WASHINGTON — A pair of suspected Al-Qaida bomb-makers who’d previously been cleared for transfer from Guantanamo Bay were sent to eastern Europe on Thursday, leaving 91 detainees at the controversial facility in Cuba.
The Pentagon transferred Tariq Mahmoud Ahmed Al Sawah to his home nation of Bosnia and sent Abd al-Aziz Abduh Abdallah Ali Al-Suwaydi to Montenegro as it continues to work to close the detention facility, a promise President Barack Obama has vowed to fulfil since he was a candidate in 2008.
This month, Defense Secretary Ash Carter has approved the transfer of 16 detainees. He transferred only 15 last year after taking office in February.
Al Sawah, who holds citizenship in Bosnia and Egypt, is an admitted member of Al-Qaida who developed specialized explosives to be used against U.S. and coalition forces, according to information in the New York Times Guantanamo Docket. His devices included limpet mines designed to attack American war ships and the prototype for the failed shoe bomb that British Al-Qaida member Richard Reid attempted to detonate on a flight from Paris to Miami in December 2001.
The 58-year-old was captured in November 2001 after he was injured by a bomb near Tora Bora and has been detained at Guantanamo since February 2002. Defense Department memorandums about Al Sawah state he has provided the United States “extensive, in-depth intelligence … regarding explosives, Al Qaida, affiliated entities and their activities.”
The Guantanamo Periodic Review Board, which includes members from the DOD, Homeland Security, Justice and State departments; the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence approved Al Sawah’s released in February 2015, stating his detention “does not remain necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”
Al-Suwaydi, a 41-year-old Yemeni citizen, was also a suspected Al-Qaida explosives maker who fought with Osama bin Laden’s 55th Arab Brigade in Afghanistan, according to the New York Times Guantanamo Docket. Al-Suwaydi, who was also known as Abue Omar al-Muhaijer, was captured with other Al-Qaida members in a safe house in Karachi, Pakistan in February 2002, after fleeing Afghanistan. He’s been held at Guantanamo since May 2002.
Al-Suwaydi has been cleared for release since 2010.
In separate statements, the Pentagon expressed its appreciation to the governments of Bosnia and Montenegro for agreeing to receive the detainees. Both transfer agreements included “appropriate security and humane treatment measures,” the Pentagon statements read.
Closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, Carter said Jan. 14, “would benefit our national security.”
The Pentagon recently forwarded a plan for closing Guantanamo to the White House, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said Thursday.
“We’ve been working on a plan for several months,” Davis said. “That plan is at the White House now and being considered, and we hope it will soon go to Congress for their consideration.”
He said he could not provide specifics on the department’s plan, but Carter said last week that it would include moving those detainees ineligible for release to “an appropriate, secure location in the United States.”
The 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, passed in November, banned moving any detainees to the United States. Obama announced at the time he opposed that provision, but he signed the bill anyway.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said last week that he and other representatives opposed moving Guantanamo detainees to American soil.
“And that’s not going to change anytime soon,” Ryan said.