Posts Tagged ‘guantanamo’

A longer post for Free Rad!cals, looking in detail at the case of the Tipton Taliban (the title I had initially gone with) in the wake of the latest Wikileaks information dump. I do not think that these chaps were very serious jihadists, but more likely your archetypal jihadi tourists. Be very interested to hear the version from the chaps themselves and they should feel free to contact me should they come across this and feel so inclined.

The Tipton Three: Things Not Quite Adding Up

I have in the past touched upon the case of the Tipton Taliban (or the Tipton Three), the three chaps from the West Midlands who were picked up in November 2001 by Northern Alliance forces and eventually transferred into US custody at Guantanamo Bay. They were amongst the first detainees to be repatriated from Gitmo in March 2004 and went on to produce, with award winning filmmaker Michael Winterbottom, a film of their experience in Afghanistan, The Road in Guantanamo.

The film painted the men’s experience in a very naïf way – as four young men who headed to Pakistan for a friend’s wedding and while there, wandered into Afghanistan out of curiosity to see what was going on. In a petition submitted to the US Supreme Court Shafiq Rasul claimed that he had travelled to Pakistan in the first place “to visit relatives, explore his culture, and continue his computer studies.” Asif Iqbal instead said that he was going with the intention of marrying “a woman from his father’s small village.”

By November 2001 they were in Afghanistan and were captured amongst the many former Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters fleeing the overwhelming US and Northern Alliance onslaught. In a long confessionalthey published with the Center for Constitutional Rights, they recounted the toughness of their detention, first at the hands of General Rashid Dostum’s forces, then in a Kandahar prison before they were handed over to U.S. forces that moved them to Guantanamo, This made them into poster-children for those angry at Guantanamo and the way the US was pursuing its war on terror until in June 2007 when they agreed to participate in a Channel 4 show in which Rhuhel Ahmed admitted to having visited an Islamist training camp and to having learned how to handle weapons like AK-47s. In January 2010they confirmed this story during an interview about a BBC show which reunited two of them with one of their Guantanamo jailers, saying that “we all went to the Taliban training camp on many occasions to find out what was happening” and later “being in Afghanistan, we were at that age where….seeing a gun….you’d never seen a gun in the UK…you want to hold it.”

Now with the latest Wikileaks information release we have the version of their tale that they told their American interrogators and that was collated into a detainee assessment in late October 2003 (just under five months prior to their release). It must of course prefaced that some parts of their stories may have been obtained under duress, but nevertheless, the background stories that the Gitmo detainee assessments provide have the ring of truth to them – the consistencies between them, some of the very specific details about their pre-departure experiences in the UK, and especially in light of the men’s subsequent admissions (admittedly, it is mostly Rhuhel Ahmed who has done the on-air admissions since).

According to the newly published reports, in late 1999-2000 the men started to get interested in jihad. In Shafiq Rasul’s account, in 1999 they started to attend the Muslim community center in Tipton where “they were encouraged from the start, as Muslim youth, to fight jihad.” He reported that “a well-respected cleric named Sheikh Faisal visited the Tipton Mosque and encouraged the detainee and his friends to commit themselves to the armed struggle against the west.” In Rhuhel Ahmed’s telling, “he started thinking about jihad during the summer of 2000, after reading books on Afghanistan and the Taliban. He also listened to tapes and watched videos on the Chechnya Jihad,” all of which he obtained from the Maktabah al-Ansaar bookstore in Birmingham, UK (that was set up by Moazzam Begg a few years earlier). Asif Iqbal merely reports that “he was a member of the Tipton mosque” and “that he became interested in Jihad in 2000.

Inspired, in September 2000, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed both headed (a week apart) to, in Iqbal’s report “receive military training, to help him fulfill his desire to fight Jihad.” According to Ahmed, the two met in Karachi and stayed at a mosque in the city until they left for Quetta and then onto Kandahar where they “attended a forty-day training session sponsored by the Harakat al-Islami Bangladeshi.” Having completed their training, in November 2000 they headed to the frontlines staying “a few weeks between the front and Kabul.” Apparently this was not very exciting, as according to Ahmed, “their frontline tour mainly consisted of guard duty.” By late November they had had enough and on the 26ththey returned to the UK.

Until 9/11 when all three men (and a fourth man Munir Ali, also from Tipton who is believed to have died in Afghanistan) headed off to Afghanistan once again. Asif Iqbal is the most forthcoming on reasons behind this decision with his interrogators telling them that “he left on 27 September 2003 [I believe this is a typo which is meant to be 2001] to go and fight against the ‘crusades’…Bin Laden was being blamed for the attacks and that he wanted to ‘fight for Bin Laden.” He went on say that President Bush was responsible “for the conspiracy against the Taliban” and that “the Jews had been the ones who attacked America.” Clearly fired up with zeal, he grabbed a flight “first class, one way.” The others (Rhuhel Ahmed, Munir Ali, and Shafiq Rasul) joined him just over a week later, leaving the UK on October 5th, 2001, and, according to Rhuhel, “basically took the same route from the previous trip.” Shafiq Rasul fills in more details saying that once in Karachi they met up with Abdul Rahman, “a known member of Harakat ul Jihad al Islami.” He organised their trip to Afghanistan, where the three of them met up again with Asif Iqbal.

At this point, their stories diverge a bit. According to Shafiq Rasul they were near the frontlines in Kabul for about ten days hiding in caves “with other Pakistanis, while coalition forces bombed the area.” Rhuhel Ahmed and Asif Iqbal instead say that following their meeting they went to a training camp near Kabul (an analyst speculates in Asif Iqbal’s statement that this might be the al Faruq camp), which Ahmed describes as “an old Russian military camp.” According to Iqbal, they stayed here for four weeks and were “bored.” So much so that they headed back into Pakistan for “sightseeing.” In his telling, after a couple of weeks drifting “they decided to return to Afghanistan, to rejoin the Jihad” – returning to Kabul they went to Bagram “to fight” for a couple of weeks. They then returned to Kabul and were instructed to head to the mountains where the frontline had been established. In Rhuhel Ahmed’s account, at the end of October they finished their training and went to Kandahar, then Kunduz before ending up in the mountains outside Kabul.

From this position in the mountains, the men appear to agree that they realised they were in a bad spot. According to Rhuhel Ahmed “they witnessed heavy US bombing raids” while Asif Iqbal recalls “one bomb landed approximately 50 meters away and ‘wiped out a whole mountain’.” They decided to try to get out to Pakistan, and as they were ended up getting caught with other Taliban aligned fighters by Uzbek General Rashid Dostum’s forces. Having been incarcerated and recognised as foreigners, the General’s forces sold them to the Americans for a reward and the men eventually ended up in Guantanamo.

It is highly likely that while in the custody of General Dostum’s forces, they underwent some nasty experiences, and no doubt Guantanamo was pretty harsh. But this new version of events goes a bit further in discrediting the rose-tinted version that they portrayed in their movie. Undoubtedly, US intelligence seems faulty and determined to conclude that they are more than they say. The American assessments for Ahmed and Iqbal lock onto the fact that they believe the men were at a rally in Afghanistan in winter 2000/2001 where Osama bin Laden spoke and “several of the 9/11 hijackers were present.” As it turns out, British intelligence was able to prove that all three were in the UK at the time; Rasul was in fact working at a Curry’s in the West Midlands. That he appears to have confessed to being in Afghanistan at the time is likely evidence of his mistreatment – all of which seems a bit excessive for an individual who while clearly misguided, was not an Al Qaeda kingpin.

No doubt this will not be the last that we hear from these men. They seem to enjoy the spotlight of publicity and their cause has been taken up by others as a way of shining a light on American misdeeds. Unfortunately, little digging has been done into their reasons for being in Afghanistan in the first place and it would be good to get a more candid version from them of their story at some point – especially in light of these new documents.

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Heartland

Posted: December 4, 2009 in Free Rad!cals
Tags: , , , ,

Busy day today. Here is a second post, this time for FreeRad!cals, providing a book review of a rather fun piece of fiction I just finished. I used to read so much more fiction…

http://icsr.info/blog/Heartland

Heartland

Filed under: Radicalisation, Terrorism, UK

I’ve just had the pleasure of finishing reading Heartland by Anthony Cartwright. It is what I have been allowing myself by way of a break as I continue to plough through mountains of information about extremism and radicalization in the UK.

The book is a work of fiction (hence the break I referred to above), that explores in a wonderfully nuanced and sensitive way the issues around the BNP’s rise in the British Midlands against a backdrop of inter-racial tensions in the immediate post-9/11 period. Set in the fictional ward of Cinderheath – which is in the real city of Dudley in the heart of the Black Country – the book follows Rob, a young man who briefly touched minor celebrity as a footballer, but who is settling into life as a school P.E. teacher/assistant. His uncle is the local Labour councilor who is fighting a seemingly losing battle against a slick BNP candidate and his army of football thugs, as the local Muslim community builds a large mosque and people worry about the precedent set by the revelation that three local lads are in Guantanamo Bay (the very real “Tipton Taliban”). In the front of everyone’s minds, however, is football – with England battling their way through the 2002 World Cup (to no avail), while the country’s press are fixated on a local league game which is pitting a local Muslim side against a non-Muslim side.

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This is a slightly older piece that I actually missed when it first ran, which I suppose is quite embarrassing. It was originally meant to run in the monthly magazine I write for Homeland Security today (www.hstoday.us), but in the end it got shunted to the website. It is in essence a counter-terrorism perspective from Europe on Obama’s first 100 days. Some of the information could do with a little updating, but frankly the things I would say probably appear in other things that I have written (or have coming up soon). I would be very grateful for any other thoughts on this one – especially from those who think I have left anything off.

http://www.hstoday.us/content/view/8275/149/
European Views on the First 100 Days

by Raffaello Pantucci
Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Europeans view Obama’s change initiatives on counter-terror front with hopefulness, and caveats.

Prior to his election, European expectations of Barack Obama’s presidency were at almost stratospheric levels. Across the continent, European leaders and publics salivated in anticipation of the new president – and nowhere was this more true than in the United Kingdom, where celebrations of the Obama victory resonated on all sides of the political aisle.
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Another epistolary contribution, this time in the Washington Post in reaction to an article in last week’s paper by Craig Whitlock on “Extradition of Terror Suspects Flounders” – I see they ran it after another letter by someone from Human Rights Watch so maybe I should’ve used my title. My original was a bit longer, but didn’t really say much more and editing probably did it some favours.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/12/27/AR2008122700982_2.html

How to End an Extraditions Roadblock

Sunday, December 28, 2008; Page B06

The excellent article on extraditions highlighted an issue that quietly dogs the “special” Anglo-American relationship. But it missed a more atmospheric reason behind U.S. difficulties regarding extraditions.

In launching the “global war on terror,” the United States declared that the gloves were off and that the rules of the game were different. Yet it continued to expect its allies to adhere to the rules that applied before this new situation was declared. We may all agree that the current strain of terrorism poses a dangerous threat, but this disconnect provides lawyers with ample room for arguments that many European courts will permit.

This situation will fade in importance if the incoming Obama administration is able to live up to its many promises, including closing the Guantanamo Bay prison and realizing that the war on terrorism is a global criminal justice matter and one of many threats we face today, rather than the defining strategic threat.

RAFFAELLO PANTUCCI

London

A rather more modest contribution today, in the form of a letter in today’s International Herald Tribune, also since they chose to cut my initial text down, I am using this opportunity to publish the whole thing after the jump for those interested in reading the whole thing.

http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/11/19/opinion/edlet.php

(and here is the article I was referring to: http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/11/18/opinion/edmassimino.php)

Elisa Massimino forgets to mention that many Guantánamo detainees cannot go home for fear of reprisals or punishment by their home government. The case of the Chinese Uighurs is the best example of this.

Furthermore, what about those who have been involved in terrorist activity, but have also been tortured in Guantánamo, rendering evidence collected against them or others they have implicated problematic in U.S. courts? Are they to be turned loose? Maybe yes – they have been punished enough – but where would they be released?

Raffaello Pantucci, London

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