Among the most recent transferred detainees from Guantanamo Bay (Gitmo) was 45-year-old Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, sent home to Mauritania after 13 years in U.S. custody.
The Reuters report on Aziz’s release simply states that a “review board that examined security issues and other factors unanimously approved Aziz’s release from the prison where the United States detains terrorism suspects from around the world,” and notes the statement “did not give details about where and when Aziz was captured and what he was accused of.”
Apparently five minutes of Google research was too much to ask from Reuters because The New York Times posted a 2008 Defense Department memorandum on Aziz as part of its “Guantanamo Docket” series.
According to this memo, Aziz is a full-blown al-Qaeda member who swore the ritual bayat oath of fealty to Osama bin Laden in 1999, having met him several times and even attended his son’s wedding in 2000. He was a close associate of bin Laden’s religious adviser Abu Hafs al-Mauritani; in fact, the Defense Department later received a report that he is al-Mauritani’s nephew. Aziz became a member of al-Qaeda’s “Religious Committee,” with a senior position at the Islamic Institute of Kandahar, giving him direct access to senior operatives of the global terror gang.
Contrary to the usual profile of terrorist recruits as impoverished young men who could have been saved with a good jobs program, Aziz was a successful young businessman who dealt in real estate and high-end European automobiles when he became radicalized.
Some media outlets mention that Aziz was captured at an al-Qaeda safe house in Pakistan in 2002, but they generally fail to mention DoD’s assessment that he was a front-line fighter in Afghanistan with “basic and advanced militant training in tactics, explosives, and leadership.” He was judged a high-risk threat to the United States and its allies.
He fled to Afghanistan in 1999 after the Mauritanian government broke up his local al-Qaeda cell. The Pentagon says he saw action against our allies in the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, and “possibly participated in hostilities against U.S. and Coalition forces.”
During his captivity in Gitmo, Aziz “threatened U.S. personnel and made statements indicating his hatred of Americans and his intention to retaliate against the Pakistani government for their cooperation with the U.S. in capturing him,” according to the Defense Department memo.
Azis is now free to restart his life. The Miami Herald quotes his lawyer Clive Stafford Smith declaring Aziz totally vindicated: “While it’s great that Ahmed is home with his family, it’s 14 years late, and long after he was cleared. His release was only delayed because he, an innocent man, routinely protested his mistreatment.”
According to the Herald, the reasons for his delayed release were a bit more complicated than that:
Although approved for repatriation since 2009, the transfer was repeatedly delayed at the Pentagon by officials wary about letting him go, most recently in April after the detention center notified the Pentagon that Aziz had declared his intent to join ISIS once he was repatriated. Advocates of his transfer argued that menacing mouthiness should not be a factor on whether a detainee gets out of Guantánamo.
The Herald added:
Sources with knowledge of the arrangement said that while former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel would not sign off on the transfer, the current Pentagon chief, Ash Carter, did – more than 30 days ago – and then notified Congress of the pending release.
Aziz generally denies working for al-Qaeda, and, as noted, wants to dismiss his threats to join ISIS as mere bluster. However, not only does the Pentagon have hard intelligence about his activities in Afghanistan, but the Pakistani intelligence service had a lively afternoon when they arrested him at that al-Qaeda safe house in 2002. According to the DoD memo, “a search of the house netted a cell phone, several short-wave radios, a volt/ohm meter, several other small electronic components, several empty cell phone boxes, and numerous documents, including directories of phone numbers, addresses, and Internet addresses.”
The Pakistani authorities also found a cell phone SIM card hidden in a flashlight and said Aziz was carrying a fake Mauritanian passport at the time of his arrest.
According to his lawyer, Aziz plans to work as a copy editor for his brother-in-law’s newspaper in Mauritania, settling back into a quiet life with his wife and 15-year-old son. We must hope the Mauritanian government has the presence of mind to keep an eye on him. If he really does want to join ISIS, franchise opportunities in Mauritania are available.