Osama bin Laden
The Obama administration on Sept. 25 notified Congress of its plan to release Guantánamo Bay inmate Shaker Aamer to the United Kingdom next month. Aamer, who was captured in Afghanistan in 2001, is the final British resident held in the United States' military prison. Although he denies association, Aamer allegedly held close ties to Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, and fought in the battle of Tora Bora. Now, the Saudi national, who married a Briton in 1990, will be sent back to the UK in mid-October, following a long run of lobbying by British politicians and celebrities to have Aamer released.
The US Department of Defense (DoD) announced Sept. 22 that it had transferred Guantánamo Bay detainee Abdul Shalabi. Shalabi, who likely was a bodyguard for Osama Bin Laden, was transferred to the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia after a Periodic Review Board determined in June that, although he may still sympathize with extremists, his continued detention did "not remain necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States." Today 114 detainees remain at Guantánamo Bay.
Moroccan-born Younis Abdurrahman Chekkouri, who spent 13 years in the Guantánamo Bay prison, was released Sept. 17 as part of the Obama administration's effort to wind down and eventually close the detention center. The US never formally charged Chekkouri with a crime, but according to military documents he was believed to have been an associate of Osama bin Laden and to have run al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. Chekkouri was cleared for release by the Guantanamo Review Task Force (PDF) in January 2010. Rights group Reprieve after his release reported that he was still being held by local authorities in his native Morocco. The prisoner release is the first since June, when six Guantanamo detainees were transferred to Oman. The prison's population is now reduced to to 115.
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.