MUCH HAS BEEN WRITTEN about Salim
Hamdan, an admitted driver for Osama bin Laden who was convicted on charges of
supporting al Qaeda by a military jury at Guantanamo Bay earlier this week.
Said Boujaadia, the suspected terrorist who was captured with Hamdan in
Afghanistan in late 2001, has received far less attention. In some ways,
Boujaadia's story is more intriguing.
Like Hamdan, Boujaadia was once a
detainee at Gitmo. But Boujaadia never received the high-profile trial Hamdan
did. Instead, Boujaadia was repatriated to his native Morocco in May of this
year--more than one year after authorities at Gitmo authorized his transfer.
Boujaadia was held at Gitmo as a witness for Hamdan's trial, and when his role
there ended Moroccan authorities took custody of him. But, Boujaadia's transfer
does not mean he has been deemed an innocent. According to the last public
accounts of his case, Moroccan authorities were investigating Boujaadia's
plethora of ties to al Qaeda and global terrorism. Indeed, according to
unclassified files produced by the U.S. government at Gitmo, the Moroccans have
much to investigate.
On November 24, 2001, hundreds of
troops loyal to Afghan leader Gul Agha Shirzai seized the village of Takhteh
Pol in Northern Afghanistan. In the process they cut off the major highway
leading out of the village and, within two hours, found themselves in the
middle of a gun fight with a group of Arabs who were all associates of Osama
bin Laden. One of the Arabs, according to the U.S. government, was one of bin
Laden's sons-in-law. Three Arabs were killed in the shootout. And two others,
Boujaadia and Hamdan, were captured along with shoulder-fired SA-7 missiles.
Prior to his time in Afghanistan,
according to the U.S. government's files, Boujaadia had consorted with
high-ranking members of two known al Qaeda affiliates: the Moroccan Islamic
Combatant Group ("GICM") and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group
("LIFG"). Suspiciously, Boujaadia even allegedly made a trip to Spain
with associates of both groups in 2000. However, the government's files do not
indicate the purpose of their trip.
In an attempt to disguise their
disturbing ties, Hamdan and Boujaadia "agreed to tell interrogators a
cover story that they worked for the Al Wafa organization." But it was not
much of a cover. Al Wafa is a Saudi-based organization that has posed as a
charity but, in reality, was a front for the Taliban's and al Qaeda's
operations. Al Wafa has been designated as an entity that supports terrorism
under Executive Order 13224. Dozens of detainees at Gitmo, according to the
U.S. government's files, have ties to al Wafa. The organization was
particularly adept at smuggling terrorist operatives into and out of
Afghanistan--including through transit hubs inside Iran. Indeed, Boujaadia
traveled with his family to Afghanistan in July 2001 via Damascus, Syria, Tehran,
Iran, and Meshad, Iran.
Boujaadia's trip to Afghanistan was
facilitated by an especially dangerous al Qaeda operative named Abdul Rahim
al-Sharqawi, aka "Riyadh the Facilitator." Both al-Sharqawi and
Boujaadia's brother-in-law, Zuhair Hilal Mohamed al-Tbaiti, were implicated in
an al Qaeda plot to attack British and American ships in the Strait of
Gibraltar in 2002. Indeed, according to the U.S. government, al Qaeda sent
Zuhair "to Morocco to identify United States targets for future attacks"
in mid to late January 2002. Moroccan authorities short-circuited the plot when
they detained three Saudis, including Zuhair, and four native Moroccans.
Zuhair, who was arrested in Morocco on May 12, 2002, was convicted of plotting
the attacks and received a 10-year prison sentence in February 2003.
The successful dismantling of the
plot against ships in the Strait of Gibraltar may be one of the success stories
to come out of the intelligence collected from detainees at Gitmo. In June
2002, a "senior Moroccan official" told CNN that the CIA had
provided Moroccan authorities with the details they needed to stop the plot
based on intelligence "from a suspected al Qaeda member in custody at the
U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba." CNN did not say which
detainee provided the intelligence, but it is possible Boujaadia was the
source. For example, CNN reported:
"a suspected al Qaeda member
held at in Guantanamo Bay told CIA agents about members of al Qaeda who were
active in Morocco, but gave few details other than one suspect's first name --
That is, one of the only details the
Gitmo suspect reportedly supplied his interrogators with was the first name of
Boujaadia's brother-in-law. Given that report, and Boujaadia's long-standing
ties to members of al Qaeda's Moroccan affiliate, the GICM, it is not an
unlikely supposition that Boujaadia was the one who tipped off authorities. (Of
course, it is possible that some other Gitmo detainee fingered the suspects,
The U.S. government's files on
Boujaadia contain other important details as well. It seems that Boujaadia
adopted a kunya, which is an honorific that can be used as an alias, during his
time in Afghanistan. And his kunya, Hakim al-Maghrebi ("the Maghrebi"
refers to Boujaadia's roots in North Africa), was found on an Arabic document
listing "names of al Qaeda martyrs, those missing in action, those
imprisoned brothers, and those who had escaped to Pakistan, as well as names of
individuals assigned to various military positions and units." Such lists
are an important source of intelligence for counter-terrorism analysts at
Gitmo. They are frequently used to identify detainees' ties to the al Qaeda
In addition, an unnamed
"foreign government" confirmed for U.S. investigators that Boujaadia
"attended training camps" in Afghanistan. Among the camps he
allegedly attended was the al-Farouq camp near Kandahar. Al-Farouq graduated many
noteworthy al Qaeda alumni, including several 9-11 hijackers, until it was
bombed in late 2001. Roughly 100 of the suspected terrorists who have been held
at Gitmo have allegedly trained at al-Farouq. The U.S. government alleges that
Boujaadia spent eleven days at al-Farouq in September 2001, and during that
short time "he received training on the AK-47, RPG, pistol, BK machine
gun, formations, hand-to-hand combat and physical fitness."
While Hamdan's case has
understandably been at the center of attention, Boujaadia's story is at least
as interesting. And it is possible that his capture stopped a terrorist plot
from getting off the ground.