An ex-Guantanamo prisoner who vanished this summer in Uruguay has been arrested in Venezuela, easing concerns that the avowed jihadist was planning to attack the Olympic Games in Brazil.
Jihad Ahmed Mustafa Diyab, a Syrian national, was "arrested last Tuesday by the Bolivarian Intelligence Service of Venezuela," according to a Spanish-language statement from the Uruguayan Consulate in Venezuela. Diyab had been living in Uruguay since 2014. Prior to that, he was known as Inmate 722 at Guantanamo Bay.
Diyab was arrested carrying a Uruguayan refugee passport and identity card, in addition to "a box of drugs," according to the consulate. His former lawyer confirmed his arrest to AMI Newswire.
Diyab was released from Guantanamo to Uruguay in 2014 but disappeared in the middle of June, sparking fears that the admitted al-Qaida supporter intended to attack the Olympic Games in neighboring Brazil. The missing man resurfaced July 26 in Venezuela, where he briefly visited the Uruguayan consulate. Once outside the consulate, Diyab was captured, the former lawyer said.
"He was arrested by Venezuelan police agents," said Jon Eisenberg, who represented Diyab in an unresolved court case stemming from Diyab's time in Guantanamo. "Now he is being held by SEBIN," the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service in Venezuela.
Diyab originally was captured by Pakistani police in April 2002 during a raid on an al-Qaida safe house in Lahore, and soon was transferred to U.S. custody, according to a U.S. military memorandum.
The secret 2008 memo, made public by Wikileaks, was signed by then-Rear Admiral Mark Buzby, who at the time commanded Joint Task Force Guantanamo. The task force runs the prison, known as
Gitmo, which is located on the U.S. Navy's portion of Cuba.
Diyab was a forger who had been sentenced to death in absentia in Syria, "probably for his terrorist activities [there]," the 2008 Buzby memo stated.
At the time, Guantanamo authorities believed Diyab to be untrustworthy.
"Detainee’s account [of his activities] is assessed to be only partially truthful," Buzby wrote in his memo. "Detainee has provided fairly consistent accounts, however, he has feigned physical ailments, refused to repeat his answers, and provided incomplete data."
Diyab was labelled high risk, and "likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests, and allies," Buzby wrote.
Four years following that assessment, Diyab - who had been described in 2008 as being in "fair health" - was released to Uruguay as part of the Obama Administration's efforts to shutter the prison.
American lawmakers were outraged by the move as recently as last month.
Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, believed that Uruguay was particularly unsuited to keep track of the six Gitmo prisoners released into its care. "This committee sounded the alarm about Uruguay’s lack of legal framework and critical resources to prevent travel outside the country," said Royce at a July 7 hearing. "The result? Last month, Jihad Diyab disappeared from Uruguay."
Speculation about Diyab's plan to continue waging holy war intensified when he turned up in Venezuela.
The former inmate arrived at the Uruguayan consulate asking to travel to Turkey, "or to a third country other than Uruguay," consular officials said in a statement. Diyab claimed that he wanted to reunite with his family, the statement said.
The travel request amounted to an "attempt to return to terrorist hotspots in the Middle East," according to a statement on the Royce committee website.
Far from being a high-risk operative in fair health, though, Diyab is a broken man, Eisenberg told AMI Newswire. "He is a physical and emotional wreck."
The damage stems from being repeatedly force-fed while on hunger strike in captivity at Gitmo, said the lawyer, who represented Diyab in an effort to compel the U.S. government to release a series of classified tapes of the force-feedings.
Diyab is so debilitated from imprisonment that he now walks on crutches, Eisenberg said.
Diyab complained of orthopedic problems before arriving at Guantanamo, though, and did not suffer debilitating injuries in prison, said an official who worked the prison during Diyab's detention. "He was deceitful in prison and I expect him to be deceitful now," said the official, who requested anonymity.
Eisenberg described Diyab as too enfeebled to carry out Islamist terror attacks of the kind that have been erupting throughout this summer in Europe, Africa, and the United States.
"I can understand how someone who didn't know about Diyab's current physical and emotional condition would be alarmed," Eisenberg said. "Anyone who understood his true condition would not be alarmed. He is not going to return to the battlefield."
Diyab reportedly remains in custody in Venezuela, where authorities have given no indication of what happens next, nor where he will go.
The Embassy of Venezuela in Washington, D.C. did not respond to repeated requests for comment.