Jihad Ahmad Diyab, a former Guantánamo Bay detainee who went missing earlier this summer after leaving Uruguay, where he was given refugee status, is reportedly being kept incommunicado in a Venezuelan secret prison. His attorney fears he has taken up a hunger strike.
Jon Eisenberg, the last attorney to represent Diyab, told Reuters that the Venezuelan intelligence agency, Sebin, had arrested Diyab as soon as he surfaced in front of the Uruguayan embassy in Caracas. Diyab, who had lived in Uruguay for two years after being released from the Guantánamo Bay facility, had reportedly left Uruguay for Brazil and taken a bus into Venezuela. Upon arriving in Caracas, he demanded Uruguayan authorities pay to reunite him with his family.
Eisenberg says Diyab was arrested in that attempt to communicate with Uruguayan officials. “I have not been able to make contact with him and have gotten no official response from the Venezuela government as to why he is being detained or where,” he says.
Uruguay’s El País reports that Diyab has taken on a hunger strike while in a secret Sebin facility. El País cites Eisenberg as the source, though he has said on other occasions that Venezuelan authorities have given him no information on Diyab. Diyab has conducted hunger strikes in the past, however.
“We continue to be worried about the possibility that he has resumed a hunger strike, but we cannot be sure because no one has been allowed to visit or communicate with him. I haven’t spoken to him since June 5,” Eisenberg told the newspaper.
Venezuelan officials reportedly told the Russian state news agency Sputnik that Venezuela is working to deport Diyab. The Sputnik report does not clarify to where the Syrian national would be repatriated, though Uruguayan outlets have cited local officials stating they are preparing to process him, as he is a legal refugee in Uruguay with the right to leave the country and return at any time. Venezuela maintains friendly relations with Russia and Iran, and has been linked to Shiite terrorist organizations. Multiple reports have accused the socialist government of Nicolás Maduro of fabricating false Venezuelan passports for members of the terror group Hezbollah, to allow them free travel in the Western Hemisphere. Maduro is also a supporter of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
Diyab, meanwhile, has publicly praised al-Qaeda, claiming he was not a member when he was arrested in Afghanistan, but supports the group after his experience in Guantánamo alongside al-Qaeda members. His public praise of a Sunni group gives Venezuela little reason to treat him well.
Diyab has been the most vocal of the small group of former Guantánamo detainees to be sent to Uruguay, protesting that he did not want to stay in the country, and demanding Uruguay help him reunite with his family, currently in Turkey fleeing the Syrian civil war. He has previously traveled to Argentina, his mother’s homeland, to demand the United States pay for a reunion with his family. He went missing in early July after allegedly leaving Montevideo for the nation’s north to observe the end of Ramadan. Latin American media reported sightings of Diyab in Venezuela nearly a month before his arrest in Caracas.
Diyab’s disappearance caused alarm in many who feared he had traveled to Brazil to execute a terrorist attack, or cooperate in a terrorist conspiracy, targeting the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. At the time, a Uruguayan official told media that Diya’s disappearance meant he was “Brazil’s problem” now.
Uruguay had granted his family visas to enter from Turkey, but revoked them when Diyab went missing. It is now unclear whether the government will reprocess those visa documents when he returns.