A senior al-Qaida terrorist held at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba raised funds to carry out terror attacks against Jewish and Israeli targets, according to one of the US Defense Department’s Guantanamo detainee reports released by WikiLeaks.
Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, is listed in the November 2008 detainee assessment as a high-risk threat to the US and its allies and interests, and as a prisoner of high intelligence value with personal connections to Osama bin Laden and other senior terrorists.
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The 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) identified Zubaydah as a senior al-Qaida lieutenant, and that both of them were important travel facilitators for the terror group’s operatives, according to the report.
Abu Zubaydah is one of 763 Guantanamo detainees whose files were released by WikiLeaks starting on April 24. They include information on prisoners who have been released or transferred, and those who died in custody. The files also include photographs of most of the detainees.
Although the documents shed light on terrorist activities, the information in Zubaydah’s file is considered suspect because much of it was obtained under torture, including waterboarding.
Zubaydah, whose real name is Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, was subjected to waterboarding in secret US overseas prisons before he was transferred to Guantanamo in September 2006.
The WikiLeaks staff wrote a disclaimer on their site, in which they stated: “The documents draw on the testimony of witnesses – in most cases, the prisoners’ fellow prisoners – whose words are unreliable, either because they were subjected to torture or other forms of coercion (sometimes not in Guantanamo, but in secret prisons run by the CIA), or because they provided false statements to secure better treatment in Guantanamo.”
An Israeli terrorist expert had the same concern. “WikiLeaks is not the Bible,” said Yoram Schweitzer, a senior research fellow and director of the Terrorism and Low-Intensity Conflict Research Project at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. “These documents are presenting either testimonies or evaluations of testimonies. Intelligence documents and others are not the whole truth, just information, which can be contradicted.”
Schweitzer, also the former head of the international counterterrorism section of the IDF, added that while reading the Guantanamo detainee files released by WikiLeaks, “I didn’t see that many new revelations,” and readers need to be aware of which stages of investigations the documents reflect before taking into account what they state.
All of the detainee assessment briefs released by WikiLeaks were compiled by the US Defense Department between February 2002 and January 2009.
The Obama administration’s Guantanamo Review Task Force, established in January 2009, reviewed the detainee files and, depending on the individual cases, came to different or identical conclusions.
The task force’s findings, however, were not obtained by WikiLeaks. As a result, any leaked detainee report “may or may not represent the current view of a given detainee,” according to a joint statement from Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon’s press secretary, and Ambassador Dan Fried, the US State Department’s special envoy for the closure of Guantanamo.
Yet the documents provide an interesting possible account of terrorist’s activities and connections and their capture.
Zubaydah, for example, supplied the late al-Qaida commander Abu Musab al-Zarqawi with several thousand dollars, according to the leaked detainee report, for an operation Zubaydah wanted to conduct in the West Bank and Gaza. Al-Zarqawi knew smugglers who could be useful for the operation.
He also allegedly plotted with Ayman al-Zawahiri’s former deputy, Abu Samih (Abu Samah al-Masri), to attack Israeli and Jewish targets in Morocco.
The detainee brief states that, simultaneously, Zubaydah suggested attacking Israeli targets in Egypt. He told Abu Dhahhak to ask Wafa Humanitarian Organization fundraiser Abu Ammar to raise $100,000 for anti-Israeli operations. Zubaydah ended up raising $50,000 for an attack against the Israeli Embassy in Egypt, but gave the money to bin Laden, telling him the funding was to be used specifically for attacks on Israeli targets.
In May 16, 2003, a series of simultaneous attacks in Casablanca, Morocco were carried out against, among other targets, a Jewish community center and a hotel with many Israeli guests.
“The fact that al-Qaida or affiliated groups tried to attack Jewish targets in Morocco is not a secret,” said Schweitzer.
“The fact that al-Qaida, especially Zawahiri, was trying to attack Israeli targets in Egypt is not surprising.”
The classified document also states that, according to various reports, Zubaydah’s responsibilities included recruiting Palestinians as terrorists, training Palestinian recruits and planning and carrying out attacks in the Near East.
During a tribunal hearing on March 27, 2007 at Guantanamo, Zubaydah said, among other things, “I have been an enemy of yours since I was a child because of your unjust acts against my people, the Palestinians, through your help and partnership” with Israel, according to the unclassified transcript of that hearing.
A foreign military intelligence organization reported in 2001 that Zubaydah was part of bin Laden’s “inner circle, a special representative and financial courier in the Middle East, and served as a courier to European countries,” according to the detainee brief.
The brief also quotes Ahmed Ressam, the convicted planner of the failed millennium bombing plot, as saying, “There is no one to whom Abu Zubaydah must report in terms of a superior; [he] is emir.”
Ressam said he thought of targeting Los Angeles International Airport on his own, but Zubaydah encouraged him and assisted in the planning, even asking Ressam to return stolen Canadian passports so terrorists plotting operations in the US could use them, according to the file.
Zubaydah is primarily associated with Ressam and the millennium bombing plot, which also involved foiled terror attacks in Jordan, said Schweitzer. In the detainee brief, Husayn Muhammad Ahmad al- Tawri is quoted as saying he put Zubaydah in touch with the leader of an al-Qaida cell in Jordan in order to send cell members to Afghanistan for training.
However, Schweitzer said Zubaydah was not likely a commander of operations or even a full member of al-Qaida, but instead acted as a mediator between fighters at training camps in Afghanistan and commanders. “I don’t think Abu Zubaydah carried out an attack or was in a position to be a commander of specific attacks. He was a facilitator, so he was not functioning like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who specifically commanded operations.”
When asked about KSM’s identification of Zubaydah as a senior al- Qaida officer, Schweitzer said, “He was drinking a lot of water while he was tortured.”
One of Zubaydah’s attorneys Brent Mickum, a partner at Hollingsworth LLP in Washington, said that the US government had made his client out to be a much more important figure than he actually was.
“The fact of the matter is, with respect to Zubaydah, I’m not going to try to say he is necessarily a choir boy, but he is not the man that he is alleged to be,” Mickum said.
He said he has seen no evidence that Zubaydah planned or raised funds for attacks against Jews and Israelis in Morocco and Egypt.
With regard to attacks against Israel, “The bottom line is that allegation is the most serious allegation against him. Until they give me evidence, I’m working on the assumption that they can’t prove the allegation,” said Mickum.
A senior al-Qaida operative, however, fingered Zubaydah as a member of al-Qaida’s Shura Council, which was responsible for the group’s documentation activities, according to the detainee brief. Zubaydah denied this, but stated under interrogation that he has knowledge of al-Qaida’s document-forging operations.
For example, he told interrogators he forged medical papers for injured terrorists which stated they had been tortured in their home countries. These documents could then be used to apply for political asylum or humanitarian aid from the UN or European countries.
Zubaydah pursued higher education in India and turned 40 on March 12. He first received terrorist training in the late 1980s. Zubaydah told interrogators that when he arrived in Afghanistan around 1990- 1991, he was a “bad Muslim” whose commitment to the Palestinian cause inspired him to attend terror training camps.
His family, though, was dismayed by his decision, and dispatched his brother, who was working as a doctor in Pakistan, to change his mind, the brief stated. However, the intervention failed, and Zubaydah instead tried to recruit his brother.
Zubaydah was trained at the Khaldan training camp in Khowst, Afghanistan in 1991 or 1992, and later became the camp’s administrator, according to the file.
“There’s no mystery that Zubaydah attended these camps, and fought against communists and communist insurgents in an effort supported by the Americans,” said Mickum.
“I think it’s fairly common knowledge he is a person who moved people into one camp, Khalden, that was closed by al-Qaida and bin Laden when it refused to fall under the control of al-Qaida.”
He added, “It’s a fact that he knew how to move people around, not for al-Qaida per se,” but also for organizations wishing to do charity work in Afghanistan.
Both Mickum and the detainee file state Zubaydah suffered a head wound from shrapnel in the early 1990s. Mickum said the wound has caused his client to have memory problems.
The detainee file states Zubaydah decided to dedicate his life to jihad in 1993, and submitted the necessary paperwork to join al-Qaida and pledge an allegiance oath to bin Laden. Initially, he was turned down for membership. Zubaydah refused to take the oath unless al-Qaida agreed to carry out a terror attack inside Israel or plan an operation to free Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind sheikh imprisoned in connection with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Two weeks after the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, Zubaydah met with bin Laden at a safe-house in Jalalabad, Afghanistan to try to convince bin Laden to reopen the Khalden camp, the detainee file stated. The report documents Zubaydah as saying bin Laden “lectured” him that “it would be better if Khaldan Camp remained closed,” and that in the end, this development meant that he could focus on operations attacking Israel and attempting to free Rahman.
In December, 2000, Zubaydah dispatched Hassan Ghul to Saudi Arabia to raise funds for operations against Israel, the file states. Zubaydah then traveled to Kandahar in March 2001 to meet with bin Laden and Muhammad Atef (also known as Abu Hafs al- Masri) about the possibility of carrying out an attack in Israel.
Zubaydah sent passport photos to Said al-Kurdi around May, 2001, so the latter could receive phony Belgian passports, but the document does not state if this was related to the discussed operation in Israel.
Ali Muhammad Abdul Aziz al- Fakhri, the director of the Khalden training camp when Zubaydah first received training there, said Zubaydah was involved in planning the USS Cole bombing and an attack on the US Embassy in Yemen, according to the report.
Zubaydah also allegedly discussed the possibility of sabotaging financial institutions and electrical power grids in the US via computer hacking with bin Laden. The detainee brief states he was waiting to discuss such an operational concept with bin Laden between September and November, 2000.
In 1995, Zubaydah spoke with Abu Ali al-Kholi, an Egyptian electronic engineer and al-Qaida member, about a plan for “implementing multiple remotely-executed attacks in the United States,” the report notes. Zubaydah told Kholi that bin Laden approved the idea.
In addition, Djamel Beghal, who was given a 10-year prison sentence for trying to bomb the US Embassy in Paris, told interrogators that Zubaydah ordered him to travel to Kandahar in March, 2001, and also told him that bin Laden wanted to attack the US’s embassy and cultural center in Paris, according to the report.
Meanwhile, in early 2002, Zubaydah allegedly spoke with “Dirty Bomber” Jose Padilla and Binyam Ahmad Mohammad about their plan to set off a dirty bomb inside the US, and agreed to sponsor their mission. The file stated Zubaydah then sent Padilla to consult with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to help plan their operation.
Zubaydah also provided interrogators with a list of targets that al-Qaida and its affiliates planned to attack, according to the brief. The list included the White House, Statue of Liberty, UN headquarters, US ships and embassies, US military bases and American-owned or American-frequented discos and nightclubs in Thailand and the Philippines.
Zubaydah was captured by Pakistani forces during raids on two safehouses operated by Lashkar-e-Taiba (the Pakistani terror group believed to be responsible for the November 2008 Mumbai attacks) in Faisalabad on March 28, 2002.
After the fall of Kandahar, Afghanistan, Zubaydah established a network of Lashkar-e-Taiba safehouses and operatives to help Arab al-Qaida fighters flee the country, according to the file. At the time of his capture, he was trying to create a “martyrs’ brigade,” in Pakistan which would use remote-controlled improvised explosive devices to attack US and Allied forces, the brief states.
Zubaydah was shot three times while attempting to escape. He was transferred immediately to US custody after his capture and was transported out of Pakistan when he recovered, the report states.
Since his transfer to Guantanamo, Zubaydah “has appeared to be cooperative during interviews but may also have been withholding information and employing counter-interrogation techniques,” the report stated.
Although he provided a great deal of information about his contacts and activities, Zubaydah continues to deny his membership in al-Qaida, and “appears to distance himself from anything that might implicate him directly in conducting attacks against the US,” according to the detainee brief, which also states that multiple sources attest to Zubaydah’s al-Qaida membership and status.
The Defense Department warned in the Guantanamo report that “if released without rehabilitation, close supervision and means to successfully reintegrate into his society as a law abiding citizen, it is assessed detainee is likely to seek out prior associates and re-engage in hostilities and extremist support activities.”
According to Mickum, however, court filings support the claim that Zubaydah was not connected to al- Qaida.
In a 2009 filing with the US District Court for the District of Columbia, filed by the US government in response to a discovery motion from Zubaydah’s attorneys, the respondent (the government) states, “The Government has not contended in this proceeding the petitioner [Zubaydah] selected or knew the identities of specific persons who were selected to leave Khaldan for training at al-Qaida camps,” and therefore, the request made by the petitioner fell outside the scope of claims made by the respondent and should not be granted.
The government also states in the filing that it has not contended that Zubaydah had any direct role in or advance knowledge of the 9/11 attacks, or that Zubaydah had knowledge of specific terror operations being planned or executed by other people or groups.
The filing cites another respondent memorandum stating, “The Government does not rely on any contention that petitioner did this work as an ‘al Qaida deputy’ or because he was subject to al-Qaida command.”
The government also states it did not contend that Zubaydah was aware of or supported other detainees’ connections with KSM or al-Qaida. It also did not contend that any of the training camps where Zubaydah trained had declared hostilities against the US or launched attacks against the US at the time he was there. The filing cites another government court filing stating, “The Khalden training camp…was operationally and organizationally independent of al- Qaida.”
The government also states in the court filing that it has not contended that the Derunta training camp had direct ties to al-Qaida or the Taliban. Zubaydah’s attorneys requested disclosure of evidence that might disprove the government’s claim that Ressam was able to train at Derunta because he received a letter of recommendation from Zubaydah.
The court filing does not mention anything about Israel or Jews. Mickum said he has requested to see evidence that his client was involved in attempted attacks against Jews and Israelis, but he has received nothing.
Mickum said he has been working to obtain all the documents relating to the his client, but the government has rejected many of his efforts on the grounds that the material is classified.
Mickum said the WikiLeaks disclosure does not change Zubaydah’s
situation, since the US government still considers the information to be
classified. He is challenging that status.
Mickum said the immediate goal for his client is repatriation to another
country, where he could receive medical and psychiatric treatment he is
not receiving at Guantanamo. But that is unlikely.
“Even if I were able to convince a European or Middle Eastern country to
accept my client on the basis that he didn’t present a threat in the
first place, I don’t think the Americans would ever admit to that and
they would never agree to release him,” said Mickum, who added that the
appointment of a military counsel for the case has been denied.
The Bush administration transferred 537 detainees from Guantanamo, and
the Obama administration transferred 67 as of April 24. Zubaydah
continues to be held there.
A US Department of Justice spokesman declined to comment.
A Defense Department spokeswoman, Maj. Tanya Bradsher, said no charges
are pending against Zubaydah and he is not facing a military commission.
Only the perpetrator of the USS Cole bombing has been charged, and
eight other detainees are facing charges, including five 9/11
conspirators. Zubaydah is not one of them.