Osama bin Laden
Six Guantánamo detainees were transferred to Oman June 13, marking the first transfer of detainees from the prison in five months. The Pentagon reports that the six Yemeni men transferred include Emad Abdullah Hassan, held without charge since 2002, Idris Ahmad 'Abd Al Qadir Idris and Jalal Salam Awad Awad, all accused of being one of many bodyguards to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, as well as Sharaf Ahmad Muhammad Mas'ud, whom the US said fought American soldiers at Tora Bora, Afghanistan, before his capture in Pakistan, Saa'd Nasser Moqbil Al Azani, a religious teacher whom the US believes had ties to bin Laden's religious adviser, and Muhammad Ali Salem al-Zarnuki, who allegedly arrived in Afghanistan as early as 1998 to fight and support the Taliban. President Barack Obama's administration has transferred more than half of the 242 detainees who were at the facility when he took office in 2009, but lawmakers have sought new restrictions on transfers that may lead to further challenges to the president's initiative.
A former aide of Osama bin Laden was found guilty on Feb. 26 of plotting the 1998 al-Qaeda bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224. Extradited from the UK in 2012, Saudi national Khalid al-Fawwaz was convicted on four counts of conspiracy by the US District Court for the Southern District of New York after three days of jury deliberations, and faces a possible life sentence. US Attorney Preet Bharara said al-Fawwaz "played a critical role for al-Qaeda in its murderous conspiracy against America." He described al-Fawwaz as one of bin Laden's "original and most trusted lieutenants" who was leader of an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, and later acted as bin Laden's spokesperson in London. Al-Fawwaz was arrested in the UK in 1998, the same year as the bombings. His trial lasted a month under heavy security in Manhattan. Al-Fawwaz did not testify.
The US-led coalition carried out air-strikes against both ISIS and Nusra Front positions in Syria on Sept. 23. At the same time, US planes took unilateral action against the so-called "Khorasan Group" of ex-Qaeda members "to disrupt the imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests," as a Central Command statement put it. The statement provided no details on the plotting. The Khorasan Group targets were said to be near Aleppo. Reports indicate the group is led by Muhsin al-Fadhli, a Qaeda operative who was supposedly privy to Osama bin Laden's 9-11 plans prior to the attack. The US State Department calls al-Fadhli a "senior facilitator and financier" for al-Qaeda. (Times of Israel, MJ) Meanwhile, the Israeli military shot down a Syrian MiG-21 fighter jet that it said had infiltrated it airspace over the Golan Heights. The wreckage fell on the Syrian-controlled side of the plateau. (Al Jazeera)
Tripoli's airport has been severely damaged and several commercial planes destroyed in heavy fighting between armed groups, prompting the United Nations to pull its staff out of Libya. A coalition of Islamist militias under the banner of Operation Fajr, or Dawn, is apparently attempting to wrest control of the facility from the Zintani militias stationed there. At least 15 people have been killed in clashes in Tripoli and Benghazi in the past three dfays. (Reuters, July 15; Libya Herald, July 13) Meanwhile, Islamist militant Faraj al-Shibli, named by the US as a suspect in the 2012 attack in Benghazi, was found dead in the eastern town of Marj, where he had reportedly been detained by a local militia over the weekend. Al-Shibli, a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, had been detained by government forces last year, and was apparently interrogated by the FBI—before being released without explanation. He had been wanted by the Qaddafi regime in connection with the murder of a German intelligence agent in Sirte in 1994. Libyan authorities also issued an arrest warrant for Osama bin Laden in connection with the crime. (CNN, July 14)
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on July 14 overturned two out of three convictions of Ali Hamza Ahmad Suliman al-Bahlul, media secretary of Osama Bin Laden. The court vacated Bahlul's convictions for providing material support for terrorism and solicitation of others to commit war crimes but did not overturn his conviction for conspiracy to commit terrorism, remanding that issue to the Court of Military Commission Review (CMCR). A three-judge panel of the appeals court had ruled last year that the military tribunal that convicted Bahlul of conspiracy in 2007 erred because a Guantánamo prisoner could not be convicted of conspiracy unless his crime took place after 2006. The court said the Military Commissions Act (MCA) of 2006 codified conspiracy as a war crime, but did not apply to crimes committed before the MCA was passed. The en banc court disagreed, ruling "that the 2006 MCA is unambiguous in its intent to authorize retroactive prosecution for the crimes enumerated in the statute—regardless of their pre-existing law-of-war status." Nonetheless, the court vacated the other two convictions, concluding that trying Bahlul by military commission for providing material support was "a plain ex post facto violation," and that "solicitation of others to commit war crimes is plainly not an offense traditionally triable by military commission." The new ruling could result in a reduction of Bahlul's life sentence.
The Periodic Review Secretariat, a national security panel under the authority of the US Department of Defense (DoD), on April 24 recommended (PDF) the release of a Yemeni prisoner currently held at Guantánamo Bay. The prisoner, Ali Ahmad Mohamed al-Razihi, was suspected of acting as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden and has been held at Guantánamo since 2002. The Periodic Review Secretariat determines whether certain individuals detained at Guantánamo represent a continuing significant threat to the security of the US such that their continued detention is warranted. In making the determination, the security review panel considered the detainee's plans for the future and the level of his involvement with al-Qaeda, including his behavior throughout detention. The journalist and Guantánamo expert Andy Worthington released a copy of al-Razihi's statement delivered before the review board of the Periodic Review Secretariat on March 20.
Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, was found guilty on March 26 of both conspiring to kill Americans and providing terrorists with material support, following a jury trial in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. Abu Ghaith, who was convicted for his role as spokesman for al Qaeda, is the highest ranking al Qaeda figure to face trial on US soil. At trial, the jury heard recordings of Abu Ghaith's voice on propaganda videos and saw a video where he appeared next to bin Laden. Abu Ghaith also unexpectedly took the stand and described in detail his conversation with bin Laden hours after the 9-11 attacks. Abu Ghaith faces possible life in prison for conspiring to kill Americans and a maximum of 15 years for each additional count that he was convicted of.
An apparent US drone strike in Yemen's Marib province—the fourth reported in the last 10 days—killed four purported al-Qaeda militants Aug. 6. The strikes come as the Yemeni government is "deeply disappointed" in the US decision to evacuate embassy staff, an official said. "It plays into the hands of al-Qaeda," the official warned. (LAT, Aug. 6) On the same day as the new drone strike, tribesmen in Marib shot down an army helicopter, killing eight soldiers, during a clash as workers attempted to repair a main oil pipeline blown up by saboteurs. (AFP, Aug. 6) Fighting has also returned to the capital, with least one killed in clashes between soldiers and troops of the ostensibly disbanded Republican Guard, who were holding a protest in central Sanaa. (BBC News, Aug. 2)