Malaysia seeking return of 2 Gitmo detainees: home minister

Muzliza Mustafa and John Bechtel
Kuala Lumpur and Washington
Malaysia seeking return of 2 Gitmo detainees: home minister Flags fly in front of tents at Camp Justice in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba, April 18, 2019.
Alex Brandon/AP

Kuala Lumpur is working to bring home two Malaysian suspects in the 2002 Bali bombings who have been detained at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay for 17 years, the home minister said Monday after a trip to New York last week.

In a Facebook post that has since been removed, Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail said he had discussed the matter while in New York with Tina Kaidanow, the U.S. special representative for Guantanamo affairs. He said he had traveled to the prison, located in Cuba, but did not say when.

“I have met with two Malaysians detained there. Their story really touched me. It’s a downward spiral about life, about repentance, about the chance to be a better person,” Saifuddin said. “With God’s grace, we will try to expedite the process for them to return to Malaysia.” 

The home minister did not reply to BenarNews’ request for comment about why the social media post was removed about nine hours after it went live.

Saifuddin and Inspector General of Police Razarudin Husain were part of the Malaysian delegation led by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim to the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Contacted by BenarNews, Razarudin deferred to the home minister.

Malaysians Mohammed Farik bin Amin and Mohammed Nazir bin Lep, along with Indonesian Encep Nurjaman, also known as Hambali, were expected to face trial in a U.S. military court for their alleged roles in bombings in Bali and Jakarta in 2002 and 2003 that killed hundreds of people.

Following their arrests in Thailand in 2003, the three were sent to secret CIA prisons, so-called black sites, before being moved to Guantanamo in 2006. A U.S. Senate report released in 2014 found that each was tortured during his time in the black sites.

A court document filed by the lead prosecutor in August indicated that bin Amin would no longer be tried along with the other two defendants. 

Bin Amin’s lead attorney, Christine Funk, declined to comment when asked by BenarNews about the significance of the move and whether it might pave the way for his departure from Guantanamo.

Bin Lep’s lawyer, Brian Bouffard, could not be reached for comment. But Nurjaman’s attorney, James Hodes, said he expected bin Lep’s case would also be “severed” from his client’s.

“That’s merely my understanding,” he told BenarNews on Monday, while adding he did not know for sure.

Hodes said he did not expect either Malaysian defendant to attend the next sessions, scheduled for Oct. 16 to 27 on the court calendar. A court administrator told BenarNews the sessions would likely be cut to one week..

Hodes said Hambali was “happy on the one hand” that it appeared his co-defendants could be returning to Malaysia.

“He’s hoping that will be the end result for him as well,” Hodes said.

‘Ready to take them’

The three Southeast Asians appeared in court for the first time in 2021 for a two-day arraignment hearing, but there has been little progress since then, largely due to defense attorneys’ concerns over poor translation services, and a lack of evidence provided to them.

On Monday, counter terrorism analyst Ahmad El-Muhammady of the International Islamic University of Malaysia told BenarNews that he believed the Malaysian government was working on a potential deal for the return of both bin Amin and bin Lep.

“This is the way forward and to meet the humanitarian rights perspective. They have been under detention for 20 years,” he told BenarNews.

Ahmad, who is an adviser to the Royal Malaysian Police on terrorist rehabilitation programs, said both would need to undergo psychological and ideological assessment should they return home.

“But their return will be a lowkey affair due to the sensitivity of the issue. They also need to be put under rehabilitation programs like the former IS fighters and family who we brought home,” he said.

Mohd Mizan Mohammad Aslam, security analyst at the National Defense University of Malaysia, said he would love for bin Amin and bin Lep to be repatriated.

“Let our judiciary system do its best for them. I believe our government is ready to take them and give them an opportunity to come back to our country because they are our people. If they already agree to any kind of consequences, that would be good for them,” he told BenarNews.

“They might spend another few years in detention and then be released back into society.” 

In the past, when former Islamic State fighters or their family members returned home, they were sent to prison or required to undergo rehabilitation and deradicalization programs, he said. Some had to wear electronic monitoring devices on their ankles for up to two years. 

Iman Muttaqin Yusof in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.


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