The Defense Department announced on Sunday that five lower-level Yemeni nationals who had been held for more than 13 years at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp in Cuba have been transferred to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The five Yemeni men — one who was an Al Qaeda terrorist who reportedly had close ties to Osama bin Laden — were accepted for resettlement in the Persian Gulf nation after U.S. authorities determined they no longer posed a threat, the Defense Department said in a statement.
Their release brings the Guantanamo prison population to 107.
None of the men had been charged with a crime but had been detained as enemy combatants. They could not be sent to their homeland because the U.S. considers Yemen too unstable to accept prisoners from Guantanamo amid an ongoing Saudi-led war against Shiite rebels there.
The five released men, who arrived in the UAE on Saturday — only one day after terrorist attacks in Paris left 129 dead — were identified as Ali al-Razihi, Khalid al-Qadasi, Adil al-Busays, Sulayman al-Nahdi and Fahmi al-Asani. All were arrested fleeing the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
The five men were cleared by a secondary Guantánamo review board, but an initial task force only approved the release of four of the men, excluding al-Razihi.
Al-Razihi had been a suspected bodyguard for 9/11 mastermind and Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, the task force said in recommending his continued detention. He also fought against the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance shortly before the U.S. entry to the region. He was described as a “medium [security] risk [who] may pose a threat to the US, its interests, and allies,” said a statement from the initial task force.
However, another review board set up by the Obama government found that the men should also be released, according to reports.
“The Periodic Review Board… determined continued law of war detention of al-Razihi does not remain necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States,” said a statement from the Pentagon.
The resettlement of the Yemeni detainees was the first of its kind to the United Arab Emirates, which had previously taken in just one former Guantánamo detainee, in 2008 — its own citizen.
The release of the enemy combatants is part of President Obama’s ultimate goal to do away with Guantánamo completely.
President Barack Obama has reduced the number of prisoners at Guantanamo by more than half since he took office. He had sought to close the detention center but faced opposition to Congress. The administration is now seeking to move detainees to the United States amid intense opposition.