Center for Strategic Communication

A former Guantanamo detainee who was transferred to his home country of Bahrain in 2005 has reportedly joined the jihad in Syria. According to an article in the Bahrain Mirror on Dec. 28, Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al Khalifah has “return[ed] to jihad” by joining the Syrian mujahideen.

Citing undisclosed sources, the Bahrain Mirror reported that Sheikh Salman was not appropriately rehabilitated following his release from Guantanamo and was “alienated” from his family. This purportedly explains his trip to Syria, where he has “joined the fight.”

But Sheikh Salman first traveled to the Taliban’s Afghanistan prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, indicating that he has long been drawn to the jihadist cause.

Sheikh Ibrahim bin Mohammad al-Khalifa, Sheikh Salman’s father, was quoted in 2002 as saying that his son was detained by the Americans because he was “accused of sympathizing with al Qaeda.”

In a written statement to his combatant review status tribunal at Guantanamo, Sheikh Salman denied any affiliation with al Qaeda or the Taliban. “I am not part of the Taliban or al Qaeda,” he wrote. “I am just a student looking to study and I have no involvement with fighting or combatant [sic], or al Qaeda, or Taliban.” In a brief letter to American officials, his mother claimed that he traveled to Afghanistan to serve a charity.

Leaked Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) threat assessment

According to a leaked JTF-GTMO threat assessment dated May 13, 2005, military officials and analysts at Guantanamo concluded that Sheikh Salman did have ties to the Taliban and al Qaeda. But in that same memo, JTF-GTMO described the Bahraini as a “possible jihadist” and recommended that he be transferred to another country for continued detention. In a previous assessment, JTF-GTMO advised that he be retained in the Defense Department’s custody.

Sheikh Salman “is a prince in the Bahraini royal family” and “related to the current ruler of Bahrain, through a shared great-grandfather,” the JTF-GTMO file reads.

“From September 1999 until April 2000,” Sheikh Salman “studied religion” in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The Bahrain Mirror reports that Sheikh Salman studied sharia at a branch of the Imam Muhammad Bin Saud University. The publication reports that this college “is considered the capital of Salafi religious extremism in Saudi Arabia.”

From Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Salman traveled first to Malaysia and then Egypt, according to the JTF-GTMO file. The ex-Guantanamo detainee allegedly admitted having ties to Gamaa Islamiyya, an Egyptian terrorist group, but refused to discuss these connections.

While in Egypt, Sheikh Salman “watched a television program … that encouraged Muslims to live in an Islamic state” and so he decided to travel to Afghanistan.

Sheikh Salman’s father then “wired him” $5,000 so he could make the trip, the JTF-GTMO file notes, and Sheikh Salman stated that he paid the money “to the Taliban embassy in Islamabad.” Another “Bahraini source” cited in the threat assessment “reported that a member of the Bahraini royal family paid 5,000 USD to have unlimited use of [a] transit house and access to the front line.” JTF-GTMO’s analysts found it was “highly likely” that this source was “referring to detainee.”

Once in Afghanistan, Sheikh Salman allegedly met with various al Qaeda and Taliban personalities. In Kandahar, he visited the Islamic Institute for Religious Studies, which was run by Abu Hafs al Mauritani, a top al Qaeda ideologue and adviser to Osama bin Laden. The Islamic Institute was known for indoctrinating jihadists who would go on to commit suicide attacks and was “tied to many al Qaeda personnel.”

Sheikh Salman met with Abu Hafs directly, according to JTF-GTMO.

After the onset of war in late 2001, Sheikh Salman fled Kabul for Khost province alongside a man known as “Muhammad Abdullah, whom detainee believed was a member of al Qaeda.”

Once in Khost, Jalaluddin Haqqani, a top “Taliban commander” and founder of the deadly Haqqani Network, provided Sheikh Salman with “a place to stay.”

Despite his reported ties to senior al Qaeda and Taliban figures, JTF-GTMO concluded that Sheikh Salman was only of “medium” intelligence value. The US military officials and analysts also deemed him a “medium” risk, “as he may pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.”

Sheikh Salman was one of three Bahraini detainees transferred to their home country on Nov. 4, 2005. One of the other two is Abdullah al Noaimi, who is described in JTF-GTMO’s file as one of Sheikh Salman’s relatives, and possibly his cousin.

Al Noaimi was arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2008. According to a list of confirmed and suspected Guantanamo recidivists released by the US government, al Noaimi was “involved in terrorist facilitation” and “has known associations with al Qaeda.”