US releases Saudi Guantanamo Bay detainee after 21 years

Ghassan Al Sharbi, 48, was returned to Saudi Arabia from Guantanamo in the latest transfer of prisoners

The prison at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba. AP
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US authorities have released a Saudi Arabian citizen held at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp for 21 years, the Department of Defence said.

The return of Ghassan Al Sharbi, 48, to Saudi Arabia is the latest transfer of Guantanamo detainees who no longer face possible prosecution or who have finished their sentences, following the US military's global roundup of suspected extremists after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

“On September 21, 2022, Secretary of Defence Austin notified Congress of his intent to repatriate Ghassan Al Sharbi to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and, in consultation with our partners in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, we completed the requirements for responsible transfer”, the Department of Defence said in a statement late on Wednesday.

Mr Al Sharbi was suspected of training in bomb-making for the extremist Al Qaeda group. He was arrested in Pakistan in March 2002 but was never brought to trial.

A review board last year concluded that he was no longer enough of a threat to the US to be held in military detention. It recommended he be transferred out of Guantanamo subject to “a comprehensive set of security measures including monitoring, travel restrictions and continued information sharing”.

The Taliban greet Asadullah Haroon, centre, one of the two Afghans detained at Guantanamo Bay, as he arrives in Kabul, in June. EPA

The US said it appreciated the willingness of Saudi of Arabia and other partners to support the recent repatriation efforts from Guantanamo.

“The United States appreciates the willingness of the Kingdom of Saudi of Arabia and other partners to support ongoing US efforts towards a deliberate and thorough process focused on responsibly reducing the detainee population and ultimately closing the Guantanamo Bay facility”, the Pentagon said.

The latest repatriation has reduced the detainee population at the US military prison in Cuba to 31 men, 17 of whom are approved for resettlement or repatriation after security agreements are reached with countries willing to take them.

Out of the 17 detainees eligible for transfer, three are eligible for review, nine are on trial and two have been convicted in military commissions.

Earlier last month, two Pakistani brothers, Abdul and Mohammed Rabbani, were released from Guantanamo Bay and returned to Pakistan.

Updated: March 09, 2023, 2:28 PM