“I still live in Guantánamo”

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Ten years after arriving in Spain, the three former jihadists welcomed by the Government suffer to integrate and are still unable to travel to their countries

Walid, Mustafa and Mohammed survived the hell of Guantánamo. They arrived in Spain 10 years ago, thanks to an agreement with the United States Government that prevents them from returning to their countries of origin, Palestine, Afghanistan and Yemen, respectively. They live as hostages with no past, half free, half guarded. The Red Cross has taken charge of them but integration is not easy.

“I still live in Guantánamo, even though I’m already away. I have a deep suffering nailed in my head, due to the torture. I am in psychological treatment. Sometimes they give me fits of anger and I destroy the floor, ”says Mohammed Basardah in a park on the outskirts of Logroño one afternoon this summer. The conversation demands an Arabic interpreter because, although he understands Spanish, Basardah does not speak it.

A former jihadist militiaman, the Yemeni proudly takes to having fought under the direct orders of Bin Laden in Afghanistan, whom he claims to have seen in person “five or six times”, the first time in an abandoned Soviet base in Kandahar (Afghanistan), in 2001 , but also in the Al Qaeda training camp in Al Faruq and in the Tora Bora mountains. He is 47 years old and is a legal resident in Spain but does not have a passport. His country denies him because he lived 23 years in Saudi Arabia. Since he arrived, he has been arrested several times for dealing drugs. “They sentenced me to six months and I did social work. A local police in Logroño has caught my obsession and accuses me of being a drug dealer, but I am a consumer, not a dealer ”, he assures.

When he arrived in Logroño in 2010, he spent several years living in a Red Cross apartment. The Government gives him 450 euros a month, like the other two express. The US administration finances the cost. At present, he has moved to a town where he lives with his second wife in another apartment provided by the Red Cross. “I met a girl who lived in Morocco through a dating site. She did not have papers and could not come to Spain. He put me in contact with a friend of hers, who lived in Almería. I went to meet her, we fell in love and got married. He has a residence permit and is working ”.

In an hour-long conversation, Basardah threads the tale of a loser struggling to stay afloat. He gets excited when talking about his only son. When he came to see him shortly after arriving in Spain – the United States vetoed family visits, but Spain has looked the other way – the boy had a motorcycle accident and returned to his country, despite being threatened by extremist Islamic groups . “In Yemen I only have my son, who is 20 years old. He would like to come to Spain, but with the war in Yemen it is complicated ”.

Basardah keeps a photo on his mobile in which he is seen smiling, dressed in the traditional Yemeni way, with a turban and skirt, posing happily in his new home. “This is Spain. This is my home now. A study, a room, a bathroom and a kitchen ”, he says in basic Spanish. His mother lives in Saudi Arabia. “In 20 years, I look at mother twice, in total 60 days,” he says.

There is a Basardah trying to rebuild his life in Spain and there is a Yasin – his nom de guerre – who fought under Bin Laden in the 55th Arab Brigade, in the Tora Bora mountains, in Afghanistan. He specialized in the use of explosives and poison and was a training technician in the Al Qaeda camps.

He was arrested by Pakistani police in December 2001, while trying to cross the border from Afghanistan, and handed over to the Americans in Kandahar. He entered Guantánamo on February 11, 2002. He was prisoner number 252. He spent the first year and a half in total isolation. The Americans classified him as an “invaluable source of intelligence. It has provided abundant information, tactical and strategic, on training camps for Al Qaeda fighters and the Taliban militiamen ”, according to the Guantanamo papers that WikiLeaks released in early 2011.“ They used me to confront other prisoners ”, defends itself. “They classified me as a spy inside Guantánamo, but it is not true. It was lies that I gave away in exchange for food and special treatment. I did not collaborate with anyone ”.

Basardah complains that he cannot find a job because he does not speak Spanish. The Red Cross has given him courses to learn our language and has looked for temporary contracts, harvesting and mechanics, but he has not kept any job. In a confidential way, the police acknowledge that he is causing a lot of problems and that even “his guards” have had to intercede with the prosecutor and the judge so that they do not put him in jail. He himself admits that he has tried to commit suicide on several occasions since he was in Spain, although now he looks to the future without reluctance.

The one who is about to seize the second chance is the Afghan Mustafa Sohail Bahazada. Since he arrived he has settled in Malaga, first in a Red Cross apartment, but for a few years he has lived on his own with his wife, a Romanian national.

“He’s a smart guy. He wants freedom of movement, but he knows that if he returns to Afghanistan he would be in danger. He has refugee relatives in several European countries under false identities ”, police sources explain. “His obsession is that we allow him to travel”, they add “but that is not possible.”

A few years ago he tried to go to Romania to meet his wife’s family. The Romanian intelligence services prohibited him from boarding the plane. At the Malaga Airport police station they still remember Mustafa’s anger at not being able to fly.


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