The reclusive leader of the Taliban has issued a rare public statement celebrating the release of five Afghan detainees from Guantanamo Bay, calling it a “great victory.”
“We shall thank almighty for this great victory,” Omar said in the statement according to NBC News. “The sacrifice of our Mujahedin [fighters] have resulted in the release of our senior leaders from the hand of the enemy.”
The five were released by the U.S. and sent to Qatar in exchange for the freedom of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had been in Taliban hands since 2009.
Omar appeared to call for the release of other detainees, that is "all those who have been imprisoned for defending the honor and freedom of their country."
“May Allah grant all of them with rewards,” said Omar of Bergdahl’s captors and those who worked for the Taliban detainees’ release.
Omar also thanked the government of Qatar for its mediation efforts to secure the exchange deal under which Qatar agreed to take in the former detainees and their families.
The Taliban posted photos of the five former Guantanamo detainees arriving in Qatar. According to the Long War Journal, an online publication that tracks jihadi groups, “all five were closely linked to Al Qaeda prior to their detention and deemed ‘high’ risks to the U.S., its interests, and its allies, according to leaked Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) threat assessments.”
The Long War Journal reported that this picture posted by the Taliban purported to show senior military commander Mullah Norullah Noori.
Former Guantanamo detainee is greeted by supporters in Qatar. Five Afghan detainees were released in exchange for the freedom from captivity of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. (Image source: Taliban via Long War Journal)
“According to a leaked JTF-GTMO file, Noori has been ‘wanted by the United Nations (UN) for possible war crimes including the murder of thousands of Shiite Muslims,’” the Long War Journal reported, adding that he fought with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan before the September 11 attacks.
The BBC reported that the Afghan government has criticized the exchange deal, about which it was kept in the dark until after the detainees were freed, calling it a "breach of international law."
The Taliban earlier released a statement that was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group saying its goal is "to also quickly release the [other] imprisoned mujahideen, and wants all international human rights organizations to join in their efforts with the Islamic Emirate and the Afghan people to grant all the prisoners their legal and humanitarian rights, and the freedom to live their lives as they wish."
The Taliban emphasized that it did not negotiate directly with the U.S., rather relied on the government of Qatar.
See more photos of the detainee arrivals in Qatar at this link to the Long War Journal.