Early Friday evening, the Obama administration announced the transfer of Ahmed Zuhair and two other native Saudis into the custody of the Saudi Kingdom. The Department of Justice's press release did not say why Zuhair was transferred. But, then again, there is much missing from the DOJ's off-hours announcement.
The DOJ press release did not point out that Zuhair is, in all likelihood, an al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist who murdered an American. Also missing from the DOJ's press release is the fact that Zuhair has already been convicted in absentia by the Bosnian Supreme Court for his involvement in a 1997 car bombing. There is also some evidence, based on the U.S. government's files created at Gitmo, that Zuhair played a role in the October 2000 USS Cole bombing. There is much less certainty about Zuhair's role in the Cole bombing, however.
Zuhair was one of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of mujahedin who traveled to Bosnia to wage jihad in the 1990s. In 1995, he was one of two terrorists who, according to U.S. intelligence authorities and at least one other top expert, murdered an American named William Jefferson.
At the time, Jefferson was working for the UN as a diplomat. Jefferson's watch was found in Zuhair's possession when he was eventually captured and shipped to Gitmo. Bosnian authorities, who were duplicitous in their dealings with the mujahedin, did not arrest anyone for Jefferson's murder. And the Clinton administration reportedly did not pursue it with any great urgency either.
Nevertheless, as John R. Schindler notes in his book Unholy Alliance, Zuhair was "was at least an accomplice" in Jefferson's murder. One of Zuhair's fellow terrorists may have been the actual triggerman in the operation, but Zuhair certainly participated in the shooting. Schindler's assessment is important because he was one of the National Security Agency's top Balkan experts for years, before leaving to become a professor of strategy at the Naval War College.
U.S. intelligence authorities at Guantanamo also think that Zuhair was responsible for Jefferson's murder. Zuhair "is believed to be responsible for the firearm murder of a U.S. person, William Jefferson, on 21 November 1995 in Tuzla, Bosnia-Herzegovina," one memo prepared for Zuhair's case at Guantanamo notes.
Zuhair's reign of terror did not begin in 1995. Schindler reports:
[Zuhair] was reported to have participated in massacres of Croatian civilians during the war, and a witness fingered [Zuhair] as one of the mujahidin who had attacked her village in September 1993; the Saudi had threatened to kill her fourteen-year-old son with a knife.
Zuhair's terror spree did not end in 1995 either.According to Evan Kohlmann's book Al Qaida's Jihad in Europe, Zuhair was arrested and detained by Bosnian authorities for "possessing three illegal machine-guns" in January 1996. Kohlmann notes that Zuhair was "inexplicably" pardoned for this offense on May 27, 1997.
Then, just a few months later in September 1997, Zuhair masterminded a car bombing in Mostar, Bosnia. The bomb "damaged many buildings and injured dozens of people," according to the U.S. government's files created at Guantanamo. According to Kohlmann, the bombing was attributed to Al Gama'at al Islamiyya, the al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist organization run by Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman (aka "the Blind Sheikh"). Thus, Zuhair worked with known al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists to execute the attack.
On April 18, 2000, Zuhair was sentenced in absentia to 12 years in prison by the Bosnian Supreme Court for the car bombing. Zuhair was a fugitive at the time, so he served no time for the bombing.
Zuhair was finally arrested in Pakistan by U.S. authorities in 2002. He was then sent to Gitmo.
At some point during his time at Gitmo, Zuhair admitted that he played a role in the USS Cole bombing to another detainee. "The detainee [Zuhair] admitted to another detainee that he was involved in the planning of the attack on the USS Cole," one Gitmo file reads. The summary of evidence memo prepared for Zuhair's combatant status review tribunal notes: "The detainee was involved in the USS Cole bombing."
It is not known, however, if Zuhair's admission was mere bluster, or if he really was involved in the attack on the Cole. The government's files do not cite any other evidence connecting Zuhair to the attack.
Nevertheless, Zuhair is a known terrorist with many ties al Qaeda. U.S. intelligence authorities believe that he is an ultra-strict Takfiri, the most radical type of zealot to serve al Qaeda. Takfiris not only hate the West, they also direct their anger at any Muslims they perceive as not living up to their radical creed.
That may explain why Zuhair, who has had multiple disciplinary problems at Gitmo, has been on a hunger strike for years. He is the type of committed jihadist who will do anything to defy the infidel U.S.
The Department of Justice says that Zuhair's transfer took place "under appropriate security measures." The DOJ reports:
All individuals transferred to Saudi Arabia are subject to judicial review in Saudi Arabia before they undergo a rehabilitation program. While in a rehabilitation program, they will be under the control of the Saudi Government. The U.S. and Saudi Governments are working closely together on all matters related to the transfer of Saudi detainees from Guantanamo to Saudi Arabia.
But the Saudi rehabilitation program recently returned at least eleven former Gitmo detainees back into al Qaeda's ranks. The program is not nearly as effective as was once claimed. And if the plan is for Zuhair to enter the program, then there are good reasons for concern.
Zuhair long ago set down his violent path. There is no reason to think that the Saudis can change his mind. And during his terror spree in Bosnia he and his co-conspirators were definitely tied to the Saudi High Commission, a charity with deep ties inside both the Kingdom and al Qaeda.
The DOJ's press release notes that Zuhair was approved for transfer by the Bush administration. But, of course, he wasn't transferred under the Bush administration, which made its own mistakes in transferring detainees. And, of course, a mistake by the Bush administration does not justify a mistake by the Obama administration.