Suicide bomber was in Guantánamo, says US

suicide.jpgBy Ewen MacAskill | The Pentagon confirmed yesterday that a Kuwaiti released from the US detention camp at Guantánamo Bay three years ago carried out a suicide bombing in Iraq last month. The involvement of an ex-Guantánamo detainee will make it harder for civil rights lawyers in the US and Britain, who have been fighting for the release of the remaining prisoners at the camp complex in Cuba.

Abdallah Salih al-Ajmi and two other Kuwaitis are reported by their families to have taken part in an attack on Iraqi security forces in Mosul, a northern city that is the scene of intense fighting.

Although the families did not specify a date, seven people were killed in a suicide attack in Mosul on April 26.

Civil rights lawyers claim most of the detainees are innocent, while the US military claims they present a danger and would take up arms if released.

The US military opposed his release, saying there was a risk that he presented a continuing danger, but he was freed after being transferred to Kuwait.

A spokesman for the US central command, US navy commander Scott Rye, told the Associated Press he did not know the motives behind the suicide bombing.

Ajmi, aged 30, a former Kuwaiti soldier, was taken to Guantánamo as part of a general sweep in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

He was accused of fighting with the Taliban, a charge he repeatedly denied.

He was transferred from Guantánamo to Kuwait in 2005. Alleged evidence obtained at Guantánamo was not allowed in a Kuwaiti court, which acquitted him and four others on terrorist-related charges.

His cousin, Salem al-Ajmi, told al-Arabiya television last Thursday that a friend of Abdallah had informed the family that he had carried out an attack in Mosul.

“We were shocked by the painful news we received this afternoon … through a call from one of the friends of martyr Abdallah in Iraq,” Salem said.

Ajmi disappeared two weeks ago and his family learned he left Kuwait illegally for Syria, a regular transit point for jihadists travelling to Iraq.

He had sent messages to his wife from Iraq. He had a son after being released from Guantánamo.

Ajmi’s cousin said that he had given no indication that he was planning to leave Kuwait to join the insurgency in Iraq, though he had become more withdrawn recently.

The US military claimed he had deserted the Kuwaiti armed forces to fight with the Taliban for eight months in 2001 against the Northern Alliance, which after 9/11 was backed by the US.

As the Northern Alliance took Kabul with US help, Ajmi is alleged to have fled south to Tora Bora and was captured attempting to cross into Pakistan. He insisted he had gone to Pakistan to memorise the Koran, had never been in Afghanistan and had never heard of Tora Bora.

There are 275 detainees at Guantánamo, down from a high of 775. The US commander at the camp, Rear Admiral Mark Buzby, said in February that he expected about 80 to go on trial. Of the remainder, 80 have already been cleared for release but cannot find a country that will take them. The others are awaiting clearance.

The Democratic and Republican candidates to replace President George Bush in January next year have promised to close the camp.

The case against Ajmi in Kuwait collapsed after the court ruled that alleged testimony from Guantánamo was inadmissible because he had not signed it.

The presence of Kuwaiti foreign fighters and suicide bombers in Iraq is rare. While 90% of suicide bombers have been foreigners, Kuwaitis have comprised less than 1% of foreign fighters in Iraq.

The first hearing at a new court complex at Guantánamo yesterday suffered a technical glitch. Journalists watching proceedings from behind a glass panel had no sound.

The case being heard was of a Yemeni, Ali Hamza Ahmad Sulayman al-Bahlul, who is accused of serving Osama bin Laden as a bodyguard and al-Qaida recruiter.

The US military spent US$12m (£6m) on the new court complex. After the sound was sorted, there was a power failure and the lights went out. When sound and light was restored, Bahlul declined to enter a plea. He held up a sign saying he was boycotting the court and refused to distance himself from bin Laden and al-Qaida.

Charges are pending against 14 prisoners in the special court set up to try captives the US considers to be unlawful enemy combatants who do not merit trial in civilian and military courts.