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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. (Whitlock 4/2/2006; Rose 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.” (Rose 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. (Dodd 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. (Whitlock 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.” (Rose 7/29/2007)
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. (Brittain 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).
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