Former Guantanamo inmate granted flat and helper in Estonia

Erkki Koort ja Artur Kink pressikonverentsil.

PHOTO: Liis Treimann

Wednesday night saw arrival into Estonia of Ahmed Abdul Qader (31) released from detention in Guantanamo for over 12 years.

As admitted by interior ministry domestic security vice chancellor Erkki Koort, Estonia did not desire to disclose the man’s identity but in America the traditions are otherwise. The man’s photo, however, was available in Wikileaks materials. Mr Koort says the picture is old.

As evidenced in the documents released by The New York Times, the man was suspected in Al-Qaeda membership and had received correspondent training. He was linked with a group operating in Faisalabad, Pakistan focussed on attacking US and allied troops in Afghanistan with homemade explosives. 

On March 28th 2002, the man was indeed arrested in the town of Faisalabad where he was allegedly staying in a security house belonging to the Pakistani terrorist organisation. All in all, the raids in two houses resulted in the arrest of at least 23 individuals, among whom was alleged Osama bin Laden henchman Abu Zubaydah – not in the same building as Qader, though.

As explained by Mr Koort, charges were not brought to the man for the lack of sure evidence.

Mr Qader has assured the investigators he does not know Mr Zubaydah. His testimony might lead to the conclusion that, as a young man in a foreign land, he just happened in the wrong company.

«He may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people. It all happened ten years ago while the individual was also very young. While young, people do stupid stuff and seek for a place in society,» was also the way Mr Koort put it.

According to testimony, in 1999 Mr Qader’s father bought him a ticket from Yemen to Karachi, Pakistan, that he might there study the computer and the Koran.  

From there, however, Mr Qader illegally found his way to Afghanistan where, in his own words, he wanted to work in some nongovernmental organisation. First he travelled to the town of Quetta, close to the Pakistani border, and from there on to Kabul. He turned to the al-Wafa humanitarian aid organisation to join it, but was advised to stay in Pakistan to study the Koran. Soon, Mr Qader returned to Quetta.

Later, moving between Afghanistan and Pakistan several times, while in Kabul he met members of the Taliban who convinced him to join their ranks. In the fall of 2000 he did travel to the Taliban rear where, according to documents, he was used to handle an automatic rifle; in his own words he just cleaned the weapons, cooked food and gathered firewood.  

He claims he wanted to leave and after some months passed he indeed went to Kabul where he stayed till the fall of 2001.

From there, he travelled to Pakistan where an unknown person advised him to move on to Faisalabad, where Mr Qader finally was arrested.

No communication with family

So what is the former inmate’s mentality today? «He wants to leave the former life behind, he does not want to communicate with former acquaintances, nor with people he was with at Guantanamo. We do not know that he is too eager to communicate with his family,» said Mr Koort.

Mr Qader has applied for asylum in Estonia. The application is being reviewed at Police and Border Guard Board which will pass its decision within six months since the application was filed. For people under international protection, temporary residence permit is granted for up to three years.

«He is a free man in Estonia, under proceedings regarding application for asylum. He is applying for asylum and as a result of that he is granted residence permit. A person with residence permit may freely move both within Schengen and outside of it,» added Mr Koort.

Social ministry social welfare department involvement policy head Triin Raag said the man was given a small apartment and a support person who will help him during two years. Also, he is getting health care services and subsistence benefit. «This is to ensure smooth and pain-free integration in the society. This is what we offer to all who apply for asylum,» said Ms Raag.

Picked by officials

The person sent from Guantanamo to Estonia was chosen by interior ministry officials who also went to talk to the inmates to see which of these would be the easiest to integrate into the society. «We wanted to pick the person we would take and we wanted to know his history – how he has behaved, what kind of relations he has with family and fellow prisoners,» said Mr Koort.

The 31 years old Mr Qader expressed willingness to integrate, and he also speaks English.

To begin with , he knew nothing about Estonia. «While at Guantanamo, he has been trying to get in the know with the conditions in Estonia. Had he just sat around numb, the likelihood to reintegrate in society would have been smaller,» said Mr Koort, adding that the man will still need much support. «For 12 years he was separated from society and he was relatively young when he found himself at Guantanamo. Just on his own, he would have a very hard time.»

For former inmates, integration has been patchy. «Some have joined with their families and gone  home,» said Mr Koort, adding that for the man now in Estonia returning home may be life-threatening due the Yemeni regime.

Meanwhile, it is known that some inmates have committed offences. «But it cannot be said this would be the contingent who, upon release, immediately would take the criminal path,» said Mr Koort. «Several released individuals have said they want nothing in common with their former life.»

It has also happened that former inmates have recruited local people into terrorist organisations, to send them into conflict areas. «It hasn’t happened that they would have headed back to war themselves,» assured Mr Koort.

As Barack Obama rose to be US President in 2009, he promised that the Guantanamo prison camp would be closed down. The European Union supported the decision while not ruling that member states must receive former prisoners.

In 2014, the United States asked Estonia to consider receiving a former inmate. According to Mr Koort, the request was in no way related to Mr Obama’s visit to Estonia. Last October, the government decided to say yes.

The man that came

Full name: Ahmad Abdel Qader Ahmad Hasan Abu Bakr

Place of birth: Sana’a, Yemen

Date of birth: November 25th 1983

Source: The New York Times

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