Who are the Guantanamo Brits?

By Steve Swann
BBC News Home Affairs team

  • Published

Seventeen British citizens or residents were detained by the United States at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. But who are they, how did they come to be there and what became of them following their release?

Jamal al-Harith

Image source, AP
Image caption,
Jamal al-Harith

Born Ronald Fiddler to a Christian Caribbean family in Manchester, he converted to Islam and changed his name to Jamal al-Harith before eventually dying as a so-called Islamic State suicide bomber in Iraq, under the alias Abu Zakariya al-Britani.

He was seized by US forces in Afghanistan, transferred to Guantanamo Bay in February 2002 and released just over two years later.

Al-Harith was paid compensation by the government in order to prevent an expensive class action by former detainees.

The BBC has seen registration papers signed by al-Harith in April 2014, when he crossed into Syria and joined IS.

His wife told Channel 4 News he may have used some of the compensation payout to fund his trip.

The Tipton three

Image source, Getty Images

Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed became known as "the Tipton three" - friends from the West Midlands who were among the first detainees sent to Guantanamo Bay, in early 2002, after being handed over to American forces in Afghanistan.

Their lawyers filed a habeas corpus suit in 2004 that led to a landmark ruling by the US Supreme Court allowing detainees the right to legally challenge their detention.

The three were released and returned to the UK in March 2004, where they were interviewed by police but never charged.

The men regularly spoke out about their alleged mistreatment.

Theirs were among the first accounts of alleged mistreatment by their American captors and included claims of collusion by the British state.

Rhuhel Ahmed claimed that during MI5 interrogation sessions in Afghanistan, there had been "a guy standing on the backs of my legs and another holding a gun to my head".

Mr Ahmed, who trained as a plumber when he got back to England, told the BBC: "I don't really care if people think I'm a terrorist or not.

"The UK government doesn't.

"They've let me go, and that's good enough for me.

"I want to move on in my life."

As with all of those from Britain held in Guantanamo, the men were paid compensation by the British government.

Binyam Mohamed

Image source, PA

Ethiopian national Binyam Mohamed spent six years in US detention after being arrested in Pakistan in 2002.

He was accused of being a would-be bomber - but, in a series of seminal court hearings, his lawyers alleged he had been tortured in Pakistan, Morocco and Afghanistan.

The Court of Appeal ordered the release of documents that confirmed Washington had told London of the ill treatment.

Mr Mohamed was released from Guantanamo in 2009 and returned to his family.

He works as a property developer.

Moazzam Begg

Image source, PA

The former bookseller from Birmingham spent almost three years in US detention, in Afghanistan and then Guantanamo, accused of being an al-Qaeda operative.

Since returning to the UK in January 2005, he has become the most outspoken opponent of British and US counter-terrorism policies of those Britons held at Guantanamo.

He has always denied the allegations.

An attempt to prosecute him in the UK for terrorism dramatically collapsed in October 2014 after police and prosecutors were handed secret intelligence material.

Outside prison Mr Begg said: "Little has changed since the beginning of the early days in the war on terror."

Omar Deghayes

Image source, Getty Images

Omar Deghayes came to the UK as a refugee from Col Muammar Gaddafi's Libya.

He was held at Guantanamo for five years, accused of training in terror camps, and was mistakenly said to have been photographed on jihad in Chechnya.

He has always denied he was a fighter, claiming to have travelled to Afghanistan to see first-hand what the Taliban were doing.

He says he lost sight in an eye following mistreatment by a guard in Guantanamo and described the camp as "a very black page in American history".

Since his return to his home on the south coast of England, Mr Deghayes has campaigned for the release of the remaining detainees in Guantanamo.

Three of his nephews left their home in Brighton to fight jihad in Syria.

Two of them have been killed.

Bisher al-Rawi

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Bisher al-Rawi is an Iraqi refugee who settled in London and was held at Guantanamo for four years.

He came to the attention of MI5 because of his friendship with the radical Palestinian-Jordanian cleric Abu Qatada.

Having been tipped off by MI5, American intelligence detained Mr al-Rawi and his travelling companion, Jamil al-Banna, on a business trip to Gambia.

The pair were put on a rendition flight to Afghanistan before arriving in Guantanamo in 2003.

In a rare TV interview, Mr al-Rawi told the BBC he had fought an internal battle to control his anger over how he had been treated.

"I thought if you go down that road, you will destroy yourself," he said.

Tarek Dergoul

Like many of his fellow detainees, Tarek Dergoul has suffered from bouts of depression since his release from Guantanamo, in 2004.

Five years later, he told me it had taken until then "to get back into the groove".

Mr Dergoul lost an arm after being hurt in a US missile strike on Afghanistan after 9/11.

Over the years, he has refused media requests to discuss what he was doing there

He was accused of having links to al-Qaeda, but he was never charged or put before a military tribunal.

He once told me that Guantanamo had tested him.

"I like to think I did OK… but it's not over until it's over," he added.

In 2011 Mr Dergoul was convicted of assaulting a traffic warden whom he thought had been spying on him.

Mr Dergoul has not replied to the BBC's attempts to contact him.

Jamil al-Banna

Image source, PA

A Jordanian refugee from London, Jamil al-Banna was on the same trip to Gambia as his friend Bisher al-Rawi.

Having been tipped off by MI5, American intelligence detained the pair, putting them on a rendition flight to Afghanistan before transferring them to Guantanamo in 2003.

Mr al-Banna was released four years later, when he returned to England and a daughter born soon after his detention.

Following a Spanish extradition request, he was arrested, but the charge was dropped in 2008.

He has stayed out of public life since then.

Feroz Abbasi

Image source, PA

Born in Uganda, Feroz Abbasi moved to Britain with his family when he was eight and settled in Croydon, south London.

Following his conversion to Islam, the troubled teenager fell into the orbit of the radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, who, it was claimed, dispatched his young charge to the terror training camps of Afghanistan.

Mr Abassi was detained by US forces, who accused him of being a member of al-Qaeda who had volunteered to carry out a "martyrdom mission".

One of the first detainees sent to Guantanamo, he was released without charge in January 2005.

He has refused to grant press interviews since then but has done some work for the controversial campaigning group, Cage.

Martin Mubanga

Image source, Getty Images

Martin Mubanga is a joint Zambian and British national seized by US intelligence in Zambia in 2002.

Accused of having received terror training in Afghanistan, he was sent to Guantanamo.

There, the Joint Task Force claimed, he had admitted being a member of al-Qaeda and been assessed as "high risk".

But he was later cleared for release and returned to London in January 2005.

He joined other former detainees in successfully seeking compensation from the British authorities.

His lawyers argued that papers disclosed during the civil claim showed the British government could have prevented his transfer to Guantanamo.

In a newspaper interview soon after his release, he said: "The authorities wanted to break me, but they strengthened me.

"They've made me what I am - even if I'm not quite sure who that person is."

He writes poetry and rap.

Richard Belmar

Image source, Family handout

Richard Belmar is a west London convert to Islam sent to Guantanamo in October 2002 after allegedly being captured in an al-Qaeda safe house in Pakistan.

He was released in January 2005, when he told a newspaper he had been beaten and sexually humiliated in US detention.

It's not known where he currently lives.

Abdenour Samuer

Abdenour Sameur is an Algerian army deserter who came to Britain in 1999 and was later granted refugee status.

He was arrested in Pakistan, accused of attending terror training camps linked to al-Qaeda, and sent to Guantanamo in June 2002.

He was released along with Jamil Al-Banna and Omar Deghayes in December 2007.

It isn't known what he did afterwards.

Ahmed Errachidi

Ahmed Errachidi is a Moroccan who came to London in the mid-1980s, where he worked as a chef.

He was detained in Pakistan in 2002, for allegedly attending an al-Qaeda training camp, and sent to Guantanamo.

He was released in May 2007 after his lawyers proved he had been working in London when he was accused of being at a training camp.

He returned to his family in Morocco and has since written a book about his experiences in captivity on the Cuban island.

Ahmed Belbacha

Ahmed Belbacha is a former footballer from Algeria who came to Britain in 1999.

He was detained in Pakistan and accused of being sent to Afghanistan by the radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri for terror training.

He was transferred to Guantanamo in early 2002 and, despite being cleared for release five years later, freed only in 2014.

Mr Belbacha was returned to Algeria after his lawyers received assurances he would be treated fairly and humanely.

Shaker Aamer

Image source, Getty Images

Originally from Saudi Arabia, Shaker Aamer was the last British resident to leave Guantanamo, having being held there without trial for 13 years.

He was accused of being an associate of Osama Bin Laden.

His lawyers say the case against him came from unreliable allegations extracted during torture.

He was repatriated to the UK in 2015.

In an interview with the BBC, he said the the best thing about being free was "just to wake up and know that nobody's going to tell you what to do".