WASHINGTON — The Department of Defense says that a case of mistaken identity has kept Mustafa Abd-al-Qawi Abd-al-Aziz al-Shamiri locked away at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for the last 13-and-a-half years.
Al Shamiri is an admitted fighter associated with U.S.-designated terror groups who has “fought in several jihadist theaters,” a Pentagon document filed as part of a review of his detention.
“It was previously assessed that YM-434 (al-Shamiri) also was an al Qaeda facilitator or courier, as well as a trainer, but we now judge these activities were carried out by other known extremists with names or aliases similar to YM-434’s,” U.S. officials said in a recently released detainee profile dated September 26.
The Defense Department had previously declared al-Shamiri as an “enemy combatant” since his arrival in Guantanamo in 2002 and he was recommended for continued detention there as recently as 2010.
A statement from al-Shamiri’s personal representative was presented Tuesday at the detainee’s Periodic Review Board hearing, which is part of the Obama administration’s process to determine which Guantanamo detainees still merit continued detention and which can be repatriated or released to other countries.
Al-Shamiri’s representative said that he is not a continuing significant threat to the U.S. and is willing to go to any country that will accept him, as his home country Yemen is under a moratorium for accepting Guantanamo detainees because of instability.
“Mustafa does have remorse for choosing the wrong path early in life,” the statement reads. “He is prepared to begin life outside go GTMO.” It is unclear when U.S. officials plan to make a decision on his release.
According to that detainee assessment, al-Shamiri was believed to be a member of the al Qaeda cell responsible for the USS Cole bombing and also a fighter in Osama bin Laden’s 55th Arab Brigade, the terror leader’s primary unit supporting the Taliban battling U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
But according to the new Defense Department profile of al-Shamiri, he played no role in the attack on the U.S. naval ship in Yemen in 2000.
“He may have been collocated at a safe house in Yemen with operatives who plotted the USS Cole bombing, although there are no other indications that he played a role in that operation,” the report said.
“Further analysis of the reporting that supported past judgments that YM-434 was an al Qaeda facilitator, courier, or trainer has revealed inconsistent biographical, descriptive, or locational data that now leads us to assess that YM-434 did not hold any of these roles,” the report states.
U.S. officials, however, maintain that al-Shamiri previously fought in Bosnia in 1995 and has admitted to interrogators that he then went to Yemen to fight in that country’s civil war in 1996. He eventually made it to Afghanistan where he took explosives training and fought with the Taliban from 2000-2001 against the U.S. backed Northern Alliance.
It was the Northern Alliance forces that captured al-Shamiri in late 2001 after a battle sent Taliban and al Qaeda fighters into retreat and he, along with hundreds of other combatants, were then sent to Qala-I-Jangi prison in Mazar-e-Sharif.
The prison was the site of a protracted firefight between U.S. and Afghan forces, and the prisoners, who staged an uprising and armed themselves by raiding a nearby weapons depot. It was during this battle that the U.S. suffered its first casualty since 9/11 when CIA agent Johnny Michael Spann was killed.
The prisoners who were not killed in the battle eventually surrendered and some were transferred to U.S. custody, including al-Shamiri on January 15, 2002.
Since he’s been imprisoned, U.S. officials have deemed him “largely compliant.”
While conceding they “have little insight into [al-Shamiri’s] current mindset,” U.S. officials now seem to agree with earlier statements al-Shamiri made to interrogators that he only fought “to protect other Muslims” and was not interested in “global jihad,” according to the report.