US rejects Jemaah Islamiah leader Hambali's request for release from Guantanamo

Pictures of Southeast Asian terror mastermind Hambali are seen in front page of Malaysian newspaper The Star.
Pictures of Southeast Asian terror mastermind Hambali are seen in front page of Malaysian newspaper The Star.PHOTO: THE STAR

WASHINGTON - Jemaah Islamiah terrorist Hambali will not be released from Guantanamo Bay prison as he poses a "significant threat to the security of the United States", a US government review board has said.

The terrorist, who is also known as Riduan Isamuddin or Encep Nurjaman, is one of the leaders of the extremist group that has been blamed for a string of bombings in Indonesia, including the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people. The group has also planned strikes in Singapore with a view to establish an Islamic state in South-east Asia through violent means. Hambali is also suspected to have links to Al-Qaeda.

He had appeared before the Periodic Review Board via video link in August, seeking to be released after being held for 10 years at the Cuban prison without being charged.

But the board - created by US President Barack Obama's administration to identify inmates that could be freed as part of a broader effort to shut down the infamous detention centre - noted that Hambali had a “lengthy history as a jihadist” and played a "significant role in major terrorist attacks". It also observed that he had failed to show remorse for his actions, another factor in its decision to reject his release.

After US President Barack Obama unveiled a roadmap to close Guantanamo in February, the Indonesian government expressed opposition to the potential return of Hambali to the country, reported Agence France-Presse.

The decision is likely to be welcomed by governments in Southeast Asia as signs indicate that the influence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group has sparked a resurgency in militancy. 

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, had succeeded in weakening dangerous networks, including Jemaah Islamiah with a tough crackdown following the Bali bombings.

However, ISIS has inspired a string of attacks and plots in the past year in Indonesia and other parts of the region, including a deadly gun and suicide bombing assault in Jakarta in January claimed by the Islamists.

In another decision, the Periodic Review Board rejected a proposal to free Guleed Hassan Ahmed, a Somalian also being held at Guantanamo. He has been described as a "key member of Al-Qaeda's East Africa network'.

The board said it denied Hassan Ahmed's release because of a "lack of specificity and credibility" in his responses to questions. However, it left the door open for a review of his case in six months.

The New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights, which was representing Hassan Ahmed, slammed the decision, calling the hearing unfair and alleging that he was being held on the basis of information obtained through torture by the CIA.

"He should not have been brought to Guantanamo 10 years ago, and his continued detention only serves as another opportunity for the Obama administration to avoid accountability for what happened in the CIA torture programme," the centre said in a statement.

Sixty prisoners are currently being held at the Guantanamo Bay prison, including 20 that have been cleared for release.