U.S. Deems Former Russian Guantánamo Prisoner a ‘Global Terrorist’


WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. State Department has named two Russian jihadists, including one who was held at the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba, “specially designated global terrorists” affiliated with the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).

On Wednesday, State identified the two terrorists as Aslan Avgazarovich Byutukaev, who is also known as Amir Khamzat, and Airat Vakhitov, who has a number of aliases, including Salman Bulgarsky.

In announcing the designations, which imposes sanctions on the two men — blocking their U.S property and prohibiting Americans from engaging in transactions with them — the State Department noted:

Byutukaev is the leader for Chechnya of the Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant-Caucasus Province (ISIL-CP). Prior to joining ISIL, Byutukaev was a prominent leader of the SDGT Caucasus Emirate (CE). He was responsible for directing numerous deadly suicide bombing operations, including the January 2011 attack at the crowded international arrivals hall of Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport, which killed at least 35 and injured over 100. Since becoming an ISIL leader in June 2015 Byutukaev has planned attacks on behalf of the group; in November 2015 Russian Special Forces discovered a large bomb hidden on the side of the road in Kantyshevo, Ingushetiya, Russia, thwarting an ISIL attack directed by Byutukaev.

Vakhitov is a foreign terrorist fighter from Tatarstan, Russia who has fought in Syria. Vakhitov is associated with Jaysh al-Muhajirin Wal Ansar, a group that was designated by the U.S. Department of State as a SDGT under Executive Order 13224. Vakhitov has also used the internet to recruit militants to travel to Syria.

Various news outlets report that Vakhitov was apprehended by the U.S. military in Afghanistan back in 2001 and imprisoned at the Guantánamo detention center until 2004, when he was transferred out to Russia.

Voice of America (VOA) points out that it “learned last week that Vakhitov was among a large group of suspects rounded up and detained in Istanbul on suspicion of involvement in a triple suicide-bomb attack at the city’s airport on June 28.”

“Sources in Istanbul who know Vakhitov’s family told VOA early Thursday that he was still in custody in connection with the devastating bomb attack, which killed 41 people and wounded 250 others,” notes the news outlet.

ISIS was behind the attack, which killed more than a dozen foreigners, according to Turkish authorities who apprehended nearly 30 suspects within a span of a few days, including Vakhitov.

VOA points out:

The State Department announcement naming Vakhitov a global terrorist did not list his involvement in the Istanbul attack, but it was based on an executive order Secretary of State John Kerry issued on June 29, presumably before Vakhitov’s presence in Turkey was known.

VOA’s Fatima Tlisova reported that a Russian court cleared Vakhitov of terrorism charges soon after he was released from Guantanamo 12 years ago, but he later was detained by the Russian Federal Security Service on unspecified charges. Subsequently, he left Russia and renounced his Russian citizenship.

According to the latest estimate by the office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), about 30 percent of released Guantánamo detainees  are suspected or confirmed to have re-engaged in terrorist activities.