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WikiLeaks: Journalist, Al Qaeda Jihadist, or Both?

1:31 PM, Apr 29, 2011 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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[Hajj] is reportedly a leader in the Muslim Brotherhood’s Shura Council and was involved in plans and operations to distribute weapons, to include Stinger missiles, and financial support to extremists according to a foreign government service. It is assessed that [Hajj] worked directly with Taliban Supreme Commander Mullah Muhammad Omar to procure the missiles.

The file notes that Hajj met with “a representative of the Muslim Brotherhood” at Mullah Omar’s home in “early to mid 2001” to “discuss the movement of Stinger missiles from Afghanistan to Chechnya.” The file does not note what came of the putative deal, but this reporting obviously placed Hajj in the company of some very bad actors.

The analysts at Gitmo cited other reporting on Hajj’s MB activities, too. In 2000, Hajj reportedly traveled to the U.K. “to discuss increasing contacts between the Muslim Brotherhood” and a known extremist organization.

On another occasion, Hajj allegedly met with the head of Al Jazeera and prominent MB cleric Yousef Qaradawi in Qatar “to discuss creating a banking system controlled by the ‘brothers’ in European countries, the US, and Canada.” (An analyst note explains that the ‘brothers’ referenced here are members of the Muslim Brotherhood.) Sheikh Qaradawi’s sermons have long been broadcast on Al Jazeera.

Still more reporting cited in the file said that Hajj allegedly “maintained close contact with Muslim Brotherhood Chairman Shaykh Salekh,” who “was in charge of the committee created in June 2001 for financing mujahideen in the Balkans, Middle East, and Chechnya.” In 1997, Shaykh Salekh reportedly traveled “to Baku as a ‘representative’” of Haramain and personally “supervised material and technical supply and financing of Chechen separatists and foreign mercenaries in Chechnya.”

Again, it is impossible to validate the claims regarding Hajj’s activities as a MB leader. But even if just some of it is true (all of it, in fact, could be right), then Hajj was involved in some especially noteworthy activities on behalf of al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Journalist, Al Qaeda Jihadist, or Both?

Sami al Hajj has been held up as an example of supposed wrongdoing by the U.S. government. His many advocates claim that he was not only innocent when he was detained, but that American authorities detained him mainly to learn about the inner-workings of a foreign press organization. The reality is far more complicated.

The version of Hajj’s story that portrays him as a mere journalist chasing a story is based primarily on Hajj’s word alone. Meanwhile, authorities in Azerbaijan and the U.A.E. concluded that Hajj was really an al Qaeda operative. And when Hajj was detained by Pakistani authorities in December of 2001, according to the leaked file, he was already on a watch list.

The American analysts who authored the leaked file on Hajj agreed with their foreign counterparts, finding that Hajj was an al Qaeda member who posed a “high risk” and had “high intelligence value.” These analysts cited his easy access to senior al Qaeda and Taliban members, his role in sponsoring the jihad against Russian forces in Chechnya, his alleged ties to a founding member of al Qaeda and Mullah Omar, and his ties to the Muslim Brotherhood as reasons for his detention.

The authorities at Gitmo recommended that Hajj remain in DoD custody as late as April 24, 2008 – the date on the newly leaked assessment. In its attempt to empty most of Gitmo’s cells, the Bush administration transferred Hajj to his native Sudan less than one week later, on April 30, 2008.

American intelligence officials assessed that Hajj was “one of the top 55 detainees at risk to conduct terrorist activities upon release.”

There is another possibility, however. Instead of becoming directly involved in terrorism, Hajj may have determined it was easier to play the role of victim, manipulating many in the press in the process.

Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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