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German Interior Minister Schauble Opposes Taking Detainees from Guantanamo

May 18, 2009

German Interior Minister Schäuble Opposes Taking Detainees from Guantanamo


May 18, 2009 - San Francisco, CA - - German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble no longer wants Germany to take nine Uighur detainees from Guantanamo, the German weekly "Focus" reported recently. They are now being considered to be "a potential threat" to German domestic security should they be allowed to go to Germany.

The nine Uighurs concerned had previously received training at a terrorist training camp run by ETIP/ETIM (the East Turkestan Islamic Party and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement), a terrorist network operating in the remote Xinjiang province in northwest China. These Uighur training camps were located in Afghanistan which was under Taliban rule at the time. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, U.S. bombers bombed the Afghan village where the Uighur militants were staying. They fled to neighboring Pakistan where 17 Uighurs were later arrested and subsequently transferred to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay (Gitmo).

Initially, Germany did consider taking detainees from Guantanamo, but by May 2009, German authorities began to backpedal. Information on the nine Uighur detainees provided by the U.S. Justice Department was inadequate, German security officials felt. There was no information on questions like: Did the nine Uighur detainees further radicalize during their lenghty detention or didn't they? Today, their movement ETIP is cooperating quite closely with Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the Uzbek Islamic Jihad Union (IJI). The latter movement instructed a group of Turkish and native German terrorists to prepare a number of spectacular terrorist attacks on German territory on the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The planned attacks had been thwarted by the timely arrests of four terrorists in September 2007. Guido Steinberg from the German Foundation for Science and Politics told "Focus" in May 2009 that should those nine Uighur detainees indeed arrive in Germany, they would have to be watched 24 hours a day. An additional unwelcome burden upon the German taxpayer. (Dutch law professor Afshin Ellian argued that the Netherlands should not invite any former Gitmo detainees either as it will cost a lot of money to monitor people who pose a security risk.)

The Green Party and the Social Democrats, however, are in favor of allowing the nine Uighurs to be transferred to Germany. There are longstanding differences on combating terrorism between Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, a Christian Democrat, and Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries, a Social-Democrat who is an outspoken liberal. While Schäuble, whose Interior Ministry is also in charge of the domestic security service, the so-called "Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution" (BfV), demands increased powers to monitor potential terrorists and their computers, Zypries invariably pleads for less.

Schäuble knows that Germany is an important Al-Qaeda target, especially since German forces are currently fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Morever, Mohammed Atta, the ringleader of the 9/11 attacks, studied in Hamburg in the 1990s where he and two other 9/11 hijackers formed a terrorist cell in 1999. Another key member of that terrorist cell was Ramzi Binalshibh, a Yemeni illegal immigrant whom German authorities failed to deport. German security officals still feel uneasy about the fact that they did not closely monitor the terrorist network around Atta and Binalshibh who traveled to Afghanistan in November/December 1999 to receive instructions form Osama bin Laden personally. (Atta returned to Germany in February 2000 and Binalshibh in March 2000). The members of the extremely dangerous Sauerland-Group could be arrested only after the CIA had provided information which the German security services were unable to collect – because of legal restrictions.

Quite a number of ex-Gitmo detainees return to terrorism

There is no guarantee at all that, once in Germany, the nine Uighurs, will, some day, "return to terrorism." Earlier this year, the Pentagon claimed that 61 ex-Guantanamo inmates returned to terrorism – if true a very substantial number indeed. Abdullah Ghulam Rasoul, Taliban's new top operations officer, is a former Gitmo detainee. Two other former Gitmo detainees joined the Al-Qaeda Yemeni branch, which released a video last January showing them by their names and Guantanamo detainee numbers. Said Ali Al-Shihri, 35, was released in November 2007. After his return to Yemen, he became the deputy leader of Al-Qaeda's Yemeni branch and played a role in the deadly attack on the U.S. Embassy in Yemen's capital Sanaa (September 2008). The second former detainee shown on that "Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula" video was Abu Hareth Muhammed Al-Awfi who was captured in February.

Last month, Al-Shihri issued a message to the Somali pirates urging them "to step up their attacks on 'crusader' forces at sea." He then added:

"The crusaders, the Jews and the traitorous rulers did not come to the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden except to wage a war against you in Somalia and abolish your newly established emirate, and by Allah, they shall be defeated. They shall bring a curse upon their people."

There is nothing new under the sun. Indeed, it was back in the 18th century that the so-called "Barbary pirates" were sponsored by the Muslim governments of North Africa, Bruce Bawer points out in his latest and well documented book "Surrender."

"In 1786, Johan Adams and Thomas Jefferson, then the U.S. ambassador to Britain and France respectively, met in London with the Tripolitanian envoy in Britain and asked him why his pirates were preying on American ships; he explained, as Adams and Jefferson reported afterward to the Continental Congress, that the pirate's actions were founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them whereever they could be found."

Today, it is Yemen and the Horn of Africa (especially Somalia) which pose a serious security risk. More than one-third of the remaining 255 detaines at Guantanamo Bay are Yemenis. Yemen released a number of convicted Al-Qaeda members, other Al-Qaeda members escaped from prison, write Gregory D. Johnsen and Christopher Boucek in their essay on "The Dilemma of the Yemeni Detainees at Guantanamo Bay." "Four detainees currently being held in Guantanamo had brothers among the 23 Al-Qaeda suspects who escaped from a Yemeni prison in February, 2006," they say. And then follows another interesting observation:

"The alternative of just releasing the detainees whom the United States cannot convict will almost certainly result in more deaths in Yemen at the hands of individuals who were once in American custody."

Johnsen and Boucek, no doubt, had the deadly Al-Qaeda attack on the American Embassy in Sanaa in September 2008 in mind. Former Gitmo detainees were responsible for the attack. It is easy, therefore, to promise to close Guantanamo but the legal and security implications are anything but easy. The 97 detainees from Yemen, for example, pose a big problem. One of them is Ramzi Binalshibh. Together with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), another Gitmo detainee, he planned and coordinated the 9/11 attacks.

Binyam Mohammed Al-Habashi recently returned to Britain. Originally an immigrant from Ethiopia, he later converted to militant Islam. In June 2001, he traveled to the Al Qaeda Faruq training camp in Afghanistan. He was arrested in Pakistan in April 2002 and transferred to Guantanamo in 2004. Binyam Mohammed claimed he had frequently been tortured implicating not only the CIA, but also Pakistani and British intelligence or security services. While former Gitmo detainees are usually very vocal on allegations of torture, they often are remarkably silent on Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Osama bin Laden or the training camps. Rarely do they strongly distance themselves from the extremists, the fanatics and the terrorists – by calling them apostates, for example.

Many of those who are still in Guantanamo show no signs of moderation at all, on the contrary, they often radicalize even further. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, for example, made no secret of his anti-Semitism when he proudly announced at a hearing that he "decapitated with his blessed right hand the head of the American Jew, Daniel Pearl." This unrepentant attitude may be due to harsh treatment which surely is not helpful. But some fanatics are simply uncorrectable - harsh treatment or not – and return to terrorism the moment they are released.

©2009 Emerson Vermaat. All rights reserved.

Emerson Vermaat is a Dutch investigative reporter specialized in crime and terrorism. Website:


Focus (Germany), May 11, 2009, p. 30 ("Guantanamo: 24 Stunden überwachen").

Afshin Ellian, Guantánamo Bay is niet ons probleem, in: NRC Handelsblad, January 31, 2009. p. 10, 11. "Wanneer dit soort lieden naar Nederland wordt gebracht, zullen twintig AIVD'ers per gedetineerde moeten worden ingezet om de staatsveiligheid te beschermen. Als ze verkeerde stappen zetten, zo blijkt uit het recente verleden, dan komen daar nog de kosten bij van rechters, officieren van justitie en advocaten. Al met al gaat ons dat veel geld kosten."

Kölnische Rundschau (Cologne), April 30, 2009, p. 1, 9 ("Islamisten erwogen Anschläge am 11. September"). "Die Führung der Islamischen Dschihad Union (IJU) habe der Sauerland-Gruppe Anfang September 2007 ein drei wochiches Ultimatum für die in Deutschland geplanten Anschläge gestellt." "Die Angeklagten hätten zeitweise für ihre Tat den 11. September – den sechsten Jahrestag der Anschläge in New York und Washington – erwogen." (The attacks in Germany were planned for the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.) See also: Süddeutsche Zeitung (Munich), April 30, 2009, p. 5 ("E-Mail aus Pakistan" – "Sauerland-Zelle erhielt offenbar Auftrag für Anschläge"). Reuters, January 13, 2009 ("Pentagon: 61 ex-Guantanamo inmates return to terrorism").

Emerson Vermaat, De dodelijke planning van Al-Qaeda (Soesterberg, Netherlands: Aspekt Publishers, 2005, p. 113 (Travels to Afghanistan by members of the Hamburg terror cell based on information provided by the Federal Office for Crime Investigation, BKA). Associated Press, January 27, 2009 ("U.S. defends transfers as Ex-Detainees vow terror").

Memri Special Dispatch Series, January 26, 2008 ("Video message from Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula Commanders – among them former Guantanamo detainees").

Embassy of the Republic of Yemen, Washington, February 17, 2009 ("Al-Qaeda leader is now in custody").

CBS News, April 16, 2009 ("Al Qaeda urges Somalis to attack ships").

Bruce Bawer, Surrender, Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom (New York: Doubleday, 2009), p. 3, 4. Tripolitanian envoy: from the town of Tripoli, currently in Libya.

Gregory D. Johnsen and Christopher Boucek, The Dilemma of the Yemeni Detainees at Guantanamo Bay, in: CTC Sentinel, November 2008 (vol. 1, issue 12), p. 1-4.

International Herald Tribune, April 24, 2009, p. 1, 4 ("Close Guantanamo? Detainees from Yemen pose a big problem").

International Herald Tribune, January 19, 2009, p. 6 ("The legal burdens of closing Guantanamo").

Major General Charles J. Dunlap and Major Linell A. Letendre, Military Lawyering and Professional Independence in the War on Terror: A Reponse to David Luban, in : Stanford Law Review, 2008, vol. 61, issue 2, p. 429 (KSM's antisemitism).

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