US repatriates Guantanamo detainee to Mauritania

1 / 2
US repatriates Guantanamo detainee to Mauritania

Washington (AFP) - A Mauritanian detainee at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, has been repatriated after 13 years behind bars, the Pentagon said Thursday, as Washington pursues efforts to close the facility.

President Barack Obama has pledged to shut down the military prison in Cuba, but faces opposition in Congress and pushback from countries reluctant to take in one-time terror suspects.

The 45-year-old detainee, an alleged Al-Qaeda cell member who later fled to Afghanistan and was accused of fighting there, was captured in June 2002 in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi.

He was first held at the US detention center at Bagram north of the Afghan capital Kabul, then transferred to Guantanamo in October that year, according to Defense Department documents published by WikiLeaks.

He is alleged to have sworn an oath of loyalty to Osama bin Laden in 1999, and was accused of fighting on the front lines in Afghanistan against the US-backed anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. According to his 2008 file, he "possibly" fought against US and coalition forces.

Abdel Aziz told the US military that he had seen bin Laden at the Islamic Institute in Kandahar on three occasions, and had been to the wedding of bin Laden's son in early 2000.

"While in US custody, detainee has made statements indicating his hatred of Americans and his intention to kill US personnel and retaliate against the Pakistani government for their cooperation with the US in capturing him," his file states.

Nonetheless, the Guantanamo Review Task Force Board, which was set up to establish which detainees should be released, initially recommended him for transfer back in January 2010.

"The United States is grateful to the Government of Mauritania for its willingness to support ongoing US efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility," the Pentagon said in a statement.

In 2013, Abdel Aziz had been reported released in Nouakchott -- a claim swiftly denied by the Pentagon.

- A new Guantanamo? -

The Pentagon said 113 detainees remain in the prison, which was opened to hold terror suspects following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

US officials are looking at sites in the United States that could one day house the detainees.

Several venues are under consideration, including the Consolidated Naval Brig in Charleston, South Carolina; Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, and a federal prison in Colorado that is already home to Egypt's Ramzi Yousef, who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993, and "Unabomber" serial murderer Ted Kaczynski.

The site surveys are all complete, and military officials are compiling a report of recommendations that will eventually go to Defense Chief Ashton Carter and the White House.

"These site visits are part of ongoing efforts to fully assess all potential locations and develop estimated costs associated with the closure of the detention facility," Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Commander Gary Ross said.

"These site visits are informational only. No sites have been selected for holding detainees," he said.