FRONTLINE/World | Albania: Getting out of Gitmo | PBS





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Uploaded on Dec 16, 2011

On May 5, 2006, a plane took off from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with five shackled men inside. They landed at an airport in southern Europe and were given a new set of clothes, but little information.

"There were 20 to 30 soldiers inside the airplane," says former detainee Abu Bakker Qassim. "Our hands and feet were tied by chains. The first thing we saw was darkness."

The men were members of a Muslim ethnic minority group from western China called Uighurs. But they now found themselves driven through the streets of a city that most of them had never heard of -- Tirana, Albania -- where FRONTLINE/World reporter Alexandra Poolos arrived in the summer of 2008 to track them down.

The first man she met, Abu Bakker Qassim, led her to the building where he and the others had been taken after they arrived.

"When I first arrived," says Abu Bakker, "they brought me to this center behind me. It is the political asylum center of Albania. We arrived at about midnight. After I arrived, I spent a year and a half of my life here."

When the local news heard about the arrival of Abu Bakker and his friends at the refugee center, they became a big story in Albania. People were worried that these men were Al Qaeda terrorists. Under scrutiny, Abu Bakker and the others struggled to make sense of it all.

"Getting caught up in international terrorism, being taken to Guantanamo, then becoming the focus of the world as an evil person -- this was beyond my wildest thoughts," says Abu Bakker. "It was a punishment of destiny that we went through."

The story of the Uighurs' unimaginable odyssey began in an even less well-known place: Xinjiang, a remote area of western China, where Abu Bakker and the others grew up.

The Uighurs consider Xinjiang their homeland, but the long-standing tension between this Muslim minority and the Chinese government dominates daily life.

In Xinjiang, Abu Bakker made a living as a leatherworker, and at age 26, he married. A few years later, in mid-2000, he made the critical decision that would leave him exiled in Albania: He headed out of Xinjiang to look for work.

Leaving was difficult, as his wife was now pregnant. He told her he'd be back in six months, but the trip didn't go as planned.




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