A version of this article was originally published at The Weekly Standard.
An ex-Guantanamo detainee based in northern Pakistan is leading an effort to recruit jihadists for the Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot that controls large portions of Iraq and Syria.
Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost, who was detained at Guantanamo for three years, has sworn allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. Dost’s oath of allegiance was issued on July 1, just two days after Baghdadi named himself “Caliph Ibrahim I” and declared that his Islamic State was now a “caliphate.”
Pakistani officials have accused Dost of recruiting jihadists for Baghdadi’s organization. He is thought to be behind a graffiti campaign, which aims to spread pro-Islamic State messages throughout northern Pakistan.
According to Dawn, a Pakistani newspaper, Dost has even been named the head of the Islamic State’s presence in the “Khorasan,” an area that covers much of Central and South Asia, including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.
US officials have confirmed to The Long War Journal that Dost is recruiting for the Islamic State. It is not clear how effective his efforts have been, given that Dost and his supporters are operating in areas that are strongholds for al Qaeda and the Taliban, both of which are opposed to Baghdadi’s “caliphate” project.
Thus far, the Islamic State has had only limited success in Pakistan and elsewhere in attracting established jihadists to its cause. However, Dost, who is in his 50s, is a veteran jihadist leader.
Dost was originally detained in Pakistan in late 2001. He was transferred to US custody and detained at Guantanamo for three years. Dost was already a veteran jihadist with a thick dossier at the time.
But US officials transferred Dost from Guantanamo to Afghanistan in April 2005. Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO), which oversees the detention camps, recommended that he be released or transferred due to his health problems. Dost “poses a low risk, due to his medical condition,” JTF-GTMO concluded in a memo that was subsequently leaked. A combatant status review tribunal (CSRT) at Guantanamo also concluded at some point that Dost was no longer an enemy combatant.
In 2006, however, Dost was detained in Pakistan once again. He was subsequently part of a prisoner exchange between the Taliban and the Pakistani government in 2008. Dost and Taliban fighters in Pakistani custody were exchanged for Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan and dozens of Pakistani soldiers, all of whom were in the Taliban’s custody. The deal was reportedly brokered by Baitullah Mehsud, who led the al Qaeda-linked Pakistani Taliban until his death in 2009.
A statement by Dost explaining his reasons for swearing allegiance to Baghdadi was included in a jihadist propaganda video posted online in July. The Long War Journal has obtained a translation of the video.
Dost claims that he had a vision predicting the establishment of Baghdadi’s caliphate during his time in US custody.
“While in Guantanamo in ,” Dost claims, “I saw a vision of a palace with a huge closed door, above which was a clock pointing to the time of 10 minutes before 12.” Dost says he “was told that was the home of the caliphate” and so he “assumed then that the caliphate would be established after 12 years.”
Coincidentally, the Islamic State declared its caliphate in 2014 – or 12 years after Dost’s supposed vision.
Dost argues that ever since the caliphate fell in 1924 the Islamic ummah [worldwide community of Muslims] “has experienced phases of disagreement, division, failure and disputes” and “become divided into fighting groups and different small states” that fail to represent Islam. All Muslim governments are now null and void, Dost says, as they have been replaced by the caliphate with Baghdadi, the “caliph of the Muslims, the emir of the believers,” as its leader.
Dost thanks Allah for the “opportunity to witness the establishment of the Islamic caliphate” under Baghdadi’s leadership. He swears allegiance to Baghdadi and calls on all other Muslims to do the same.
The video of Dost’s allegiance to Baghdadi includes a summary of his extensive biography. In the 1970s, Dost studied under a jihadist sheikh in Afghanistan. Some of the sheikh’s students would go on to join al Qaeda. Dost joined the jihad against the Soviets in the late 1970s.
In 1979, Dost was among the radicals, led by Juhayman al Utebi, who laid siege to the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Juhayman and his men challenged the Saudis’ right to rule over Islam’s holy sites, but were eventually extracted by force from the mosque. That incident influenced the next generation of Islamic militants, including some of al Qaeda leaders. Dost was arrested shortly after the siege, but somehow escaped and made his way to Peshawar, where he joined the jihad once again.
Dost soon became a prolific writer, publishing three magazines and authoring numerous articles and books.
According to his biography, Dost had “good relations with the Taliban and the mujahideen.” Interestingly, Dost claimed the opposite during his combatant status review tribunal (CSRT) at Guantanamo, saying that he was at odds with the Taliban prior to his capture in late 2001. Dost is more forthcoming about his Taliban ties pre-9/11 now that he is free.
Dost says the Pakistanis detained him in 2006 because his book, “The Broken Chains,” exposed the “truth” about the prisons in Pakistan and at Guantanamo. Since his release in 2008, he has been living with the tribes in Waziristan, Pakistan, where he holds “sharia workshops, meets with delegates, writes, tours the tall mountains of Afghanistan, and participates in the fields of struggle.”
After his release from Guantanamo in 2005, Dost frequently portrayed himself as an innocent who was wrongly detained. In favorable press accounts, Dost claimed that the Americans had confiscated much of his poetry and refused to return it. Several of Dost’s “poems” were also included in a volume compiled by advocates for the detainees. The book, “Poems from Guantanamo,” was intended to portray the detainees in a sympathetic light. (Other contributors to the book are also known recidivists.)
Today, according to sources in Pakistan, Dost is producing “propaganda booklets” advocating on behalf of Baghdadi and the Islamic State’s caliphate.