The Obama administration has reportedly transferred two Algerians from Guantanamo to their native country. Given the allegations levied against them at Gitmo, it is likely that the two are in Algerian custody. There is no transparency with respect to detainee transfers. So, we do not know how the Obama administration decided to approve the two detainees for transfer, or what will come of them back in Algeria. Press accounts do not indicate if the two remain detained, but it would be surprising to learn they have been outright freed.
One of the two was implicated in al Qaeda’s millennium plot against Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in California. The other is allegedly a devout takfiri, who was plotting attacks against American forces in Afghanistan in 2002 and was also responsible for two attacks against churches in Pakistan that same year.
The first of the two is Hasan Zumiri (or Hasan Zemiri), an Algerian who lived in the West for years. In Canada, Zumiri was friends with millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam, who plotted to attack LAX in California in late 1999. According to a memo prepared at Guantanamo, Zumiri gave “a video recorder to an individual in order to obtain a reconnaissance video of the target and as a prop when the attack is executed.” In addition, Zumiri gave “an individual 3,500 Canadian Dollars to support the attack in the United States.”
The “individual” in question was Ahmed Ressam, who identified Zumiri while in U.S. custody. The “attack in the United States” was to be Ressam’s attack on LAX, which was disrupted when Ressam was arrested while entering the country from Canada. Ressam, who has cooperated with American authorities since his arrest, later tried to take back his implication of Zumiri (reportedly with the assistance of Zumiri’s attorney), but still conceded that Zumiri gave him the camera and cash. In addition to being used for surveillance, Ressam told authorities that the camera Zumiri gave him was to make him look more like a tourist while carrying out his attack.
According to documents produced at Gitmo, Zumiri knew that Ressam and others were mixing explosives for the attack and wanted to take part. Indeed, Ressam told authorities that Zumiri was aware that he was going to carry out “a job in America.”
In addition to his involvement in the LAX plot, Zumiri allegedly compiled an extensive dossier of criminal and terrorist activities including taking part in various robberies and the drug trade. He was arrested at Niagara Falls in 1998 but was released on bail and eventually made his way to Afghanistan after the LAX plot failed. According to documents produced at Gitmo, Zumiri “was captured in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan by the Northern Alliance in December 2001.”
The other Gitmo detainee transferred to Algeria is Adil Hadi al Jazairi Bin Hamlili. According to documents produced at Gitmo, Hamlili is a particularly nasty takfiri, which means he is a hardcore ideologue who believes that not only Christians and Jews, but also most Muslims, are infidels. In fact, Hamlili allegedly killed Osama bin Laden's personal representative in Pakistan because Hamlili felt he had violated sharia law. Despite this incident, memos produced at Gitmo note that Hamlili worked for the Taliban, al Qaeda and a variety of other terrorist groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Hamlili was allegedly part of a trained IED cell plotting attacks against Americans in 2002. One Gitmo memo notes:
“[Hamlili] attended a three day training course in Improvised Explosive Devices held in Peshawar, Pakistan, in November 2002. The training was on improvised firing devices. The students learned how to use a digital alarm clock as an improvised firing device and were taught that cordless phones could also be used. The instructor discussed the use of poisons with explosives.”
This same memo noted that the IEDs were to be used against American forces in Afghanistan:
“At the three day training course, an impromptu discussion took place on methods to attack United States forces stationed at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. One of the methods would involve poisoning the food destined for the base, while it was in the port of Karachi, Pakistan. The other method involved placing Improvised Explosive Devices on fuel trucks that supplied the bases. The Improvised Explosive Devices would be placed on the trucks while they were in Peshawar, Pakistan before they crossed in Afghanistan. The participants additionally discussed bomb attacks of United States forces in Konar Province, Afghanistan; Jalalabad, Afghanistan; and Nangarhar, Afghanistan.”
In addition to his involvement with this IED cell, Hamlili was allegedly responsible for two attacks on churches in Pakistan in 2002 and carried cash that was to be used to fund an attack on then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Again, according to a memo prepared at Gitmo:
“The detainee was responsible for the 24 December 2002 attack on the Chawanwali Church in Punjab, Pakistan and the 17 Mar 2002 attack on the Protestant Islamic Church in Islamabad, Pakistan. The detainee had 300,000 Pakistani Rupees (approximately 5,263 United States Dollars) to support the detainee’s cell in Punjab, Pakistan and fund an attack against the Pakistani President.”
During one hearing at Gitmo, Hamlili denied most of the allegations against him, claiming he was forced to make many admissions. But Hamlili did admit that he worked for the Taliban, and documents produced at Gitmo allege he worked as a translator for the Taliban’s Foreign Minister.
The Gitmo documents also allege that Hamlili assisted Abu Musab al Zarqawi, who would go on to lead al Qaeda in Iraq, when Zarqawi was in Afghanistan.
Are Zumiri and Hamlili in an Algerian prison? If so, they are likely pining for their days in Cuba. Algerian authorities are known to treat al Qaeda operatives in a manner that is especially harsh.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.