Full name: Muhammad Abdullah Salah al-Assad|
Family status: Married, five children
Amnesty International has received consistent reports that the US
authorities have a network of secret detention centres around the globe,
holding an unknown number of "war on terror" detainees in unknown conditions
In September 2005, Amnesty International spoke with Muhammad al-Assad, a
man who had been caught up in this sinister system. He was effectively
disappeared" by the US for over 16 months.
Muhammad al-Assad is a Yemeni national who had lived in Tanzania for 25
years. He ran a small business importing diesel engine parts. In 1997 he
leased office space that he owned to a Saudi charity named the Al-Haramain
Islamic Foundation. After the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US, this
charity was placed on a blacklist by the US authorities as a possible link
to terrorist funding.
Arrest and secret transfer to US custody
"I was frightened, very frightened, and kept asking what was happening to me
On the night of 26 December 2003 Tanzanian immigration officials came to
Muhammad al-Assad’s house and arrested him. He was hooded and cuffed and
taken to a flat where he was interrogated about his passport.
From here he was taken to a plane. He asked his guards what was happening to
him. One replied "we don’t know, we are just following orders, there are
high ranking ones who are responsible." His head was forced down when he
entered the plane, leading him to believe it was a small aircraft.
Muhammad al-Assad estimates that he spent three hours on this plane.
Confused and scared, he does not know where he was taken, but told AI that
one of his guards spoke Arabic with a Somalian or Ethiopian accent, and that
the type of bread he was given was typical of East Africa. Muhammad al-Assad
was held here for approximately two weeks. He was interrogated three or four
times. His interrogator was an English speaking woman and the translator a
white western man who spoke good Arabic. He was asked about the Al-Haramain
At the end of the two weeks he was hooded and cuffed again and placed on
what he thought was a larger plane. He was flown for a long time, up to
eight hours, stopped for an hour, and then flown for a further three hours.
He felt that the weather was much cooler at his destination.
He was held in a cell which was larger than the previous one. The cell was
old, completely windowless and empty apart from matting on the floor. He
says that he was not provided with a blanket and was very cold. He was left
for nine days alone in this cell, no-one talked to him.
His interrogator and translator at this facility were both western white men
in their forties and the guards here were also English speaking. He was
asked similar questions about the Al-Haramain charity and his connection to
it. He was held in this cell for two weeks in total, and was then
transferred again. He was put in a car and driven for twenty minutes. He was
placed in a similar cell, stating only that it was smaller and older. He was
held for three months in this cell. He was only irregularly taken to be
interrogated. His interrogators, as well as the questions, were the same.
Secret detention facility
“God brought you here and only God can bring you out”.
Muhammad al-Assad in the US run secret detention facility.
In April 2004, Muhammed al-Assad was put on yet another flight, this one
lasting five to six hours. He was then transferred to a helicopter, he was
thrown roughly onto the floor. He was taken to a new US run facility. The
description of this facility that he gave to AI is remarkably similar to the
testimony of Salah Nasser Salim 'Ali and Muhammad Faraj Ahmed Bashmillah,
the two other detainees held in US secret detention who AI spoke to in June
The guards at the facility were covered in black clothing, including their
faces. They would not speak, only communicating by hand gestures.
There were no ornaments or distinctive markings and there were no floor
Additionally, all three men were subject to the same regime of interrogation
and sensory deprivation
Constant white noise was played through loudspeakers
Artificial light was kept on 24 hours a day. The detainees were unable to
discern what time of day it was, save by what meal they were being provided
and prayer times
There were no windows in their cells. The men did not see daylight
throughout the entire time they were held in this facility
They were allowed to speak to no-one but their interrogators
They were taken for showers once a week
During the last four months of his captivity, Muhammed al-Assad was allowed
to play football on his own for half an hour three times a week.
Return to Yemen and continued detention
"If I am guilty of anything, try me and I will spend the rest of my life in
jail…only give me a trial."
Muhammad al-Assad to Amnesty International,
On 5 May 2005, Muhammad al Assad was taken from the secret detention
facility and returned to Yemen. He maintains that he was on the same flight
as Muhammad Bashmillah and Salah 'Ali.
The three men were held in the Political Security Prison in Sana’a for two
weeks. Muhammad al-Assad was then transferred to al-Ghaydah, in the east of
the country. The other two men were sent to Aden.
Four months after his transfer he remains detained. When Amnesty
International asked Yemeni officials about the status of the three men they
replied that they had been given explicit instructions on the continued
detention of the men, and that they are “awaiting files” from the US so that
they can try them. The official stated that the instructions came from the
US embassy in Yemen
When AI asked whether they would release the men if the US requested it, a
high-ranking Political Security official answered, without hesitation, "yes"
"They came to take our father at night, like thieves..."
12-year-old daughter of Muhammad al-Assad.
Muhammad al-Assad’s family has had to bear to the intense emotional and
psychological burden of not knowing where he was for over a year and a half,
and have endured economic privation as a result of his "disappearance" and
Tanzanian authorities told Muhammad al-Assad's wife that he had been
deported to Yemen. When Muhammad al-Assad's 75-year-old father found out, he
travelled 1,300km from the remote al-Mahra governate to the capital Sana'a,
to find his son. He was given written assurances that his son had never
entered the country. His father carried on to Tanzania to file a habeas
corpus petition. He was eventually told that his son had been transferred to
US custody, but that no-one knew where he had been taken.
Muhammad's wife, Zahra Salloum, has had to relocate to Yemen with her five children. She speaks no Arabic and told Amnesty International that in addition to the economic hardship, adjusting to life in Yemen has been difficult.