U.S. wants to send Guantánamo detainee to Israel for trial — but there’s a snag

The Obama administration has asked Israel to take and prosecute a Kenyan captive held at Guantánamo since 2007, the Miami Herald has learned.

U.S. intelligence authorities have linked Mohammed Abdul Malik Bajabu, 43, to a 2002 terror attack on an Israeli hotel in Mombasa, Kenya. Israel is interested, according to U.S. officials aware of the offer, but is awaiting cooperation from the FBI, whose agents interviewed Abdul Malik sometime after he got to Guantánamo in March 2007.

A leaked May 2007 prison profile describes Abdul Malik as having “admitted that he participated in the planning and execution” of two terrorist attacks that targeted Israelis on the same day, Nov. 28, 2002 in Mombasa. A car-bombing of the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel killed 13 people, mostly Kenyans, around the same time an unsuccessful surface-to-air missile attack targeted an Israeli Arkia airliner carrying 271 passengers near Mombasa airport.

Abdul Malik has never been charged with a crime at the war court, suggesting what is alleged is beyond the reach of military commissions. In June, the Obama administration’s parole-style board for uncharged captives declared him too dangerous to release, a “forever prisoner,” or indefinite detainee in the War on Terror.

Obama administration officials involved in the effort to close Guantánamo prison describe the effort as part of White House-encouraged “creative thinking” to find places to prosecute unreleasable captives. With just 20 of the 59 captives now held at Guantánamo approved for release, and another 10 charged at the Pentagon war court, the administration has been brainstorming about where and how to transfer the “forever prisoners.” Congress has forbidden relocation in the United States.

Reached by the Miami Herald, Abdul Malik’s attorney Darin Thompson declined to comment on the proposed deal.

According to three government officials who were aware of the trip, the State Department’s Special Envoy for the closure of Guantánamo, Ambassador Lee Wolosky, traveled to Israel in April and met with senior officials who “expressed interest” in the case. Prime Minster Binyamin Netanyahu was not among those he met.

But the deal has hit a snag, according to three sources, because the FBI has failed to furnish the Israelis with information from its interrogations.

“The government of Israel has repeatedly asked for information to support their possible prosecution. But, for reasons that are unclear, the FBI has declined to provide the information that has been requested by senior Israeli prosecutors,” said a U.S. government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official is not authorized to discuss the proposed transfer. “They want to see the incriminating statements. And that’s where we are stuck — and have been for many months —which is frustrating.”

The official said the White House had specifically requested that the Department of Justice get the FBI to cooperate. “We have no comment on our communications with foreign governments,” said FBI spokesman Andy Ames. Department of Justice spokesmen did not respond to multiple requests for information.

Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, declined through an aide to discuss the deal. Nor would he designate someone at the embassy to provide information about it.

Kenya unsuccessfully sought to prosecute some men for the Mombasa attacks. In 2009, U.S. commandos targeted and killed another Kenyan reportedly tied to al-Qaida in East Africa and the Mombasa attack.

It is not known whether the proposed deal would be viable during the administration of President-elect Donald Trump, who in July declared his Republican party’s platform the “most pro-Israel of all time!”

Trump told the Miami Herald this summer that he has disagreed with some of Obama’s release decisions but did not rule out transfers. “I want to make sure, 100 percent sure, that if we’re going to release people, No. 1 they are going to be people that can be released and it’s going to be safe to release them.”

MORE NEWS: What will President Trump do with Guantánamo?

Meantime, Trump’s choice for Secretary of Defense, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, has said he opposes war prisoner releases. But the idea in the instance of the Kenyan is not to free him but send him to an allied nation for trial.

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg