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Profile: Bisher al-Rawi
Bisher al-Rawi was a participant or observer in the following events:
MI5 headquarters in London. [Source: Cryptome]In June and December 1996, and again in February 1997, a British MI5 agent meets with radical Muslim imam Abu Qatada, hoping he will inform on his fellow extremists. Qatada is a Jordanian national who entered Britain in September 1993 using a forged United Arab Emirates passport, and was granted asylum in 1994.
Qatada Promises to Look after British Interests - In his meetings with the MI5 agent he claims to “wield powerful, spiritual influence over the Algerian community in London.” He says he does not want London to become a center for settling Islamic scores, and that he will report anyone damaging British interests. He says the individuals he has influence over pose no threat to British security, and promises that “he would not bite the hand that fed him.” He also promises to “report anyone damaging the interests of [Britain].” The MI5 agent records that “surprisingly enough—[Abu Qatada] revealed little love of the methodology and policies pursued by Osama bin Laden. He certainly left me with the impression that he had nothing but contempt for bin Laden’s distant financing of the jihad.” [Special Immigration Appeals Commission, 1/2004 ; Channel 4 News (London), 3/23/2004; Guardian, 3/24/2004; London Times, 3/25/2004]
Links to Al-Qaeda - Yet Qatada is later described as being a “key [British] figure” in al-Qaeda related terror activity. Around 1996, a highly reliable informer told US intelligence that Qatada is on al-Qaeda’s fatwa (religious) committee (see June 1996-1997). Videos of his sermons are later discovered in the Hamburg flat used by Mohamed Atta. Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, and Zacarias Moussaoui, who is later convicted in connection with the 9/11 attacks, are alleged to have sought religious advice from him. [BBC, 8/11/2005; Guardian, 8/11/2005]
Meetings Apparently Continue - Reportedly, after Qatada’s February 1997 meeting with the British agent, no further such meetings occur. [Special Immigration Appeals Commission, 1/2004 ] However, some French officials later allege that Qatada continues to be an MI5 agent, and this is what allows him to avoid arrest after 9/11 (see Early December 2001). [Observer, 2/24/2002] It will later emerge that Bisher al-Rawi, a friend of Qatada, served as an informant and a go-between MI5 and Qatada in numerous meetings between late 2001 and 2002, when Qatada is finally arrested (see Late September 2001-Summer 2002). Furthermore, al-Rawi says he served as a translator between MI5 and Qatada before 9/11, suggesting that Qatada never stopped being an informant. [Observer, 7/29/2007]
Several weeks after the 9/11 attacks, two agents of MI5, the British equivalent of the FBI, meet with Bisher al-Rawi at his London house and try to recruit him to work as an informant. By one account, the meeting takes place one day after 9/11. Al-Rawi is an ideal candidate because he is well-educated, fluent in English, and a long-time friend of London imam Abu Qatada. [Independent, 3/16/2006; Washington Post, 4/2/2006] Qatada himself has been working as an informant for MI5 since 1996 (see June 1996-February 1997). Al-Rawi will later claim that MI5 asked him to serve as an interpreter between MI5 and Arabic speakers several times before 9/11. He did so, including interpreting for Qatada. He will later comment, ‘On two occasions I asked the officers in private, “Is it OK to have a relationship with Abu Qatada? Is this a problem?’ And they always said, ‘No, it’s fine, it’s OK.’” Al-Rawi agrees to become an informant and begins regularly meeting with the two agents in hotel rooms around London. [Independent, 3/16/2006] For the next year, he will mostly work as a go-between between MI5 and Qatada. Presumably, it would be dangerous for the well-known imam to be seen meeting directly with British agents (see Late September 2001-Summer 2002).
Bisher al-Rawi. [Source: Public domain]In late September 2001, Bisher al-Rawi, a long-time friend of London imam Abu Qatada, agrees to become an informant for the British intelligence agency MI5 (see Late September 2001). Al-Rawi mainly works as an intermediary between MI5 and the high-profile imam. He will later explain that he agreed to work as an informant as an attempt to help ease tensions between the government and the Muslim community. Abu Qatada had begun working as an informant for MI5 in 1996 (see June 1996-February 1997), and contrary to some reports, his relationship with that agency had not yet ended. In December 2001, Abu Qatada reportedly disappears just before a new law passes that would allow his indefinite detention (see Early December 2001). British officials claim to have no idea where Abu Qatada is, and at first apparently they really do not. But al-Rawi soon finds out where he is, tells MI5, and begins passing messages back and forth between MI5 and Abu Qatada. [Observer, 7/29/2007] The Independent will later report, “Abu Qatada was completely aware of Mr al-Rawi’s relationship with MI5. Mr al-Rawi carried questions and answers between the parties, served as a translator, and participated in negotiations with Abu Qatada.” Al-Rawi himself will later say, “All I did in Britain was try to help with steps necessary to get a meeting between Abu Qatada and MI5. I was trying to bring them together. MI5 would give me messages to take to Abu Qatada, and Abu Qatada would give me messages to take back to them.” [Independent, 3/16/2006] According to his family members and his lawyer, soon the MI5 agents are coming to his house and calling him so frequently that his relatives complain. As a result, MI5 gives him a cell phone and agrees to meet with him elsewhere. The British government will later acknowledge that al-Rawi served as an unpaid informant in a court document. [Washington Post, 4/2/2006] In the summer of 2002, al-Rawi begins to have doubts about his role and is fired (see Summer 2002). Abu Qatada is arrested in late October 2002, just after coming out of hiding in an attempt to morally justify the 9/11 attacks (see October 23, 2002). In early November, al-Rawi will fly to Gambia and be detained there (see November 8, 2002-December 7, 2002). [Washington Post, 4/2/2006]
Jamil al-Banna. [Source: Public domain]Jamil al-Banna is friends with Bisher al-Rawi, who is working as an informant for the British intelligence agency MI5. Al-Rawi is mostly helping MI5 communicate with imam Abu Qatada, who also is an MI5 informant but is pretending to be in hiding (see Late September 2001-Summer 2002 and Early December 2001). Al-Banna is aware of al-Rawi’s work and begins to help him. Sometimes al-Banna also serves as a go-between for MI5 and Abu Qatada. Al-Rawi stops working for MI5 in the summer of 2002 (see Summer 2002), but al-Banna does not. For instance, when Abu Qatada is arrested in late October 2002 (see October 23, 2002), al-Banna takes his wife and child home at the request of the British officials on the scene. [Independent, 3/16/2006] But in early November 2002, al-Banna will go to Gambia with al-Rawi on business, and MI5 will turn the two of them over to the CIA to be interrogated (see November 8, 2002-December 7, 2002).
Bisher al-Rawi, an informant for the British intelligence agency MI5, begins to have doubts about his informant work. He is mostly helping MI5 communicate with imam Abu Qatada, another MI5 informant who is pretending to be hiding from the authorities (see Late September 2001-Summer 2002). Al-Rawi is concerned that he might incriminate himself by talking to people who have links to terrorism, and is also concerned that his role as an informant could be publicly exposed. He suggests holding a meeting between his MI5 handlers and a private attorney, and specifically suggests using human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce. However, his MI5 handlers refuse and instead have him meet with an MI5 lawyer known only by the alias “Simon.” Simon assures him that MI5 would come to his aid if he is compromised or has other problems. Al-Rawi will later recall: “[Simon] gave me very solid assurances about confidentiality. He promised they would even protect me and my family if they had to. He said that, if I was ever arrested, I should cooperate with the police. If a matter got to court, he would come as a witness and tell the truth.” Some agents are beginning to have doubts that he is carrying out all their orders, and he brings up the idea of ending the relationship. Then one day one of his MI5 handlers calls him and terminates his MI5 work. [Independent, 3/16/2006; Observer, 7/29/2007] Several months later, MI5 will betray him and turn him over to the CIA to be interrogated in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo (see December 8, 2002-March 2003 and March 2003-November 18, 2007).
Jamil al-Banna and Bisher al-Rawi have been helping the British intelligence agency MI5 communicate with al-Qaeda linked imam Abu Qatada. Al-Rawi had a formal informant relationship but was fired (see Late September 2001-Summer 2002), while al-Banna has been only helping a little on a casual basis (see Summer-Early November 2002). They are planning to travel together to Gambia for business purposes. On October 31, the day before they are to leave, al-Banna is visited by MI5 agents and British police. According to an MI5 memo later given to his lawyers, they attempt to formally recruit him as an informant. They tell him that he could “start a new life with a new identity” and acquire British citizenship (he is a long-time British resident). He turns down the offer. The agents tell him that he can travel to Gambia without a problem and return to Britain when they are done. MI5 records confirm that they are given permission to travel. [Washington Post, 4/2/2006; Observer, 7/29/2007] Al-Banna and al-Rawi leave for their trip the next day (see November 1-7, 2002).
Bisher al-Rawi, Jamil al-Banna, and Abdullah El-Janoudi are scheduled to fly from London to Gambia on November 1, 2002. They are going to help al-Rawi’s brother start a peanut factory there. Al-Rawi had worked as an informant for the British intelligence agency MI5, helping them communicate with imam Abu Qatada, but he was fired several months earlier (see Late September 2001-Summer 2002 and Summer 2002). Al-Banna had also been informally helping MI5 with Abu Qatada, but the day before their trip he had turned down an offer to formally work as an MI5 informant (see Summer-Early November 2002 and October 31, 2002). El-Janoudi is a friend and a British citizen, while the other two men are long-time British residents. At Gatwick Airport in London, the three men are detained by security agents. For four days, they are questioned by police about their luggage and their ties to Abu Qatada. In particular, they are interested in a device al-Rawi has. But on closer inspection, it turns out to be a modified store-bought battery charger. Their houses are also searched for evidence. Finally they are cleared and let go. While they are being held, MI5 contacts the CIA and warns that the three men are about to go to Gambia. MI5 calls al-Rawi an “Iraqi extremist” linked to Abu Qatada and says the battery charger is a timing device for a bomb, even though MI5 already knows this is not true. They fail to mention that al-Rawi and al-Banna have been working as MI5 informants. By the time the three men can get another flight to Gambia, seven days have passed. The Washington Post will later note that this “has led to [later] speculation by the men’s attorneys and families that the delay gave the CIA time to position operatives in Gambia.” [Washington Post, 4/2/2006; Observer, 7/29/2007] The CIA, believing the false information sent by MI5, will detain the three men as soon as they arrive in Gambia on November 8 (see November 8, 2002-December 7, 2002).
Wahab al-Rawi. [Source: Public domain]Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil al-Banna, both long-time British residents, and Abdullah El-Janoudi, a British citizen, fly from London to Gambia. They are planning to help al-Rawi’s brother, Wahab al-Rawi, set up a mobile peanut oil processing company. But before they left, they were detained for several days by police. Meanwhile, the British intelligence agency MI5 sent the CIA false information about them, for instance alleging that al-Rawi was traveling with a timing device for a bomb, even though MI5 had already inspected it and determined it was simply a battery charger (see November 1-7, 2002). MI5 asks the CIA to detain and question them when they arrive in Gambia. Wahab al-Rawi is already in Gambia, and when he and a friend arrive to greet the three men, all five of them are detained by Gambian agents. [Washington Post, 4/2/2006; Observer, 7/29/2007] But the men are moved to hidden locations and safe houses around the capital. Technically, they are held by the NIA, the Gambian intelligence agency, but CIA agents act as if they are in charge. They are intensively interrogated for many days, and one American using the alias Lee leads the questioning. Al-Rawi and al-Banna had recently worked as informants for MI5, helping them communicate with the radical imam Abu Qatada, who was said to be in hiding but was really an MI5 informant himself (see Late September 2001-Summer 2002 and Summer-Early November 2002). However, MI5 has given the CIA the impression that they were not informants but were plotting with Qatada. Al-Rawi will later say, “From the beginning, the questions made it plain that the Americans had been given the contents of my own MI5 file, which was supposed to be confidential. Lee even told me the British were giving him information. I had agreed to help MI5 because I wanted to prevent terrorism, and now the information I had freely given them was being used against me in an attempt to prove that I myself was some kind of terrorist.” [Observer, 7/29/2007] When Wahab refuses to cooperate and asks either for a lawyer or a representative from the British high commission, the Gambian agents laugh and tell him it was the British who ordered the arrests. [Guardian, 7/11/2003] According to Amnesty International, one of them is warned that if he does not cooperate he will be turned over to the Gambian police who will “beat and rape him.” [Amnesty International, 8/19/2003] The Washington Post will later report, “The primary purpose of this elaborate operation, documents and interviews suggest, was not to neutralize a pair of potential terrorists—authorities have offered no evidence that they were planning attacks—but to turn them into informers.” Al-Rawi’s lawyer will later speculate, “Either it was an attempt to put these guys at risk and to use them to find evidence that would implicate Abu Qatada, or it was an attempt to bring them within the closer control of MI5.” Just a day before leaving Britain, MI5 agents asked al-Banna to become a full-time informant and he had turned them down (see October 31, 2002). After about a month, all but Bisher al-Rawi and al-Banna are freed and allowed to return to Britain. The two of them, however, are flown to the US prison in Bagram, Afghanistan, where harsher interrogation methods can be used on them. [Washington Post, 4/2/2006] Before they leave Gambia, one of their US interrogators tells al-Rawi that they now realize the two of them were MI5 informants, but they will be sent to Bagram anyway. “He told me: ‘We know you were working for MI5’, and said if I told the truth I would get out.” [Observer, 7/29/2007]
The CIA has been interrogating two British residents, Bisher Al-Rawi and Jamil al-Banna, in Gambia after the British intelligence agency MI5 falsely told the CIA the two of them were dangerous radical militants. In fact, they were informants working for MI5, and MI5 appears to have used pressure from the CIA as a means to try to get them to resume being informants. But after being interrogated for about a month, they are still unwilling to cooperate. The CIA informs MI5 that the two men will soon be renditioned to Bagram, Afghanistan, to undergo more interrogation. This rendition breaches international law, since the two of them have not been charged with any crime. But MI5 does nothing to help them. [Observer, 7/29/2007] It sends a telegram to the CIA, stating, “[T]his is to confirm that in relation to the Islamists currently in detention in the Gambia, [Britain] would not seek to extend consular protection to non-British nationals.” MI5 also does not inform the rest of the British government about what is happening to the two men. [Channel 4 News (London), 7/30/2007] In Bagram, they will face further pressure to resume their informant work (see December 8, 2002-March 2003).
After 27 days of interrogations in Gambia (see November 8, 2002-December 7, 2002), Wahab Al-Rawi and Abdullah El-Janoudi, both British citizens, are released without charge and returned to Britain. It is reported that the British High Commissioner intervened to secure their release. Wahab’s mobile peanut oil processing company has failed as a result of his detention costing him $250,000. [Guardian, 8/4/2004] Wahab’s brother, Bisher Al-Rawi, and business partner, Jamil al-Banna, both legal British residents, will remain in US custody and end up at Guantanamo. All of them were detained in Gambia because of deliberately false information British intelligence fed the CIA, apparently as part of an elaborate scheme to get them to resume working as British informants (see November 8, 2002-December 7, 2002).
Jamil al-Banna. [Source: Public domain]On December 8, 2002, British residents Bisher Al-Rawi and Jamil al-Banna are secretly flown from Gambia to the US military base in Bagram, Afghanistan. They had been held in Gambia by the CIA after the British intelligence agency MI5 gave the CIA false information suggesting the two of them were Islamist militants. In fact, they had worked until recently as informants for MI5. In Gambia, they were pressured to resume their informant work (see November 8, 2002-December 7, 2002). Once in Bagram, they are again pressured to be informants. The CIA asks if they will inform for them, instead of MI5. Al-Banna in particular is offered increasing sums of money and a US passport if he works for the CIA, but he refuses. [Washington Post, 4/2/2006] They are initially taken to the “dark prison” near Kabul and kept in the cold in complete darkness for two weeks. Loudspeakers blare music at them 24 hours a day. Al-Rawi will later recall: “For three days or so I just sat in the corner, shivering. The only time there was light was when a guard came to check on me with a very dim torch—as soon as he’d detect movement, he would leave. I tried to do a few push-ups and jogged on the spot to keep warm. There was no toilet paper, but I tore off my nappies and tried to use them to clean myself.” After about two weeks, they are taken to the nearby Bagram prison. They are heavily abused there too, starting by beating beaten up as they arrive. The two of them had worked as go-betweens between MI5 and the radical imam Abu Qatada, and in Bagram they are heavily pressured to incriminate Abu Qatada. By this time, Abu Qatada is imprisoned in Britain and fighting deportation. [Observer, 7/29/2007] Al-Banna will later tell a detainee in Guantanamo, Asif Iqbal, that Bagram was “rough” and “that he had been forced to walk around naked, coming and going from the showers, having to parade past American soldiers or guards including women who would laugh at everyone who was put in the same position.” [Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed, 7/26/2004 ] At no time during their detention are they permitted to see a lawyer, despite the fact that a habeas corpus petition has been filed on their behalf and is pending before British courts. In March 2003, they are sent to Guantanamo (see March 2003-November 18, 2007). [Amnesty International, 8/19/2003; Petition for writ of habeas corpus for Bisher al-Rawi, Jamil el-Banna and Martin Mubanga. Jamil el-Banna, et al. v. George Bush, et al., 7/8/2004 ]
Bisher al-Rawi. [Source: Craig Hibbert]In February 2003, British residents Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil al-Banna are transferred from Bagram in Afghanistan to the Guantanamo prison. They spend their first month in isolation. Al-Rawi’s head and beard are shaved off as has allegedly already happened to al-Banna during his detention at Bagram. Al-Banna is put in a cell next to detainee Asif Iqbal. “[S]oon after,” Iqbal will later recall, al-Banna “began to deteriorate.” At Guantanamo, according to Iqbal, “al-Banna was in constant pain from his joints because he suffered from rheumatism and he was diabetic.” [Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed, 7/26/2004 ] Al-Rawi and al-Banna had served as informants for the British intelligence agency MI5, helping MI5 communicate with radical imam Abu Qatada, who also was an MI5 informant (see Late September 2001-Summer 2002 and Summer-Early November 2002). First in Gambia and then in Bagram, they were pressured to resume being informants, but they refused (see November 8, 2002-December 7, 2002 and December 8, 2002-March 2003). After about six months in Guantanamo, an MI5 officer visits al-Rawi and again asks him if he wants to resume being an informer. Later, one of his previous MI5 handlers comes to visit him. He will recall: “I suppose he was nice enough. He asked if I wanted anything. I asked for a book on base jumping. He never came back, and I never got the book.” Eventually, two other previous handlers visit him and try to recruit him yet again. “They said, “You know, Bisher, if you agree to work for us when you get back to Britain, we’ll get you out.” They promised to return, but never did.” When al-Rawi faces a tribunal in September 2004 to determine if his detention is justified, he asks for his previous MI5 handlers to corroborate that he had been an informant. The British government refuses to help in any way, and the tribunal decides that he should continue to be imprisoned. The two of them grow increasingly bored and depressed, and face harsh conditions. For instance, after three detainees commit suicide in June 2006, the jailers retaliate by keeping the air conditioning turned to maximum for months. “We were freezing the whole time. Other times they made it scorching hot,” al-Rawi says. Al-Banna is not even allowed to phone his sick mother just before she dies. [Washington Post, 4/2/2006; Observer, 7/29/2007] Al-Rawi will finally be freed and flown back to Britain on April 3, 2007. Al-Banna will be freed and returned to Britain on November 18, 2007.
Bisher al-Rawi, a long-time British resident originally from Iraq, has been held in the Guantanamo prison since March 2003. He had previously worked as an informant for MI5, a British intelligence agency. MI5 had the CIA arrest him based on information it knew to be false, apparently in an attempt to pressure him to resume working as an informant. Al-Rawi had been keeping his MI5 ties secret, but in March 2006 his lawyer exposes them in an article in The Independent. A similar article soon appears in the Washington Post. [Independent, 3/16/2006; Washington Post, 4/2/2006] That same month, he sues the British government for passing false information about him to the CIA. The British had been refusing to help him get released from Guantanamo on the grounds that he is a British resident and not a British citizen. But on April 20, it is reported that British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has formally written to the US and demanded his release. The Guardian reports, “Government officials [do] not deny that Mr. Straw’s change of heart was to do with Mr. al-Rawi’s links with MI5.” Al-Rawi’s lawyer says: “I see this as a positive development. I’m only left to ask the question what took so long. Did they need the judicial challenge to do the right thing?” [Guardian, 4/20/2006]
The Guardian reports that after months of secret talks, the US has offered to return nearly all British residents still being held at the Guantanamo prison. However, the British government has refused to accept them. Senior officials say they have no right to return, since they are not British citizens, but merely residents. Additionally, the US is demanding that they be kept under 24-hour surveillance after they are released. Britain considers this too expensive and unnecessary. One British counterterrorism official says, “They do not pose a sufficient threat.” At least nine British residents remain in Guantanamo. Britain is reportedly only interested in accepting one of them, Bisher al-Rawi, because he used to work as an informant for MI5, a British intelligence agency. [Guardian, 10/3/2006]
Bisher al-Rawi holding a child after release. [Source: Craig Hibbert]British resident Bisher al-Rawi is released from the Guantanamo prison after being held there for almost five years (see March 2003-November 18, 2007). He and a man named Jamil al-Banna had been arrested by the CIA in 2002 after being given information by the British intelligence agency MI5 that MI5 knew to be false (see November 8, 2002-December 7, 2002). He had worked as an informant for MI5 and they apparently wanted to pressure him to resume informing for them, but he refused. He and al-Banna were interrogated and abused in Gambia, Bagram in Afghanistan, and Guantanamo. He says, “My nightmare is finally at an end.” Al-Rawi’s lawyer says of al-Rawi’s US jailers: “Right to the end they treated him with brutality. On the way to the plane in Guantanamo—they knew he was leaving—they insisted still on shackling him, blindfolding him, putting on earmuffs so he couldn’t hear a thing and keeping him in the back of a very hot, very confined van on the way to the plane.” [BBC, 4/1/2007] Britain showed no interest in helping al-Rawi until he publicly revealed in 2006 that he had been an MI5 informant (see April 20, 2006). Then it took over a year of secret negotiations before the US and Britain came to terms for releasing him (see October 3, 2006).
Jamil al-Banna speaking to the press after returning to Britain. [Source: Getty Images]On November 18, 2007, two British residents, Jamil al-Banna and Omar Deghayes, are released from the Guantanamo prison and returned to Britain. However, both men are immediately arrested when they arrive in Britain, because Spain has had an outstanding extradition request for them and two others since December 2003. The two others were later cleared of all wrongdoing. Al-Banna and Deghayes are released on bail a month later. [BBC, 12/20/2007] Then, on March 6, 2008, Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon drops the extradition request after ruling that they are unfit to stand trial. British doctors who recently examined them say they are in poor health due to torture and inhumane treatment at Guantanamo (see March 2003-November 18, 2007). For instance, al-Banna is said to be severely depressed, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and has diabetes, hypertension, and back pain. [Guardian, 3/6/2008] However, an article in The Guardian will say that while the two men are in poor health, that is really just a face-saving excuse to drop the extradition. Al-Banna in particular appears to have been framed by the British intelligence agency MI5, which gave the CIA false information about him and his friend Bisher al-Rawi that led to their capture and long imprisonment (see November 8, 2002-December 7, 2002 and December 8, 2002-March 2003). Al-Rawi was freed from Guantanamo earlier in the year (see April 1, 2007). The Guardian will say of al-Banna and Deghayes: “The innocence of the men will probably not be acknowledged publicly. It should be, if they are to rebuild their lives after the years of horror.… British complicity in the rendition of al-Banna from the Gambia to Afghanistan, and then to Guantanamo Bay, is in the public domain and shames us all.” [Guardian, 3/6/2008]
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