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Bulgarian Media: Suicide Bomber Is Former Gitmo Detainee UPDATED: Bulgarian Government Says It’s Not

The Bulgarian media are reporting that the terrorist who killed five Israeli tourists, though the list could grow to eight, was named Mehdi Ghezali. Ghezali had a long history of terrorist activities, including stints in a Portuguese jail, Guantanamo Bay, and a Pakistani jail.

From the Times of Israel:

Bulgarian media on Thursday named the suicide bomber who blew up a bus full of Israeli tourists, killing five, in Burgas on Wednesday as Mehdi Ghezali. . . .

Ghezali was reportedly a Swedish citizen, with Algerian and Finnish origins. He had been held at the US’s Guantanamo Bay detainment camp on Cuba from 2002 to 2004, having previously studied at a  Muslim religious school and mosque in Britain, and traveled to Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

He was also reportedly among 12 foreigners captured trying to cross into Afghanistan in 2009.

Earlier on Thursday the Bulgarian police released a brief video clip that claimed to show the suicide bomber responsible for Wednesday’s terror attack on a tour bus full of Israeli citizens at Burgas International Airport. . . .

The Bulgarian news agency Sofia reported that the bomber was carrying an American passport and Michigan driver’s license, both believed to be forgeries.

#more#Michael Moynihan wrote an article for The Weekly Standard in September 2009 about Ghezali:

In late 2001, Ghezali, a Swedish national, had been detained during the battle at Tora Bora, Afghanistan, handed over to the American military, and sent to the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay. According to his lawyers, he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Although he spoke none of the local languages, Ghezali told his captors, in the midst of the Taliban’s retreat into the mountainous hinterlands of Afghanistan, he had crossed that country’s border with Pakistan to study Islam.

After an intense lobbying effort by Swedish prime minister Göran Persson–and a vague promise that the country’s intelligence services would keep a watchful eye on him–Ghezali was delivered to Sweden (on the government’s private Gulfstream jet). The Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter noted that Ghezali had achieved “rock star status” upon returning to his homeland, a native victim of America’s rapacious imperialism. And after two-plus years in isolation, the emotionally fragile former prisoner would be happy to discover “that a majority of Swedes were glad that he was home.” . . .

To his supporters, he was merely a bit player in a larger morality play. But even his most credulous supporters winced when, during a press conference in his hometown of Örebro, Ghezali offered the following opinion of Osama bin Laden: I don’t know him as a person and therefore can’t pass judgment on him. I don’t believe what the Americans say about him.” . . .

According to reports in the Swedish media, Ghezali and Benaouda were arrested last week in Pakistan–together, traveling with a multinational group of extremists–having crossed the border from Iran on their way to the al Qaeda stronghold of Waziristan. Pakistani sources claim that the group was carrying $50,000 in cash, maps indicating Western embassies, and–every religion student’s best friend–an explosives belt. One of the suspects, according to a report in the Swedish newspaper Expressen, chewed up the SIM card of his cell phone before he was taken into custody. [Emphasis mine.]

Thomas Jocelyn wrote about Ghezali in December 2010. According to Jocelyn, before being arrested in Pakistan, Ghezali had been imprisoned in Portugal, lived in an al Qaeda safehouse, and visited Iran:

The Swedish press has reported that Ghezali had previously served 10 months in prison in Portugal because he was suspected of burglarizing tourists and stores. He was freed and attempted to study Islam in Saudi Arabia, but failed to do so. He traveled to London where he may have studied under Omar Bakri Muhammad, a notorious jihadist preacher.

Ghezali then made his way to Pakistan and Afghanistan, where he claims he stayed with family. Press reports indicate that he is suspected of staying in a notorious al Qaeda safehouse in Jalalabad instead. Ghezali was arrested in Pakistan in December 2001.

“Ghezali reportedly was part of a group of 156 suspected al-Qaida fighters caught while fleeing Afghanistan’s Tora Bora mountains,” according to the Associated Press. . . .

The group had traveled through Iran, and one member of the entourage was an Iranian.

Ghezali’s arrest in Portugal was due to his theft of 600,000 euros from a bank, and 5,000 euros worth of jewelry. After being released from jail, it only took him a month to make his way to Afghanistan. (Link is in Spanish.)

The Swedes nonetheless petitioned for Ghezali’s release from Pakistan:

The Swedish foreign ministry has confirmed that four Swedish citizens, arrested in Pakistan in August as terrorist suspects, have been released and put on a flight to Stockholm.

The group include Mehdi Ghezali, who spent two years in Guantánamo Bay following his 2001 arrest in Afghanistan, as well as 28-year-old Munir Awad and 19-year-old Safia Benaouda, and their two and a half-year-old boy.

In 2004, Amnesty International used Ghezali’s testimony as evidence that the United States had tortured an Australian nation at Guantanamo Bay:

Amnesty quotes a freed Swedish detainee, Mehdi Ghezali, as saying he was interrogated for 14 to 16 hours at a time and moved between cells to stop him sleeping.

“I once saw how the guards treated an Australian prisoner in this way, by moving him from cell to cell and thus preventing him from getting any sleep,” he said. “At the end, there was blood coming from both his nose and his ears. He was so tired.”

UPDATE: Bulgarian officials are now telling ABC News that Ghezali is not the suicide bomber.


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