As a reminder, the above picture is al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s leadership, three of them are former Gitmo detainees.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. has lost track of many former Guantanamo detainees who had been sent home to the Middle East and North Africa, a sign that unrest in the region is disrupting critical terror-fighting relationships America has built up since the Sept. 11 attacks, U.S. officials say.
The flow of information from Libya, Yemen and other governments in the region about the whereabouts and activities of the former Guantanamo detainees, along with other Islamists released from local prisons, has slowed or even stopped, the officials say. U.S. officials say they fear that former detainees will re-join al Qaeda and other Islamist groups.
“Could they go back to the central al Qaeda cadre in Pakistan and add to the global jihad?” asked a senior U.S. intelligence official. “Yes, they could do that. Or they could stay where they are and work on behalf of al Qaeda to penetrate the opposition. Or they could join the opposition. None of those outcomes is particularly encouraging.”
For nearly a decade, the U.S. has conducted a major cloak-and-missile campaign against al Qaeda, teaming up with friendly Arab leaders to swap intelligence, interrogate suspects, train commandos or carry out military strikes from Morocco to Iraq. The value of these partnerships was evident last fall when Saudi Arabia tipped off U.S. and European intelligence agencies about an imminent plot to blow up U.S.-bound cargo planes by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terror group’s affiliate in Yemen.
Now popular movements sweeping the region have knocked some counterterrorism allies from power, and left others too distracted or politically vulnerable to risk open cooperation with the U.S. Intelligence-sharing has already slowed in some areas as the U.S. struggles to identify reliable counterparts in reshuffled governments.
“It’s difficult to share information when you don’t know who the players are,” said another U.S. official. . . .
Privately, counterterrorism officials in the U.S. and Europe are watching the sweeping changes with a mixture of alarm and dread. In addition to their concerns about Yemen, U.S. officials are worried that the level of cooperation from security services in Tunisia and Egypt, longtime partners, will decline as new leaders distance themselves from past abuses. Officials at the Egyptian and Tunisian embassies in Washington did not return calls and emails seeking comment.