The Gitmo detainees swapped for Bergdahl: Who are they?
(CNN) — Together with the announcement that U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was released after nearly five years of captivity came the news that five detainees at Guantanamo Bay were being transferred to Qatar.
A plane carrying the detainees left the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo, Cuba, after the announcement that Bergdahl, who was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2009, had been exchanged for the five men.
Saturday’s transfer was brokered through the Qatari government, a senior Defense official said. According to senior administration officials, Qatar agreed to take custody of the detainees and provide assurances they would not pose a threat to the United States, including a one-year ban from travel out of Qatar.
Two senior administration officials confirmed the names of the five released detainees as Khair Ulla Said Wali Khairkhwa, Mullah Mohammad Fazl, Mullah Norullah Nori, Abdul Haq Wasiq and Mohammad Nabi Omari.
They were mostly mid- to high-level officials in the Taliban regime and had been detained early in the war in Afghanistan, because of their positions within the Taliban, not because of ties to al Qaeda.
CNN has published photos obtained by WikiLeaks that match the names released by the Department of Defense of men exchanged for Bergdahl. The DoD would neither confirm nor deny the images’ accuracy. And CNN has not been able to independently confirm their authenticity.
CNN profiled them two years ago, when their names first surfaced as candidates for a transfer as part of talks with the Taliban:
Khair Ulla Said Wali Khairkhwa
Khairkhwa was an early member of the Taliban in 1994 and was interior minister during the Taliban’s rule. He hails from the same tribe as Afghan President Hamid Karzai and was captured in January 2002. Khairkhwa’s most prominent position was as governor of Herat province from 1999 to 2001, and he was alleged to have been “directly associated” with Osama bin Laden. According to a detainee assessment, Khairkhwa also was probably associated with al Qaeda’s now-deceased leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al Zarqawi. He is described as one of the “major opium drug lords in western Afghanistan” and a “friend” of Karzai. He was arrested in Pakistan and was transferred to Guantanamo in May 2002. During questioning, Khairkhwa denied all knowledge of extremist activities.
Mullah Mohammad Fazl
Fazl commanded the main force fighting the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance in 2001, and served as chief of army staff under the Taliban regime. He has been accused of war crimes during Afghanistan’s civil war in the 1990s. Fazl was detained after surrendering to Abdul Rashid Dostam, the leader of Afghanistan’s Uzbek community, in November 2001. He was wanted by the United Nations in connection with the massacre of thousands of Afghan Shiites during the Taliban’s rule. “When asked about the murders, he did not express any regret,” according to the detainee assessment. He was alleged to have been associated with several militant Islamist groups, including al Qaeda. He was transferred into U.S. custody in December 2001 and was one of the first arrivals at Guantanamo, where he was assessed as having high intelligence value.
Mullah Norullah Noori
Noori served as governor of Balkh province in the Taliban regime and played some role in coordinating the fight against the Northern Alliance. Like Fazl, Noori was detained after surrendering to Dostam, the Uzbek leader, in 2001. Noori claimed during interrogation that “he never received any weapons or military training.” According to 2008 detainee assessment, Noori “continues to deny his role, importance and level of access to Taliban officials.” That same assessment characterized him as high risk and of high intelligence value.
Abdul Haq Wasiq
Wasiq was the deputy chief of the Taliban regime’s intelligence service. His cousin was head of the service. An administrative review in 2007 cited a source as saying that Wasiq was also “an al Qaeda intelligence member” and had links with members of another militant Islamist group, Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin. Wasiq claimed, according to the review, that he was arrested while trying to help the United States locate senior Taliban figures. He denied any links to militant groups.
Mohammad Nabi Omari
Omari was a minor Taliban official in Khost Province. According to the first administrative review in 2004, he was a member of the Taliban and associated with both al Qaeda and another militant group Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin. He was the Taliban’s chief of communications and helped al Qaeda members escape from Afghanistan to Pakistan. Omari acknowledged during hearings that he had worked for the Taliban but denied connections with militant groups. He also said that he had worked with a U.S. operative named Mark to try to track down Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
CNN’s Elise Labott and Erin McPike contributed to this report.