Mustaq Ali Patel was caught on the Iran-Afghan border in November 2001
Mohammed Haji, suspected to be a high risk al-Qaeda operative whose real name appears to be Mustaq Ali Patel, was one of the 779 detainees in Guantanamo. His identification number at the detention centre – SA-649 – categorised him as a Saudi and a Guantanamo Joint Task Force assessment in March 2004 identified him as a French citizen.
Haji was neither born in France nor in Medina, Saudi Arabia, as he initially claimed. Going by his later admission to interrogators, it appears he was born in India, in a place identified in his Gitmo file as “Shepura,” and his parents were Indians. In 2004, he told his interrogators, they were living in India.
It is not clear whether the Shepura mentioned here is Sherpura in Vadodara district of Gujarat or Sheikpura town in Sheikhpura district, Bihar. The surname Patel indicates a possible link to Gujarat.
Haji's parents were working in Saudi Arabia for some time before they returned to India. It is not clear what kind of education Haji had and where he studied. However, when the Combatant Status Review Tribunal, which records his name as Mustaq Ali Patel, questioned him in Dec 2004, he said that he had undergone religious education.
The review tribunal was a military hearing set up after a 2004 decision by the United States Supreme Court to determine whether prisoners at Guant?namo had been properly designated as enemy combatants. (the documents can be accessed at http://projects.nytimes.com/ guantanamo?ref=world).
Patel was married in the French territory of Reunion Island and obtained French citizenship, a detail confirmed by the French government. He taught “religious education” and his wife, he told the tribunal, did some tailoring at home with her sewing machine.
He told the tribunal that he went to Afghanistan “just to visit,” giving “no reason” for the visit. He reached Iran by car and then travelled to Afghanistan. It is not clear what mode of transport he used to reach Afghanistan. Patel alias Muhammed Haji was caught by the “local Afghans” at the border in November 2001. They suspected him to be “an Al-Qaida affiliated Arab fleeing the battlefield,” and handed him over to the U.S. forces. When he was arrested, had a French passport and the rather large sum of $ 10,000.
Patel denied any knowledge of al-Qaeda. He complained to the tribunal that he was tortured and forced to admit that he was a Saudi national. It was only later, when he felt “safe,” that he revealed the truth, he said.
He sought to explain the money in his possession at the time of his arrest as a lucky find in Germany: “When I was travelling Germany I lost my handbag. I reported this to authorities and they announced my lost bag and somebody handed me this bag and there was money in it.” It was not his bag, but he kept it along with the cash.
He pleaded to be set free, so he could go home. His name figures in a list of “Detainees found to no longer meet the definition of ‘Enemy Combatant' during Combatant Status Review Tribunals held at Guantanamo.”
The Joint Task Force assessment, done in March 2004 before his review by the Tribunal, had not believed Haji's accounts.
The JTF thought he was actually fleeing from Herat, Afgahnistan to Iran and not the other way, as he claimed. It also suspected that he was a possible al-Qaeda operative and observed that the route he travelled was the “same general route that was used by al-Qaeda members to enter and leave Afghanistan via Iran.” It also observed that the amount of cash found on Haji was money that “al-Qaida typically distributed to its operatives, so they could use that to pay for their travels from Afghanistan.”
The assessment report noted that he had “multiple psychiatric diagnoses including depression and schizotypal personality disorder, but was otherwise in good physical health.” It concluded that Haji “should he held in continued detention in another country until his true name and extremist affiliations have been determined.”
But soon after his December 2004 Tribunal hearing, in March 2005, Haji was transferred to France. It is not clear if he is in detention in France or has been released.