An interesting thing happened when McClatchy newspaper’s Tim Johnson went looking for two former Guantanamo detainees in El Salvador. He discovered they had left the country. A State Department spokesman says the U.S. government is aware of their departure, but “will not comment on the specifics of their decision to resettle elsewhere or their current whereabouts.” According to sources familiar with the men, who are ethnic Uighurs, it seems likely they have relocated to Turkey.
One of the two is Ahmed Mohamed – the only Uighur detainee Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) deemed a “high risk,” finding “he is likely to post a threat to the US, its interests and allies.”
JTF-GTMO evaluated all of the detainees, including the other 21 Uighurs once held in Cuba. Nineteen Uighur detainees were deemed “medium” risks, and the remaining two “low” risks.
The leaked JTF-GTMO threat assessment for Mohamed contains a number of other interesting details. U.S. military intelligence officials concluded that Mohamed was a weapons trainer at the Uighurs’ training camp in Tora Bora. That camp was operated by the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist organization.
Mohamed, according to JTF-GTMO, likely fought at the Battle of Tora Bora and retreated as part of a force commanded by a top al Qaeda operative. Reporting contained in the JTF-GTMO file also says that he was a “subordinate” to Abdul Hadi al Iraqi, a “high value” detainee at Guantanamo who was a senior lieutenant to Osama bin Laden.
During a military hearing at Guantanamo, Mohamed was asked about the training camp he attended in Afghanistan. He fingered a rising al Qaeda talent as the camp’s commander.
A military official asked him: “Do you know who ran the camp?”
“A person named Abdul Haq,” Mohamed responded.
Later during the same hearing, Mohamed was asked: “Who provided the training at the camp Abdul Haq or whom?”
“Abdul Haq would train sometimes but there was another guy who did all the training but he got killed from the first bomb,” the now ex-detainee replied.
In April 2009, the U.S. Treasury Department designated Abdul Haq as an al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist, noting that he plotted terrorist attacks against the Olympic Games in China in 2008. “As of 2005, Haq was also a member of al Qaeda's Shura Council,” the designation noted. The Shura Council is an elite body within al Qaeda, and provided advice to Osama bin Laden and now Ayman al Zawahiri, who is al Qaeda’s emir.
Abdul Haq was killed in a U.S. drone strike in northern Pakistan in February 2010. President Obama’s Guantanamo Review Task Force, which was assembled to put together a plan for closing the facility, finalized its work the previous month in January 2010. The task force recommended that Haq’s trainee, Ahmed Mohamed, be transferred. Mohamed was finally transferred to El Salvador last year.
Perhaps Ahmed Mohamed and his fellow former inmate at Guantanamo have left El Salvador for Turkey to join a larger Muslim community that includes more of their fellow Uighurs. Other former Uighur detainees have reportedly started new lives once they have left Guantanamo.
It should be noted, however, that Syria, the new central front in the global jihad, lies just south of Turkey.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.