Former Gitmo Detainees Behind Plot?
by Steven Emerson
Interview on MSNBC
December 30, 2009
Multimedia for this item
CHRIS JANSING: In the meantime, the U.S. is trying to determine whether men who were once held under lock and key at Guantanamo Bay helped mastermind the plot to bring down a U.S. bound jet. The very suggestion could pose serious concerns for the Obama Administration, facing the question of what to do with dozens of Yemeni nationals still being held at the prison in Cuba. Steve Emerson is a NBC News Terrorism Expert and Executive Director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism. Steve, good morning to you.
STEVEN EMERSON: Good morning, Chris.
JANSING: We know this early in the investigation, but from what you are reading and hearing, what's the likelihood Abdulmutallab, this suspect, is telling the truth and that he's tied to Al Qaeda in Yemen.
EMERSON: I think we can take him at face value; that he is tied to Al Qaeda. It depends how you define Al Qaeda. I don't think it's the same organization that existed on 9/11. It's a much more decentralized organization with chapters and franchises that basically anoint themselves to the organization and carry out attacks in the name of Al Qaeda without getting the permission of the leaders of the organization. So, I think that we can take him at face value. The question that you raise initially is who trained him, who was the mastermind of this plot and was it connected to those that had been released prior to this plot? After all, 90% of those radical detainees that had been sent back to Yemen had gone back to fighting the jihad. That's a 90% recidivism rate; that's extraordinary, which, as you pointed out, is going to cause problems for him when it comes down time to his promise to close Guantanamo Bay.
JANSING: Let's talk about some of the things we do know, that former Gitmo prisoners involved in Al Qaeda in Yemen or Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as this organization is known. In fact, came from Gitmo went there, and one of them, and I may not pronounce his name correctly. You can certainly correct me but Alshiri supposedly number two. He apparently at one point was released. He goes to Saudi Arabia, he takes this training to renounce extremism which includes a dialogue and art therapy. He promptly goes back to Yemen and re-ups in Al Qaeda. What does that tell us about the situation there?
EMERSON: Don't forget the crayons. That was very important in the rehabilitation process.
JANSING: You're not joking either.
EMERSON: No, I'm not. It sounds like I'm joking but that's actually part of what the Saudi's institute- part of the rehabilitation process which essentially amounted to nothing, because again, all of these prisoners went back to fighting the Jihad against the United States.Yemen is the new battlefront of Al Qaeda's war against the United States.
JANSING: So you agree with Joe Lieberman on that, that we've got to watch out because that's the next big area. We already had Pakistan and Afghanistan, but those are places where the United States and our allies have already had some success in disabling Al Qaeda because of our heavy presence there.
EMERSON: I think that the strikes by the Predators in Waziristan and Afghanistan have actually forced Al Qaeda to relocate to some extent to Yemen. Now, I don't say that containing Yemen because it's a decentralized government-there's no control over the areas now controlled by Al Qaeda is the only solution, Chris, because I think that we still have homegrown Islamic jihadists in the United States. You're not going to bomb Texas; you're not going to bomb Maryland. On the other hand, we have to acknowledge the fact that the threat against the United States, the homeland, is coming from a multitude of radical Islamic sources; whether they are based in the U.S. or based overseas, the latest of which shows that a large concentration are based in Yemen and the question is what can be done about it without having to engage the United States in a more boots on the ground question about putting itself in harm's way. And the reality is that unless you put yourself on the ground, if you just restrict yourself to air strikes, you're not going to get the intelligence you need to actually find out where the terrorists are located.
JANSING: Alright, Steve, thanks so much.
EMERSON: Sure, you're welcome.