AL-QA’IDA has threatened to unleash a “nuclear hellstorm” if its leader Osama bin Laden is captured or killed, according to a vast cache of secret documents detailing the interrogation of more than 750 Guantanamo Bay detainees that was released by WikiLeaks yesterday.
The documents, which include detailed intelligence assessments on former Australian detainees David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib, reveal that the terrorist organisation plotted major chemical and biological attacks on Britain and mass poisonings across the US.
Classified “secret” and marked “no form”, meaning they should not be shared with foreign governments, the files are likely to reignite debate about the world’s most controversial prison.
Most of the 172 prisoners still held at the US military detention facility in Cuba have been rated as posing a high risk to the US and its allies if released, according to the WikiLeaks files.
The intelligence assessments, written between 2002 and 2009 by US military intelligence officials, provide a detailed account of the movements of bin Laden, his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri and other senior al-Qa’ida leaders following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. But there is no evidence in the documents that the US is closer to capturing bin Laden, whose last confirmed sighting was in the Tora Bora mountains of eastern Afghanistan in December 2001.
The release of the documents, which were published simultaneously by several news groups including The Washington Post, Spain’s El Pais, Germany’s Der Speigel and Britain’s The Daily Telegraph, was condemned by the White House.
The Obama administration’s special envoy on detainee issues, Daniel Fried, and Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said: “It is unfortunate that several news organisations have made the decision to publish numerous documents obtained illegally by WikiLeaks concerning the Guantanamo detention facility.”
According to documents released to The Daily Telegraph, a senior al-Qa’ida commander claimed the terrorist group had hidden a nuclear bomb in Europe that would be set off in the event of bin Laden’s capture or assassination. Numerous attempts by al-Qa’ida to obtain nuclear materials and uranium were uncovered by interrogators, the paper said.
The threat to unleash a nuclear hellstorm was made by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the most senior detainee held at Guantanamo and the confessed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, who is due to face a military tribunal later this year.
Other plots uncovered by US interrogators included an attempt to recruit ground staff at London’s Heathrow airport, according to information supplied by Mohammed al-Qahtani, the 20th 9/11 hijacker. Britain was singled out for chemical and biological attacks.
In the US, al-Qa’ida operatives planned to target infrastructure, including utility networks and service stations, and proposed putting cyanide in airconditioning units, according to files released to The Daily Telegraph.
The intelligence summaries include information about each detainee’s physical and mental health, and recommendations on whether to keep them in US custody, hand them over to foreign governments for imprisonment or set them free.
They confirm that more than 100 al-Qa’ida terrorists have been held at Guantanamo, including 15 of its most senior operatives.
But the documents show about 150 of the detainees were innocent civilians who were in some cases sold to US forces before being transferred to Guantanamo via third countries.
The Daily Telegraph, which has seen all of the files, said that in dozens of cases senior US commanders concluded that there was “no reason recorded for the transfer”.
But, in a potentially embarrassing revelation for the US, the documents show about a third of the 600 prisoners transferred to other countries were designated as “high risk” before they left Guantanamo.
Another troublesome revelation for the US and its allies fighting Muammar Gaddafi’s forces in Libya is the alleged links between one of the rebels’ presumed trainers and al-Qa’ida.
According to WikiLeaks files obtained by National Public Radio in the US, Abu Sufian bin Qumu was engaged in violent extremist activities for two decades, previously training at two al-Qa’ida camps, fighting with the Taliban and serving as bin Laden’s driver in Sudan.
He was held for six years at Guantanamo before the US agreed to hand him over to the Libyans in 2007, despite an assessment that his release would represent “a medium to high risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies”.
Freed by the Libyan authorities last year, he is reportedly a leader of the ragtag band of fighters known as the Darnah Brigade, named after his home town, which claims to be the world’s most productive recruiting ground for suicide bombers.