- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2002

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE (AP) Some feel they were led astray in pursuit of a shortcut to heaven; others remain steadfast in their belief that the September 11 attacks were justified.

As interrogators remain tightlipped about what they are learning from 300 prisoners of the war in Afghanistan, the person closest to their thoughts appears to be the U.S. Navy Muslim cleric caring for their spiritual welfare.

Lt. Abuhena Mohammad Saiful-Islam said some of the younger detainees have indicated to him that their local Muslim leaders might have misled them about the meaning of "jihad," or holy war.

"They thought fighting is the ultimate jihad a short way to heaven," he said in an interview with Associated Press Television News on Monday. "They do feel somewhat that they made the wrong choice, at the wrong time."

Some Islamic groups preach that dying in a holy war guarantees a place in heaven the mantra of suicide bombers in Israel and that of the hijackers who flew passenger jets into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon on September 11.

All the detainees at Guantanamo Bay were captured fighting with Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime or were fighters of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network, which the Taliban harbored.

But not all have regrets, Lt. Saiful-Islam indicated.

Though some Muslims have condemned the September 11 attacks, some Guantanamo detainees remain steadfast in their belief that the attacks were justly executed in the name of Islam and trust their imprisonment will win them religious honors, the 39-year-old cleric said.

Some "feel that by being here, God will give them a reward," he said.

Last week, officials said the detainees are nationals of 31 countries. A senior Pentagon official said two weeks ago that they include about 50 Saudis, 30 Yemenis, 25 Pakistanis, eight Algerians, three Britons and small numbers from Egypt, Australia, France, Russia, Belgium, Sweden and other countries.

Interrogators are aided by interpreters in dozens of languages who relay into English the mysteries of a worldwide terrorist network unraveling like "a sweater … one piece at a time," said Brig. Gen. Mike Lehnert, the Marine commanding the detention mission.

He has been dismissive of Lt. Saiful-Islam's reports that some detainees have expressed regrets, saying: "That is something that can be expected of individuals who want to project themselves as being as innocent as possible."

According to Lt. Saiful-Islam, the mood at the prison is gloomier this week as Muslims worldwide prepare the holy feast of Eid al-Fadh.

"They used to have a big feast and the slaughtering of an animal. It's the first time, probably, in their life they're not going to have those things. So, there is a degree of sadness," he said.

Lt. Saiful-Islam says many wonder about their fate.

Human rights lawyers in Washington yesterday filed a federal suit demanding that the U.S. District Court order the release of three of the detainees two Britons and an Australian arguing the government had no right to detain them indefinitely without charging them.

The Muslim chaplain expressed sympathy for children of the detainees.

"These people made a conscious choice to be in Afghanistan and be involved in some of the things," he said. "But the children are innocent, and they're missing their parents."

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