The United States has released and transferred an alleged al-Qaeda bomb maker from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba to Saudi Arabia, the Department of Defense (DOD) announced on March 8.
Ghassan Al Sharbi, a 48-year-old Saudi Arabian engineer, was sent to his native country after the Periodic Review Board (PRB) determined that it was no longer necessary to detain him to protect against a “continuing significant threat to the national security of the United States,” the department said.
That board consists of one senior career official each from the DOD, Homeland Security, Department of Justice, and State Department, along with the Joint Staff and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
“The PRB recommended that Ghassan Al Sharbi be transferred subject to the implementation of a comprehensive set of security measures including monitoring, travel restrictions, and continued information sharing,” the department said.
Al Sharbi was reportedly taking flight lessons in the Phoenix area alongside two other men who would later become hijackers in the 9/11 attacks.
He briefly traveled to Afghanistan and began training with al-Qaeda, according to government records (pdf).
He later fled to Pakistan after the Sept. 11 attacks to begin training in bomb-making, according to U.S. officials, who have described Al Sharbi as a loyal al-Qaeda supporter and collaborator.
Al Sharbi was arrested in Pakistan the following year, allegedly tortured in custody, and sent to Guantanamo. He was briefly charged with “providing material support for terrorism” and conspiracy, according to court documents.
More Detainees Released
However, the charges were later dropped after higher courts ruled that the first charge could not be retroactively recognized as an international war crime, according to The New York Times.
Al Sharbi had been detained in Guantanamo Bay for more than two decades without trial.
“The United States appreciates the willingness of the Kingdom of Saudi of Arabia, and other partners to support ongoing U.S. efforts toward a deliberate and thorough process focused on responsibly reducing the detainee population and ultimately closing the Guantanamo Bay facility,” the DOD said Wednesday.
According to the DOD, 31 detainees currently remain at Guantanamo Bay, of which 17 are eligible for transfer, three are eligible for a PRB assessment, and nine are “involved in the military commissions process” to decide if they will be charged or not.
Two of the detainees have been convicted in military commissions, the department said.
Al Sharbi is the fourth Guantanamo detainee to be released and sent to another country so far this year.
In February, Pakistani native Majid Khan, 42, was transferred to Belize after serving his sentence at the U.S.-run detention center for over a decade.
In that same month, two Pakistani brothers—Abdul, 55, and Mohammed Rabbani, 53—who were never charged with a crime, were freed and returned home in January after being held at the facility for 20 decades.
The prison camp at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba was established by former President George W. Bush in 2002 to house foreign terrorism suspects after the 9/11 attacks that resulted in the death of more than 2,900 people.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.