Algerian Six

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The Algerian Six were six Islamic clerics, born in Algeria, working for charities in Bosnia who fell under suspicion of plotting to attack the American embassy in Sarajevo. After intercepting telephone conversations on October 16, 2001, suggesting an imminent attack, "We are confirming the presence of the al-Qaeda network in Bosnia," said a spokesman for NATO-led peacekeepers. The arrests, he added, had "disrupted" the network, but "it has not been destroyed. Investigations are continuing."[1]

They were charged by Bosnian authorities in October. All the men were then either captured or turned themselves in to the police. In January 2002 the Supreme Court of Bosnia ruled that there was not enough evidence against them, charges were dropped, and the men were released.

Pictures of the "Algerian Six" from their Combatant Status Review Tribunals.

Instead of going free, as they were released, they were immediately captured by American forces, and flown to the Guantanamo detention camp.

Releases

In November 2008, a U.S. District Court ordered the release of five of the six. [2] Judge Richard Leon, however, ruled that the government had shown ample evidence that Bensayah Belkacem was "an al Qaeda facilitator."

Three of the men, Boudella al Hajj, Mustafa Ait Idr and Mohammed Nechle, are back in Bosnia, although they will remain under security surveillance. Saber Lahmar and Lakhdar Boumediene, were sent back because they do not have Bosnian citizenship; Bosnian officials said they would be transferred to an extradition prison should they be returned. "Lahmar never had Bosnian citizenship, residing in Bosnia with permanent residence permit, while Bosnian authorities stripped Boumediene of his after saying he had given false information when he applied."[3]

France is considering taking one, reported to be either Lakhdar Boumediene and Sabir Mahfouz Lahmar are the two Algerians being considered.[4]

Life in Bosnia

During the wars that erupted during the break up Yugoslavia the struggles were largely based on ethnic groups. A large fraction of the Bosnian population were Muslims. They received support from other Muslim nations, from Islamic non-governmental organizations, and from individual Muslim volunteers. After the successful breakaway of Bosnia from the rump of Yugoslavia the newly independent Bosnian republic rewarded the foreign volunteers with an offer of citizenship. Several hundred foreign fighters accepted this offer.

Detention in Guantanamo

The Associated Press has made the Combatant Status Review Tribunals of the six men available for download.[5] Transcripts within these documents record the Bosnians reporting to their tribunal officers that interrogators did not believe that there had ever been any substance in the US allegations that they had planned to bomb the US embassy.

Their Combatant Status Review Tribunal concluded that they had been correctly classified as "illegal combatants", based on classified evidence.

The Washington Post published a profile of the six Bosnians.[6] The profile reported that the allegations the men faced during their Administrative Review Board hearings dropped the accusation that the men had been plotting to bomb the US embassy in Sarajevo. It speculates that the men remain in detention because the Bush administration is unwilling to undergo the embarrassment of admitting it held the men for four years and never had any real evidence against them.

The article reports some of the new justifications Guantanamo intelligence analysts offered for continuing to detain the men following the abandonment of the claim the men plotted to bomb the US embassy, including:

  • Mustafa Idr had taught Karate to Bosnian orphans.
  • Another detainee, during his compulsory military service, when he still lived in Algeria, over ten years ago, had served as an army cook.
  • "Boudella was accused ... of joining bin Laden and Taliban fighters at Tora Bora, Afghanistan,.. in December 2001. In fact, at the time, Boudella was locked up thousands of miles away in Sarajevo, after his arrest in the later-discredited embassy plot."
  • A ring Boudella wore a ring "similar to those that identified the Red Rose Group members of Hamas," Boudella's wife has obtained an affidavit from the jeweller where the ring was purchased, explaining that this style of ring is extremely popular in Bosnia.

The article reports Bush administration negotiators trying to arrange a release to Bosnia and Algeria. According to the article:

  • "U.S. officials have pressed Algeria to take back the prisoners on the condition that they be confined or kept under surveillance there. So far, the Algerian government has balked."
  • "Senior Bosnian officials said they have been told by U.S. diplomats that the six Algerians will never be allowed to return to Bosnia, which had granted dual citizenship to most of the men before their seizure. Instead, U.S. officials have pressed Algeria to take back the prisoners on the condition that they be confined or kept under surveillance there."
  • Bosnian Prime Minister Adnan Terzic requested Condoleezza Rice arrange the return of the men in a letter dated February 2, 2005.
  • On March 17, 2005 Rice replied the men could not be freed because "they still possess important intelligence data." Rice also said they still represent a threat to the USA.
  • "Three months later, the State Department offered a somewhat different explanation.., Matthew A. Reynolds, acting assistant secretary for legislative affairs, explained that the Algerians could not be released in part because the Bosnian government 'has not indicated that it is prepared or willing to accept responsibility for them upon transfer'."
  • "Justice Minister Slobodan Kovac said there would be no legal basis to place the men under arrest or surveillance if they were returned to Bosnia because they have already been exonerated there. 'There is no case against them here in Bosnia, no criminal case,' he said."

The article points out that even though the Bush administration has declined to discuss any real evidence they may have against the men that Lieutenant Commander J.D. Gordon stated: "There was no mistake in originally detaining these individuals as enemy combatants. Their detention was directly related to their combat activities as determined by an appropriate Defense Department official before they were ever transferred to Guantanamo."

The men face annual Annual Review Board hearings.

Bosnian efforts on the men's behalf

Amir Pilav, a Bosnian Justice official, visited the men in Guantanamo in 2004.[7]

According to the New York Times Rasim Kadic, the former head of Bosnia's anti-terrorist task force, said Bosnia has been unable to defend the men's interests properly for fear of angering the United States, saying Bosnia[7]: "...had no way out. We had to practically sign them away. The presence of U.S. soldiers here is a guarantee for Bosnia for a long time to come, and we have to pay a price."

On August 23, 2007, Bosnia's ministers of justice, human rights and foreign affairs sent a letter to the United States about the six men[8] "Bosnia-Herzegovina asked the US authorities to give guarantees that those people will not be sentenced to death, and will not be exposed to torture, inhumane and humiliating treatment."

The "Algerian Six" in detail

Bensayah Belkacem

Also known as Belkacem Bensayah[2], Belkacem was described, in the CSRT document, as the "primary al Qaida facilitator in Bosnia".[9] The summary of evidence said his cell phone records showed show 70 calls to Afghanistan in the month following the 9-11 attacks, he was in possession of Abu Zubaydah's cell phone number, and had two false passports. These charges were denied by his wife.[10]

Sabir Mahfouz Lahmar

Lahmar was accused of being an associate of Bensayah Belkacem, who is accused of being the chief al-Qaeda facilitator in Bosnia.[11] He had placed the incriminating phone call that triggered the arrests.

Mohamed Nechle

Nechle was suspected of an association with the Armed Islamic Group, and being associated with a "known al Qaida operative."[12] He also was accused of working for the Red Crescent -- the Islamic companion organization to the Red Cross.[13]

Mustafa Ait Idir

Idir was accused of an association with the Armed Islamic Group.[14] Holding a black belt in karate, he was accused of being the chief martial arts trainer for Arab fighters during the Bosnian civil war. He was also charged with planning to travel to Afghanistan.[15]

He told the CSRT he can prove he was not living in Bosnia during the civil war, completely denounces violence, and suffered beatings that broke one of his fingers and left his face partially paralyzed.[16]

Lakmar Boumediene

It was stated that Boumediene "...since 1990, has repeatedly traveled to hotspots of regional conflict throughout the Middle East and Eastern Europe."[17] He was accused of having "...on multiple occasions provided subsistence to Bensayah Belkacem," and "...has given conflicting statements as to the nature of his association with Belkacem." He "...admitted retaining and financing legal representation for a known al-Qaeda operative after that operative's arrest for terrorist activities." It was alleged he had worked in Pakistan, aiding Afghan refugees of the Taliban regime in 1992 and 1993, and was suspected of having links to the Algerian Armed Islamic Group. He was reported to have had a photocopy of a newspaper article about a 1998 terrorist attack, and allegedly confessed to lying when he acquired Bosnian citizenship.[18] According to the Weekly Standard, Lakhdar, who France is considering accepting from the U.S., "...was clearly part of the al Qaeda network in Bosnia in the 1990’s. [He] was listed as one of the most wanted criminals in Bosnia at one point and was charged with involvement in various criminal and terrorist acts, including a car bombing in Mostar. He was only freed as part of a general amnesty deal the Bosnian government..."[4]

Boudella el Hajj

Boudella el Hajj was charged with meeting monthly with Bensayah, and the local leaders of four other charities, to coordinated charitable activities; these, according to the U.S., were a front for terrorist planning.[19]

References

  1. Andrew Purvis. The Suspects: A Bosnian Subplot, Time (magazine), November 12, 2001.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Terry Frieden (November 20, 2008), "Federal judge orders release of 5 Guantanamo detainees", CNN
  3. Guantanamo Algerians back in Bosnia, ISA Consulting, December 19, 2008
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Europe to Obama: You Can Keep the Terrorists", Weekly Standard, April 6, 2009
  5. The Associated Press - Washington in Depth, Associated Press, 2005. Retrieved on 2007-11-21.
  6. At Guantanamo, Caught in a Legal Trap: 6 Algerians Languish Despite Foreign Rulings, Dropped Charges, Washington Post, August 21, 2006
  7. 7.0 7.1 Nicholas Wood. For Bosnia, Getting 6 Freed From Guantánamo Is a Balancing Act, New York Times, October 21 2004. Retrieved on 2007-11-21.
  8. Bosnia interested in fate of its people in Guantanamo, Thursday August 23, 2007.
  9. OARDEC (September 24, 2004). Summary of Evidence for Combatant Status Review Tribunal -- Belkacem, Bensayah pages 73-74. United States Department of Defense.
  10. Ian Fisher. Qaeda Suspect´s Bosnian Wife Says He´s No Terrorist, New York Times, January 28, 2002.
  11. OARDEC (23 September 2004). Summary of Evidence for Combatant Status Review Tribunal -- Lahmar, Sabir Mahfouz pages 75-76. United States Department of Defense.
  12. OARDEC (September 23, 2004). Summary of Evidence for Combatant Status Review Tribunal -- Nechle, Mohamed pages 77. United States Department of Defense.
  13. OARDEC (November 7, 2006). Unclassified Summary of Evidence for Administrative Review Board in the case of Nechla, Muhammed pages 98-100. United States Department of Defense.
  14. OARDEC (September 21, 2004). Summary of Evidence for Combatant Status Review Tribunal -- Ait Idr, Mustafa pages 78. United States Department of Defense.
  15. OARDEC (November 19, 2006). Unclassified Summary of Evidence for Administrative Review Board in the case of Ait Idr, Mustafa pages 101-104. United States Department of Defense.
  16. Charlie Savage (April 13, 2005). Guantanamo detainee is alleging he was brutalized: Suit to seek data about 6 Algerians. Boston Globe.
  17. OARDEC (21 September 2004). Summary of Evidence for Combatant Status Review Tribunal -- Boumediene, Lakmar pages 79. United States Department of Defense. Retrieved on 2007-11-21.
  18. OARDEC (October 20, 2006). Unclassified Summary of Evidence for Administrative Review Board in the case of Boumediene, Lakhdar pages 105-107. United States Department of Defense.
  19. OARDEC (October 6, 2006). Summary of Evidence for Combatant Status Review Tribunal -- Al Hajj, Boudella pages 80-81. United States Department of Defense.