MIAMI (AP) — A Saudi citizen who has spent the past 12 years detained at Guantanamo Bay has been released, the Pentagon said Saturday, amid a push to whittle down the prison population at the U.S. base in Cuba.
Muhammad al-Zahrani was sent to his homeland based on the conclusion of a U.S. government board that has been re-evaluating the need to continue holding some of the men as prisoners, the Pentagon said in a statement. He will take part in a Saudi program to rehabilitate militants.
Al-Zahrani, who is about 45, had been held at Guantanamo since August 2002, according to military records. A report by the Periodic Review Board said he traveled to Afghanistan in 1999 and "almost certainly" joined al-Qaida, trained in military tactics and fought the Northern Alliance.
His lawyers, in a statement to the board, described him as a "middle-aged, ailing man who desperately wants to return to Saudi Arabia." They said his father died while he was in U.S. custody and "his only wish is to see his ailing mother before she passes away."
The board cleared him for release in October, citing a number of factors including his willingness to participate in the Saudi rehabilitation program. He left Guantanamo on Friday.
Al-Zahrani is the 13th prisoner to leave Guantanamo Bay this year and the seventh in just the past two weeks. Officials have said more prisoners will be released in the coming weeks as part of a renewed effort to close the site where 142 men now are held, including 73 already cleared for release.