South American airline issues alert on former Gitmo detainee

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — A South American airline is asking its employees to be on the lookout for a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who was resettled in Uruguay after being freed by U.S. authorities.

The alert about Syrian native Abu Wa’el Dhiab adds to a growing mystery about his whereabouts. Uruguayan authorities have insisted for weeks that he is visiting neighboring Brazil and that as a refugee he is entitled to leave Uruguay, but the Brazilian government has said there is no record of Dhiab entering the country.

Danilo Alves, a spokesman for Colombia-based Avianca Airlines in Sao Paulo, told The Associated Press on Monday that the alert was issued internally to employees, but declined to give any more details.

The alert, published by the Argentine web news portal Infobae, warns employees that Dhiab may be using a fake passport. The image of the alert posted by Infobae says the information came from Brazil’s anti-terrorism police.

Belela Herrera, a former Uruguayan deputy foreign minister who is a human rights activist, said “this is crazy” to use the word terrorism in relation to Dhiab, who was never charged by U.S. officials and cleared for release. She also questioned media interest in his whereabouts.

She said Dhiab had told friends in Uruguay’s capital that he planned to keep to himself while spending the about-to-end Muslim holy month of Ramadan in the Uruguay-Brazil border region, where there is a Muslim community and mosques.

“He has a valid identity card, issued by the Uruguayan government, that allows him to go to other countries. He is not a fugitive from justice,” Herrera told the AP over the weekend.

Dhiab is one of six former Guantanamo detainees resettled in Uruguay in late 2014.

Then President Jose Mujica invited them as a humanitarian gesture, but for several of the men, their time in Uruguay has been fraught with problems. They initially complained the government wasn’t helping them enough and they also refused to get jobs, drawing criticism from Uruguayans.

Dhiab, who suffers several health problems related to hunger strikes he undertook while held at the U.S. military’s Guantanamo base on Cuba, has been particularly vocal about his unhappiness in Uruguay.

Several weeks ago, Uruguayan media began reporting that he had left the country. Government officials said he had traveled to Brazil and insisted he had a right to do so. They said he had not broken any law and was not being sought.

However, last week the U.S. Embassy in Uruguay said American authorities were “collaborating” with Brazilian and Uruguayan authorities to locate Dhiab.


Associated Press writer Mauricio Savarese reported this story in Rio de Janeiro and AP writer Leonardo Haberkorn reported from Montevideo, Uruguay.


This story has been corrected to show that Avianca is based in Colombia.

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