US sends home Algerian held for nearly 20 years at Guantanamo Bay

Sufiyan Barhoumi repatriated after being ruled for release in 2016 since US could not find Al Qaeda connections

A US Office of Military Commissions building for hearings in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba, in 2019. AP

An Algerian man imprisoned by the US at the Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba for nearly 20 years has been released and was sent home on Saturday.

The Department of Defence announced that Sufiyan Barhoumi was repatriated with assurances from the Algerian government that he would be treated humanely there and that security measures would be imposed to reduce the risk that he could pose a threat in the future.

The Pentagon did not provide details about those security measures, which could include restrictions on travel.

Mr Barhoumi, who is about 48 years old, was captured in Pakistan and taken to the US base at Guantanamo Bay in 2002.

The US eventually determined he was involved with extremist groups but was not a member of Al Qaeda or the Taliban, according to a report by a review board at the prison that approved his release in 2016.

US authorities attempted to prosecute Mr Barhoumi but the effort fizzled out amid legal challenges to the initial version of the military commission system set up under president George W Bush.

In the final days of Barack Obama’s presidency in January 2017, a federal judge in Washington declined to intervene in the Pentagon’s decision not to repatriate Mr Barhoumi, whose lawyer said he had expected his client to be released and that the prisoner’s family had begun making preparations for his return, buying him a car and a small restaurant for him to run.

The Justice Department said defence secretary Ash Carter rejected the release of Mr Barhoumi on January 12, 2017, “based on a variety of substantive concerns, shared by multiple agencies”, without going into detail.

The effort to resettle prisoners languished under Donald Trump. President Joe Biden's administration is attempting again to reduce the number of men held at Guantanamo as part of a broader effort to close the prison.

Mr Barhoumi’s release brings the total held at the US base in Cuba to 37 men, including 18 who have been deemed eligible for repatriation or resettlement in a third country.

Updated: April 02, 2022, 6:35 PM