WASHINGTON – A released Guantanamo Bay terror detainee has re-emerged as an al-Qaida commander in Yemen, highlighting the dilemma facing President Barack Obama in shaping plans to close the detention facility and decide the fates of U.S. captives.
A U.S. counterterror official confirmed Friday that Said Ali al-Shihri, who was jailed in Guantanamo for six years after his capture in Pakistan, has resurfaced as a leader of a Yemeni branch of al-Qaida.
“By Allah, imprisonment only increased our persistence in our principles for which we went out, did jihad for, and were imprisoned for,” he said in a video posted on a militant-leaning Web site Friday. It was the second time this week a reference to al-Shihri has shown up on the Web site. He was mentioned in an online magazine on Jan. 19 with a reference to his prisoner number at Guantanamo, 372.
Al-Shihri was released by the U.S. in 2007 to the Saudi government for rehabilitation. But this week a publication posted on a militant-leaning Web site said he is now the top deputy in “al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula,” a Yemeni offshoot of the terror group headed by Osama bin Laden. The group has been implicated in several attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Yemen’s capital, Sana.
The announcement from the militant site came the same day that President Barack Obama signed an executive order directing the closure of the jail at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, within a year.
A key question facing Obama’s new administration is what to do with the 245 prisoners still confined at Guantanamo. That means finding new detention facilities for hard-core prisoners while trying to determine which detainees are harmless enough to release.
According to the Pentagon at least 18 former Guantanamo detainees have “returned to the fight” and another 43 are suspected of resuming terrorist activities. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell declined to provide the identity of the former detainees or what their terrorist activities were.
It is unclear whether al-Shihri’s name would be a new addition to that list of 61.
Al-Shihri is one of a small number of deputies in the Yemeni group, the U.S. counterterror official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss sensitive intelligence.
The militant Web site referred to al-Shihri under his terror nom de guerre, “Abu Sayyaf al-Shihri.” The video refers to him as “Abu Sufyan al-Azdi al-Shahri.”
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