The government of Uruguay has lost track of a former Guantánamo Bay detainee from Syria who was transferred to its care in 2014 by the Obama administration, prompting a search by law enforcement, reports the Washington Post (WaPo).
Meanwhile, the Uruguayan government claims the Syrian national, Jihad Ahmed Mustafa Dhiab, “has traveled legally to neighboring Brazil… rejecting news reports that he violated his refugee status,” adds the Associated Press (AP).
U.S. officials told the Post on condition of anonymity that law enforcement agencies were searching for Dhiab.
“We are coordinating with officials in Brazil and Uruguay to determine his whereabouts,” revealed one of the unnamed American officials.
U.S. officials believed that Dhiab, who was imprisoned at Guantánamo in 2002 for suspected links to the Sunni terrorist group al-Qaeda, may have crossed into Brazil illegally, reported WaPo.
However, Christian Mirza, the Uruguayan government’s representative for the six former Guantánamo detainees who were transferred to the South American country in December 2014, told AP that news outlets “mischaracterized” Dhiab’s trip.
“To say that he fled the country is incorrect because he had the right to go,” reportedly said Mirza, without elaborating on when or where in Brazil the former prisoner had traveled.
Eduardo Bonomi, Uruguay’s interior minister, reportedly indicated that the former Guantánamo detainees are allowed to leave the South American nation.
“When the conditions for their arrival were being negotiated, the United States proposed that Uruguay make sure they stay in the country for two years,” Bonomi told reporters, according to AP. “Uruguay did not accept that condition.”
The Post acknowledges that the Obama administration has refused to comment on the case.
“If confirmed, the incident would intensify friction between the White House and Congress over resettlement of detainees remaining at the prison, a necessary step toward President Obama’s goal of shuttering the facility,” notes WaPo.
Last year, the U.S. military warned that Sunni extremists in Latin America are radicalizing converts and other Muslims, adding that jihadist groups in the region may exploit trafficking organizations to infiltrate the United States.
U.S. officials did not provide details on “the oversight arrangements for the six detainees in Uruguay,” points out the Post.
“The decision to transfer a detainee is made only after detailed, specific conversations with the receiving country about the potential threat a detainee may pose after transfer and the measures the receiving country will take in order to sufficiently mitigate that threat, and to ensure humane treatment,” said one of them.
Some news reports indicate that the Obama administration is secretly planning to transfer up to 24 detainees out Guantánamo by the end of the summer, a move that would bring the facility’s population down to 56.
The Obama administration has proposed transferring detainees onto U.S. soil as part of its efforts to shut down the prison. However, current law prevents President Barack Obama from doing so.
Dhiab was reportedly born in Lebanon to a mother from Argentina.
“The resettlement has been fraught with problems,” reports AP, referring to the transfer of former prisoners to Uruguay. “The men initially complained publicly that they were not getting enough government help, but also refused to get jobs, which angered many Uruguayans.”
“Two of the… men married local women who converted to Islam, but the unions quickly dissolved amid allegations of domestic abuse,” it adds.