As Latin America cooperates on a frantic search to find former Guantánamo Bay detainee Jihad Ahmad Diyab, a report suggests the terrorist left Uruguay for Venezuela last month, after authorities had issued a statement claiming he had illegally entered Brazil.
According to the Argentine newspaper La Nación, a television program in the country reported this week that Diyab had been spotted in Venezuela – the same news program that had initially reported that Diyab was in Brazil. They did not indicate how they acquired this information or where in Venezuela Diyab was found.
The socialist government of Venezuela has a history of ties to jihadists. However, most of their known ties to Islamic extremists are with Shiite groups and the government of Iran. For example, the government of President Nicolás Maduro has, on multiple occasions, been accused of falsifying Venezuelan passports for members of Hezbollah, which allow them to travel more freely than passports from their native Middle Eastern countries. A major report by the Spanish newspaper ABC suggested the passport plan was put into action after an in-person meeting between Maduro and Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, a member of the Alawite Shiite sect. Hezbollah is a staunch enemy of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, the two major global Sunni terrorist groups.
Diyab was released to Uruguay in late 2014 as part of a deal between President Barack Obama and then-Uruguayan President José Mujica, a socialist. He was one of a group of six released to the South American country and described by local newspaper El Observador as “the loudest and most combative” of the group. Diyab had previously stated that he preferred life in the Guantánamo Bay detention center to free life in Uruguay and that his sympathies towards the terrorist group al-Qaeda had grown since his arrest. “I never had anything to do with Al Qaeda,” he claimed in March, “but with the bad treatment I’ve received, I like Al Qaeda now.”
And now Diyab has gone missing. He had left the capital, Montevideo, to observe the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in a border town close to Brazil. He then left the town, with Uruguayan authorities stating he was visiting Brazil, but Brazilian authorities asserting that no record existed of Diyab crossing the border. Uruguayan immigration officials noted, however, that the border region he was believed to have been living in before his disappearance is known for little border security, and it would have been very possible for Diyab to simply walk into Brazil unimpeded.
Brazil is currently preparing to host the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Authorities have intercepted jihadist chatter on the encrypted app Telegram that indicates that at least one jihadist group, the Islamic State (ISIS), is seeking to organize terrorist attacks during the Games; police found an ISIS Telegram channel in Portuguese, seeking native-speaking jihadi recruits.
Brazilian law enforcement officials insist there is no threat of terrorist activity at the Games. Alexandre de Moraes, the nation’s Minister of Justice, asserted this week that tourists should not cancel their trips fearing jihad. “We do not have the probability of a terrorist event,” he asserted. “We work as if we did have it, but we do not have a chance. … Those who go to the stadiums can rest assured.”
ISIS was still a faction of al-Qaeda at the time of Diyab’s arrest, and he has not made any public statements that clarify his position on the group, now al-Qaeda’s main rival.
Diyab’s whereabouts largely remain a mystery because of his lack of ties to anyone in Uruguay, including the former detainees with whom he arrived. According to El Observador, the other men have asserted they did not maintain any contact with him since they moved out of their collective home and that he had not visited his local mosque in some weeks. The head of that Islamic center, the Egyptian Center for Islamic Culture, told the newspaper that he had spoken to Diyab ten days before his disappearance, and that he never mentioned leaving Uruguay.