The strange tale of a former Guantánamo Bay inmate who resettled in Uruguay, staged a hunger strike to leave and sparked a regional alarm when he went missing, took another unexpected twist when he was deported back from Morocco — even though officials here were unaware that he had ever left.
Syrian native Abu Wa’el Dhiab arrived in Uruguay’s capital on Saturday and was questioned by Interpol after being deported for carrying a false passport, Uruguayan police chief Mario Layera told The Associated Press on Monday.
“Dhiab declared that he wanted to travel to Turkey, but when he made a stop in Morocco and tried to leave the airport, they caught him with a fake Tunisian passport,” Layera said. “Dhiab said the passport was given to him by his family, but he declined to say where or how they got it to him.”
Dhiab’s return to Uruguay marked at least his fourth attempt to find a new home in another country. The government liaison for former Guantánamo detainees, Christian Mirza, said Tuesday that Dhiab was not allowed to board a flight to Russia last year because he lacked an entry visa. He had tried to enter South Africa last December.
In July 2016, the former Guantánamo inmate set off alarms in nearby countries and in Washington when he vanished for several weeks, before turning up in Venezuela, which promptly sent him back to Uruguay.
The Syrian’s odyssey began when he was detained as an enemy combatant with suspected ties to militants and was held for 12 years at Guantánamo, although he was never charged. He drew international attention by staging a lengthy hunger strike and frequently clashing with guards.
Officials said Dhiab could not be returned to Syria due to the civil war there and he became one of six former Guantánamo prisoners resettled in Uruguay in 2014, at the invitation of then-President Jose Mujica.
He repeatedly expressed unhappiness about being in the South American country and staged hunger strikes to be allowed to leave. He said he wanted to join his family in Turkey or in another country. But officials said Turkey and Qatar rejected taking in Dhiab.
Dhiab’s public complaints about life in Uruguay irritated his hosts and he protested outside the U.S. Embassy in Montevideo.
The hunger strikes and forced feedings at Guantánamo left him with health problems, and he walks using crutches
When he arrived to Montevideo on Saturday, he showed his legal Uruguayan documents. But it was not clear how he ended up in Morocco.
Layera said there is no record with migration of when or how Dhiab left Uruguay, leading authorities to believe he slipped across the border with Brazil by car, as he has done before.
Brazilian authorities have not confirmed if Dhiab flew from that country to Morocco, and Layera said Dhiab has declined to answer Interpol’s questions about his trip.
And his journey might not be over.
“Dhiab said that he’ll continue to try to leave,” Uruguay’s police chief said. “And that his reason to live is to reunite with his family.”