Carrying on from my theme of legal sideshows in the War on Terror: today, Tablighi Jamaat (TJ).
Tablighi Jamaat is essentially an organisation of travelling Muslim preachers who seek to revive a highly conservative form of Islam and encourage Muslims to live according to Sharia law. The group is estimated to operate in approximately 165 countries, with some 70-80 million members. Their annual meeting in Pakistan reportedly attracts up to 2 million followers, the second largest Muslim gathering following Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca.
There is no doubt that Tablighi missionary journeys have been used as cover by al-Qaeda operatives to access certain countries and move around undetected – to the extent that the US government has categorised them as a Terrorist Support Entity ‘closely aligned’ with al-Qaeda. This year, disputes over their links to al-Qaeda have been playing themselves out in the US court system.
The DC Circuit Court had previously used Guantanamo detainee Hussain Salem Mohammad Almerfedi’s connections to TJ as part of their justification for overturning the decision of a district court that had granted his petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The Circuit court acknowledged that Almerfedi’s conections to TJ was not enough to justify detention in of itself as there are ‘surely some persons’ associated with the group ‘who are not affiliated with al-Qaeda’. However, TJ connections were used in conjunction with other circumstantial evidence to justify detention.
A similar situation appears to be developing with another Guantanamo detainee, Karim Bostan. From the District Courts ruling:
There is no dispute that the petitioner was a member of [TJ]. Furthermore, when the petitioner’s involvement with Jamaat al-Tablighi is viewed together with the most plausible inferences to be drawn from Wazir’s and the petitioner’s attempt to conceal an inoperable cellular telephone from Pakistani authorities, this circumstantial evidence is indeed “damning.” To be sure, it is perhaps possible that an innocent reason, or several innocent reasons, might explain the petitioner’s involvement with a Terrorist Support Entity. His unexplained chance encounter with an acquaintance from that organization at a bus stop, the other individual’s possession of a large sum of money and an inoperable cellular telephone, that individual’s decision to give possession of the telephone to the petitioner rather than his money to avoid its seizure by government security officials, and the petitioner’s decision to conceal the telephone…the far more likely explanation for [this] plethora of damning circumstantial evidence is that [the petitioner] was part of al Qaeda.
At least three members of major UK bomb plots have been connected to TJ. Yet to my knowledge, involvement has never been used in a British court as circumstantial evidence against a terrorism suspect. It is a strange discrepancy when the two governments have been so close in terms of intelligence-sharing and counterterrorism cooperation over the last decade.