WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court yesterday overturned an order releasing a Yemeni detainee from Guantanamo Bay and ruled that circumstantial evidence of terrorist ties can be enough to keep a prisoner.
Government attorneys argued that Hussain Salem Mohammad Almerfedi stayed at an Al Qaeda-affiliated guesthouse based on the testimony of another Guantanamo detainee. A lower court judge found the testimony unreliable and ordered Almerfedi released, but the US Circuit Court of Appeals said the judge erred in that conclusion.
The circumstances of Almerfedi’s capture were not clearly explained in court records. He was apprehended in Tehran, Iran, after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Iranian officials turned him over to Afghan authorities in March 2002 in a prisoner exchange. In May 2003, US forces moved him to Guantanamo Bay, where he has remained since.
Almerfedi said he left his home in southern Yemen in 2001 to seek a better life in Europe with about $2,000 he earned doing odd jobs and selling a narcotic plant called qat. He said he bribed a guard at the Pakistan Embassy to get a visa and went to Lahore, Pakistan. He stayed several weeks at the headquarters of Jama’at Tablighi, which the United States has designated as a terrorist support entity.
The appeals court found Almerfedi’s explanations for his travel unconvincing and agreed with the government that his stay at the Jama’at Tablighi headquarters, his route away from Europe, and his unexplained $2,000 cash when he was captured suggested he was part of Al Qaeda.
“We consistently have found such circumstantial evidence damning,’’ the appeals court ruling said.