The Dream Vacation

Mourad Benchellali had an Op Ed in yesterday’s New York Times, where he spoke about how he came to be imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay:

I am a quiet Muslim — I’ve never waged war, let alone an asymmetrical one. I wasn’t anti-American before and, miraculously, I haven’t become anti-American since. In Guantánamo, I did see some people for whom jihad is life itself, people whose minds are distorted by extremism and whose souls are full of hatred. But the huge majority of the faces I remember — the ones that haunt my nights — are of desperation, suffering, incomprehension turned into silent madness.

In the early summer of 2001, when I was 19, I made the mistake of listening to my older brother and going to Afghanistan on what I thought was a dream vacation. His friends, he said, were going to look after me. They did — channeling me to what turned out to be a Qaeda training camp. For two months, I was there, trapped in the middle of the desert by fear and my own stupidity.

As soon as my time was up, I headed home. I was a few miles from the Pakistani border when I learned with horror about the attacks of 9/11. Days later, the border was sealed off, and the only way through to Pakistan and a plane to Europe was across the mountains of the Hindu Kush. I was with a group of people who were all going the same way. No one was armed; most of them, like me, had been lured to Afghanistan by a misguided and mistimed sense of adventure, and were simply trying to make their way home.

I was seized by the Pakistani Army while having tea at a mosque shortly after I managed to cross the border. A few days later I was delivered to the United States Army: although I didn’t know it at the time, I was now labeled an “enemy combatant.” It did not matter that I was no one’s enemy and had never been on a battlefield, let alone fought or aimed a weapon at anyone.

Although you wouldn’t know it from the Op Ed piece, the brother who encouraged Mourad to go on that dream vacation has also been in the news this week:

A French court has jailed 25 alleged Islamist militants for planning attacks in France in support of Chechen rebels.

Prosecutors said the group’s intended targets may have included the Eiffel Tower, the Halles shopping centre, police stations and Israeli interests.

The ringleaders of the group, most of whom came from Algeria, allegedly received training in Afghanistan or in the war-torn southern Russian republic of Chechnya.

The court heard that some of the plotters were former members of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), based in Algeria, who had fled that country, travelled through Europe and regrouped in France. Others were allegedly international Islamic militants linked to al-Qaeda or local hands recruited in French city suburbs.

Prosecutors said the group plotted in 2001-2002 to attack targets in the French capital. When it was raided in December 2002, the court heard, the group was “close to action”.

Merouane Benhamed, 33, described as the group’s chief, and Menad Benchellali, 32, the group’s alleged chemicals expert, were jailed for 10 years.

(Hat tip: TM)