Muieen al Sattar is a Guantanamo prisoner of unknown national origin. He was approved for transfer by the Obama administration in 2010. He has been imprisoned at Guantanamo for the past 16 years.
Sattar claims he has no connections to terrorism and that he was captured simply because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Two Guantanamo prisoners, however, said Sattar received training at an Al Qaeda terrorist training camp, and another said he associated with high-level members of Al Qaeda.
Sattar has made threatened to kill American military guards at Guantanamo and to return to the battlefield to fight against the United States.
The most detailed publicly-available account of the allegations against Sattar were collected in his Detainee Assessment Brief (DAB). U.S. Navy Rear Admiral D.M. Thomas Jr. wrote Sattar’s DAB in November 2008, during the Bush administration.
The following summary is based largely on Sattar’s DAB. If Sattar’s DAB is inaccurate or misleading, this summary will be as well.
Nationality and Citizenship
Sattar’s nationality and citizenship are unclear, according to his DAB.
Sattar told U.S. interrogators that he is ethnically Rohingya Burmese and that he claims Pakistani citizenship. Sattar said he was born in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, but that he lived in Mecca, Saudi Arabia for most of his life.
Sattar said he possessed a Pakistani passport, which he said his father acquired for him because it was easier to obtain than a passport from another country. The passport required a birthplace, and his father chose Karachi, Pakistan.
According to a Pakistani investigation, Sattar is not a Pakistani national. While Sattar claims to be a Pakistani citizen, his passport was obtained by falsely claiming Pakistani nationality based on place of birth. He is ethnically Burmese, but he has never acknowledged visiting the country. While Sattar claimed to be born in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the UAE denied he was a UAE national. The UAE denial probably intended to convey that he was not a UAE citizen, as they did acknowledge the possibility he could have been born in the UAE, according to Sattar’s DAB.
The uncertainty and complexity surrounding Sattar’s nationality and citizenship likely made it considerably more difficult for the Obama administration to find a country willing to accept him after he was approved for transfer in January 2010.
Sattar’s version of events
While two other Guantanamo prisoners said Sattar received training at Al Qaeda’s Al Faruq terrorist training camp, Sattar claimed he had no connections to terrorism and that he was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Sattar told U.S. interrogators that he went to Pakistan on vacation in June 2001, and that he paid for the trip himself. Sattar said he flew from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to Karachi, Pakistan where he spent a couple of days traveling around the city looking for people who spoke Arabic.
Sattar said he met Abd al-Muaz al-Suri, a Syrian, at a restaurant. Sattar said they became friends. Muaz was staying in a small apartment in Karachi and invited Sattar to stay with him. Sattar said he stayed with Muaz for about two months before Muaz suggested to Sattar that he should travel to Afghanistan to teach the Koran. Sattar said he was initially reluctant, but Muaz said it would only be for a week. Sattar thought he should see Muslims in other countries, so they traveled to Kandahar, Afghanistan, via Quetta, Pakistan.
Sattar said he stayed with Muaz at his house near a market in Kandahar. Sattar said that after he arrived, Muaz took Sattar’s passport and money. Sattar claimed he did not see any Arabs in Kandahar and the only time he left the house was to go to the mountains with Muaz and “see nature.”
Sattar said that after a week, Muaz forced Sattar to go to Kabul to teach the five pillars of Islam. Sattar said he stayed at Muaz’s house for approximately three months. Sattar said he spent his days in Kabul going on walks, sleeping, and preparing lectures for the villagers, who were mostly elderly or children.
After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Sattar said he attempted to leave Afghanistan, but Muaz told him it would be too difficult. Sattar said that when he learned that Kabul was about to fall to the Northern Alliance, Sattar and Muaz traveled to Muaz’s house in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.
After a brief stay, Muaz took Sattar to the house of an Afghan near the Pakistani border. Sattar said he fled with other Arabs to Tora Bora where he was introduced to the leader of the area, Juhaynah the Yemeni, and Abu Yahya from Egypt. Although Sattar said this was the first time he met Juhaynah, Sattar said Juhaynah appeared to be an old friend of Muaz. Juhaynah was with a group of approximately fifteen people comprised of Arabs, Afghans, and Pakistanis, Sattar said.
Al Qaeda members Abdallah Al Shibli, Jabir Al Fayfi, and Abdul Latif Nasir, said Juhaynah was an Al Qaeda member in charge of Al Qaeda fighters in Tora Bora.
Al Qaeda member Muhammad Al Shumrani said Abu Yahya was an Al Qaeda leader who led 18 to 30 fighters in Tora Bora.
Sattar said Juhaynah gave Sattar an AK-47, and an Arab named al-Asali showed Sattar how to use it because the Norther Alliance was attacking the valley. Sattar denied ever firing his weapon at US or coalition forces. While fleeing the Tora Bora mountain area, Sattar said he was rendered unconscious by an air strike and that shrapnel injured his legs.
The Pakistani army captured Sattar in an Afghan house with an AK-47 in his possession on Dec. 1, 2001, Sattar said.
Sattar’s DAB assessed that several of his claims were likely untrue.
“Detainee’s account is only partially truthful. The timeline detainee has provided is highly improbable, specifically the details of his activities in Kandahar, Kabul, and Jalalabad.”
Sattar’s DAB assessed that Sattar’s account of being wounded and captured by Pakistani forces likely described the withdrawal of Al Qaeda forces from Tora Bora. Sattar’s DAB stated Sattar was probably injured during the first withdrawal attempt, if not sooner, and that he was captured traveling to Pakistan with several fighters. Sattar’s DAB stated the group was led by Ibn Shaykh al Libi, Osama Bin Laden’s appointed military commander in Tora Bora.
Sattar was transferred to US custody on Jan. 5, 2002, and Sattar was sent to Guantanamo Feb. 9, 2002.
Information about Sattar from other prisoners
Two Guantanamo prisoners said Sattar attended a terrorist training camp, and another said he was associated with high-level members of Al Qaeda.
Yasrin Basardah, a former Guantanamo prisoner from Yemen, said Sattar was two weeks ahead of him in the training program at Al Faruq, an Al Qaeda terrorist training camp.
Basardah was at Al Faruq in April or May 2001, according to Sattar’s DAB. If Sattar was ahead of Basardah in the training program at Al Faruq, then Sattar couldn’t have left Saudi Arabia in June 2001, as Sattar had claimed.
Abd al-Rahim Janko, a former Guantanamo prisoner from Syria, said Sattar received instructor training at Al Faruq while trying to become a more specialized trainer, known as a kuwadir. Sattar’s DAB speculated Basardah may have seen Sattar at Al Faruq and assumed he was a student.
Janko explained that the kuwadir were the most trusted personnel in the camp. When Osama Bin Laden gave lessons, the kuwadir sat closest to him and other students sat in the back. If a student had a question, he would pass it to the kuwadir and the kuwadir asked the question. Janko believed that each kuwadir had the personal trust of Bin Laden and had a good deal of personal contact with the Al Qaeda leader. Bin Laden chose his bodyguards from the kuwadir, according to Sattar’s DAB.
Janko attended Al Faruq in February 2000. This too casts doubt on Sattar’s claims to U.S. interrogators.
U.S. interrogators observed that Sattar became visibly upset and appeared to be very nervous when he was questioned about his role as a trainer at Al Faruq. This was the first time that Sattar refused to speak during an interrogation. According to Sattar’s DAB, Sattar would not even speak to refute the accusation.
Abdul Hakim Bukhary, a former Guantanamo prisoner from Saudi Arabia, said detainee was an old fighter who attended both basic training and advanced training and was associated primarily with high-level Al Qaeda leadership. Sattar’s DAB said that Bukhary’s reference to Sattar as an “old fighter” meant that Bukhary was claiming that Sattar had been in Afghanistan for an extended time.
Bukhary said Sattar admitted to Bukhary that he was friends with Al Qaeda commander Ibn Shaykh al Libi.
Sattar admitted to U.S. interrogators that he provided religious instruction to Islamic fighters on the Bagram front lines. In later interrogations, he omitted this detail and made a point to say that during his time in Afghanistan, he primarily taught the elderly and children.
Even though Sattar claimed his motives and actions in Afghanistan were well-intentioned and unconnected to terrorism, his actions while imprisoned at Guantanamo have been less than charitable.
Sattar preached to fellow Guantanamo prisoners about wanting to kill all Americans, including men, women, children, and babies, according to his DAB.
Bukhary said Sattar told other Guantanamo prisoners that they should stand firm in their ideas about extremism and Al Qaeda.
Basardah said Sattar encouraged other prisoners not to cooperate with guards and to cause disturbances.
Multiple incidents confirm Janko and Basardah’s statements that Sattar preaches and incites violent and extremist behavior, according to Sattar’s DAB.
Sattar threatened American servicemen operating the Guantanamo prison by telling them, “We don’t need anything from you. The one thing we want is to kill you.”
During another confrontation, Sattar declared “We will fight you America. We will fight America and we will big destroy you. America will fall down soon.”
Sattar has also threatened to decapitate a guard, according to his DAB.
Near the beginning of Sattar’s DAB, a warning states that U.S. officials determined Sattar, if released without close supervision, would be highly likely to return to terrorist activities.
“If released without rehabilitation, close supervision, and means and desire to successfully reintegrate into his society as a law-abiding citizen, it is assessed detainee would immediately seek out prior associates and reengage in hostilities and extremist support activities at home and abroad,” Sattar’s DAB states. “Since transfer to JTF-GTMO, detainee assumed a leadership position, incited mass disturbances, assaulted and threatened to kill JTF-GTMO personnel and made motivational speeches to 'fight against the infidels' and to kill all Americans to include men, women, children, and babies. Detainee’s violent anti-American sentiment will probably continue, and he will readily assume a leadership role upon his release.”
Detention decisions under Obama and Trump
Obama’s Guantanamo Task Force approved Sattar for transfer in January 2010.
Ridah al Yazidi is another Guantanamo prisoner who remains in U.S. custody after being approved for transfer in January 2010. Both Sattar and Ridah have declared that they will continue to fight against the U.S., making them somewhat less than sympathetic candidates for release.
No prisoners have been transferred from Guantanamo thus far during the Trump administration.
During his State of the Union address in January, President Trump criticized decisions by previous administrations to release alleged terrorists detained by the U.S.
“In the past, we have foolishly released hundreds and hundreds of dangerous terrorists, only to meet them again on the battlefield,” he said.
If Sattar were to be transferred to another country, it would likely require the U.S. State Department to negotiate the terms and conditions of the transfer.
Former Trump Secretary of State Rex Tillerson dissolved the State Department’s “Office of the Special Envoy for Guantanamo Closure,” an office created by the Obama administration to negotiate prisoner transfers.
Sattar has never been charged by the United States with a crime. He is being imprisoned as an enemy fighter under the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), the law that authorized the U.S. War in Afghanistan. He has been imprisoned at Guantanamo for 16 years, and he has been approved for transfer for the past eight years.