Former Guantanamo Bay detainee said to have turned suicide bomber

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Photo Source: New York Post

LONDON — A British suicide bomber who blew himself up in Iraq was identified as a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, prompting questions about how his case was handled after lawmakers and the media lobbied hard for his release.

Jamal al-Harith is said to have detonated a bomb this week at an army base near Mosul.

The Islamic State identified the 50-year-old bomber as Abu Zakariya al-Britani, a Muslim convert from Manchester. He was born Ronald Fiddler and was known more widely in Britain as Jamal al-Harith.

In March 2004, after a massive campaign by politicians and the media, Harith was released from the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay along with four others who had been held for two years without trial.

He received a reported 1 million pounds in compensation after the British government settled a lawsuit alleging that British agents were complicit in his torture. The payout was arranged in 2010, when the Conservative Party’s David Cameron was prime minister.

Born in Manchester, Harith worked for a time as a Web designer and later converted to Islam. Shortly after 9/11, he was kidnapped when crossing the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and a few months later was handed over to the Americans and transferred to Guantanamo.

A decade after his return to the United Kingdom, he traveled to Syria to join the Islamic State.

Questions have been raised about how he slipped through the surveillance net and whether it was right for the British government to campaign for his release and then pay him compensation.

Arthur Snell, the former head of Prevent, the government’s flagship counterextremism program, said that British authorities had failed to keep tabs on Harith.

Speaking to the BBC, he said: “It’s obvious that collectively the authorities – and obviously I have some personal responsibility there – we failed to be aware of what Fiddler was up to.”

He said that there was a “whole range of monitoring activities,” from close surveillance to programs to identify those at risk of radicalization.

“More often, the services are in the mental health space rather than law enforcement. It’s impossible to say what was happening in that 10-year period, but what is very clear is that there was a problem and it wasn’t adequately dealt with.”

The Daily Mail, a British tabloid, took a swipe at Tony Blair, who was prime minister when Harith was released from the prison camp in Cuba.

“Still Think He Wasn’t A Danger, Mr Blair? Fury at Labour government’s £1m compensation for innocent Brit,” a headline read.

In a strongly worded statement, Blair called the Mail’s coverage “utter hypocrisy.”

“It is correct that Jamal al-Harith was released from Guantanamo Bay at the request of the British Government in 2004,” he wrote. “This followed a Parliamentary and massive media campaign, led by the Daily Mail, the very paper that is now supposedly so outraged at his release and strongly supported by the then Conservative Opposition. The Mail headline shortly after he was released after months of their campaigning was ‘Freedom At Last for Guantanamo Britons.’ ”

Jack Straw, a Labour politician who served as foreign secretary under Blair, told the BBC that he did not think the Blair administration had made a mistake.

“I don’t think I did get it wrong,” Straw said. “It’s got to be acceptable, we have to be grown-up about this, that if you are asking ministers to release people. . . sometimes they may carry on with criminal activities.”

(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Karla Adam

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