Malaysia and the United States are discussing the de-radicalization process required to release at least one of two Malaysians linked to al-Qaeda and who are incarcerated at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi met this week in New York with U.S. Ambassador Lee Wolowsky, the special envoy for the closure of Guantanamo, according to state-run news agency Bernama. Zahid said he was informed about the possibility of the release of detainee Mohamad Bashir Lap to his home country, but that Bashir would have to undergo a de-radicalization process in a Malaysian prison.
Last week, a U.S. Periodic Review Board (PRB) declared that the “continued law of war detention” of Bashir and fellow detainee Mohamad Farik Amin was necessary to “protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”
“[B]oth detainees will receive a file review in six months, just like all detainees who are not approved for transfer through the PRB,” a U.S. State Department official told BenarNews in an email on Friday.
The two Malaysians are among 61 people from around the world being held at Guantanamo, which the U.S. government is looking to shut down.
In its assessment of Bashir, dated Sept. 15, the board noted that it looked forward to reviewing his file in six months, and it encouraged the Malaysian government to undertake efforts to prepare for his possible transfer out of Guantanamo. In Farik’s case, the board did not mention a potential review in six months, and noted a lack of credible evidence that he could be de-radicalized.
According to Zahid, a committee of representatives from Malaysia’s Home Ministry, Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry, National Security Council, Attorney General’s Chambers, Royal Malaysia Police, Prisons Department and Immigration Department, would be set up immediately to establish a protocol regarding the de-radicalization process, Bernama reported. He invited Wolowsky to visit Malaysia to explain the requirements for transferring detainees.
“I am confident the Malaysian de-radicalization program can rehabilitate the Malaysian detainee,” said Zahid, who is also Malaysia’s home minister. He was in New York to lead the Malaysian delegation to the U.N. General Assembly.
On Friday, Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said he hoped the United States would decide to transfer Farik as well. “If the U.S. will let us,” he told BenarNews.
“He is our countryman, he is a citizen of this country. We must take care of him and try to rehabilitate him,” Khalid said, referring to Bashir.
Detainees linked to Bali, Jakarta attacks
Bashir, 39, and Farik, 41, have been in U.S. custody since September 2006.
In a document released in March 2016, the U.S. government described Bashir as a key lieutenant for senior al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) leader Hambali of Indonesia, who also is in custody at Guantanamo Bay.
Following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington, Bashir was to be a member of a suicide cell for an al-Qaeda “second wave” targeting the tallest building in California, the U.S. government alleges. He also allegedly facilitated funding from al-Qaeda that was used for the Bali attacks in 2002 and the bombing of J.W. Marriot hotel in Jakarta in August 2003, which killed a total of 214 people.
“Most of [Bashir]’s comments on life after detention have centered on continuing to engage in violent extremism. [Bashir] views America as an enemy of Islam, and he has spoken of his intent to fight and kill Americans, specifically U.S. soldiers. [Bashir] has not shown any regrets, and should he be released, most likely would engage in wars where he perceives Muslims are being oppressed,” according to the document posted at the U.S. Department of Defense’s Periodic Review Secretariat website.
A similar document filed against Farik claims that Hambali hand-picked him for the California “second wave” and that Farik also facilitated funding for the Bali and Jakarta attacks.
“[Farik] developed a close relationship with Hambali, serving as a key lieutenant and interlocutor, while providing operational support to terrorist activities – including casing potential targets, researching and practicing bomb making, obtaining weapons and acquiring false documents,” the U.S. alleges.
The document states he is willing to be killed on the battlefield, if given the opportunity and shows no specific plan regarding how he would reintegrate in Malaysia, if released.
Hambali, who appeared before the review board in August, has been called an operational mastermind who served as a main liaison between JI and al-Qaeda from 2000 until his capture in 2003.
Malaysian police visited the detainees twice – first in 2007 and again in 2015, a counter-terrorism official told BenarNews.
“It was under the Malaysia’s government request to the U.S. that Malaysian authorities be allowed to conduct assessment on the two detainees,” the expert said. That assessment will be used in the de-radicalization process, according to officials.
Asked about that assessment, Khalid said Malaysia had no plans to share it with the U.S. at this time.
“We will wait for further developments on the proposal made by the deputy prime minister,” he told BenarNews.
During a international counter-terrorism conference in Bali last month, Zahid proposed establishing an Interpol-led secretariat for de-radicalizing militants from South and Southeast Asia. The proposal called for setting up a secretariat spearheaded by the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) whose mission would be to de-radicalize militants at an international level.
Since 2013, Malaysian authorities have arrested at least 230 suspected members of Islamic State and have warned that Malaysians returning from combat stints in Syria or Iraq could launch terrorist attacks at home. At least 72 alleged IS members have been charged in court.