Senegal reassures public about ex-Guantanamo detainees

AP News
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Posted: Apr 05, 2016 4:27 PM

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Senegal has agreed to take in two former detainees from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility for humanitarian reasons, the West African nation's justice minister said Tuesday, reassuring residents that the two Libyan men are not a threat.

"These are simply men who we must help because they are African sons who have been tested for years," Minister of Justice Sidiki Kaba said. "It is important, under the conditions of American law, that these detainees be able to have access to humanitarian asylum."

Kaba said the two were not known to be jihadis.

Salem Abdu Salam Ghereby, 55, and Omar Khalif Mohammed Abu Baker Mahjour, 44, spent nearly 14 years in custody at the U.S. base in Cuba without charge. They were members of the Libya Islamic Fighting Group, which sought the ouster of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and had been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. since 2004.

President Barack Obama is making efforts to release Guantanamo prisoners who are no longer deemed a threat and to eventually close the detention center. More than two dozen countries have now taken nearly 100 former Guantanamo prisoners since 2009. Ghana also has accepted two former detainees.

"President Sall accepted them for humanitarian reasons," Kaba said. "The importance is to ensure that Guantanamo can be closed. There have been serious human rights violations in this prison."

The men's arrival comes amid growing concern about Islamic extremism in Senegal — a moderate, predominantly Muslim country on West Africa's coastline now widely considered a possible next target after attacks in Mali, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast.

Senegal resident Abdoulaye Mbaye was worried.

"Our world is marked by the development of terrorism. We must be careful," he said.

However, another resident, Cheikh Ndong, said: "If the government has agreed to accept these two detainees, it is because the American government has given guarantees."