revealed, and much of the information relevant to their cases is declassified and readily available on the Department of Defense website. According to Der Spiegel, the three detainees are Ohmed Ahmed Mahamoud Al-Shurfa, Mahmud Salem Al-Ali and Mohammed Tahamuttan. Der Spiegel tells its readers that the three men have been slated for release “because the accusations against them have not been substantiated.” The relevant documentation suggests otherwise.

Consider the case of Ohmed Ahmed Mahamoud Al-Shurfa, the detainee who has received the most attention in the German media. Al-Shurfa is a Palestinian who was born in Saudi Arabia and has Jordanian citizenship. His Gitmo ISN (Internment Serial Number) is 331. Examination of the findings of his Administrative Review Board and Combatant Status Review Tribunal hearings makes perfectly clear that Al-Shurfa was indeed an al Qaeda-trained militant and that his detention was no mistake. Al-Shurfa has admitted to receiving military training in 2001 at Al-Farouq, the most notorious of the Al-Qaida training camps in Afghanistan. He has said that he did so in accordance with a fatwa issued by a Saudi “sheikh.” He was arrested by Pakistani border police, apparently while fleeing the Battle of Tora Bora.

In a December 2005 Administrative Review Board hearing, Al-Shurfa made a highly subtle distinction between “preparing for jihad,” as required by the aforesaid fatwa, and actually engaging in jihad, which he insisted that he neither did nor was required to do. In light of the fact that he was training at a camp run by an organization that famously declared the killing of Americans and their allies to be “an individual duty for every Muslim,” the excuse is obviously rather lame. (See the 1998 “World Islamic Front Statement.”)  The sheik whose fatwa Al-Shurfa was following would undoubtedly find it to be such as well, especially in the aftermath of an American invasion of a Muslim country.

Kay Nehm was the Attorney General of Germany from 1994 until 2006. In August 2002, he gave an interview to the television news magazine Panorama on Germany’s ARD public television. Here is how Nehm described “graduates” of al Qaeda training camps in the interview:

Al-Qaida . . . is the basis for an international network with many, many people that have been trained in Afghanistan, who have internalized terrorism and who, of course, represent a danger potential that can emerge anytime and anywhere. We are talking about annihilation [Vernichtung] without concern about losses and without scruples [Panorama, August 29, 2002].

It would appear that the current German government no longer agrees with this assessment. 

In the same interview, incidentally, Nehm pointedly observed that it was “false” to describe the Hamburg Cell as a “sleeper” cell, since the actions and intentions of the members of the group were too obvious. A few months later, in February 2003, German's paper of record, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, would reveal that German domestic intelligence had had the Hamburg-based al Qaeda recruiter, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, under surveillance since 1997. Zammar is widely believed to have assembled the Hamburg Cell.

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 18 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers