WASHINGTON, March 9 (AP) — U.S. military officials said Wednesday they have deported a suspected al-Qaeda member who had long been held at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, back to his native Saudi Arabia.
The transfer of Ghassan al Sharbi is the latest to empty the Guantanamo military prison of those who no longer face possible prosecution or serve after the U.S. military launched a global roundup of extremist suspects following the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. The detainee status of the sentence.
For years, U.S. officials have described al Sharbi as a loyal Al Qaeda supporter and collaborator. Al Sharbi was featured in a now-famous memo to FBI agents in Phoenix — little noticed at the time — in which he correctly warned months before the 9/11 attacks that Middle Eastern students appeared to be working for civilians involved in Air raids while taking flying lessons.
The US says al Sharbi fled to Pakistan after the Sept. 11 attacks for bomb-making training. He was arrested there the following year, allegedly tortured in custody, and sent to Guantanamo.
Efforts by the US military to convict al Sharbi have been frustrated as court rulings and congressional directives evolve in the face of challenges to the court-martial’s legal authority to try Guantanamo detainees.
A review board found last year that al Sharbi was no longer a threat to the United States to warrant military detention. It recommended that he be transferred out of Guantanamo and subject to “a comprehensive set of security measures, including surveillance, travel restrictions and ongoing information sharing”.
Saudi Arabia — the country where most of the 9/11 hijackers came from — has long had facilities to detain and rehabilitate extremists.
Al Sharbi became at least the fourth Guantanamo detainee to be released so far this year and sent to another country. At its peak in 2003, Guantanamo held about 600 prisoners. With al Sharbi’s transfer, it is holding 31 prisoners, including 17 others deemed eligible for transfer, provided a stable country can be found to take them. (Associated Press)
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