Freed Gitmo Detainee Becomes al-Qaida Chief

Thursday, 22 Jan 2009 11:55 PM

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The deputy leader of al-Qaida’s branch in Yemen is a former Guantanamo detainee, according to a story in Friday’s New York Times.

The story identifies the leader as Said Ali al-Shihri, a militant suspected of involvement in a deadly bombing of the United States Embassy in Yemen’s capital, Sana, in September.

He was released from Guantanamo and sent to Saudi Arabia in 2007, according to the Times. There he passed through a Saudi rehabilitation program for former jihadists before resurfacing with al-Qaida in Yemen.

His status was announced in an Internet statement by the militant group and was confirmed by an American counterterrorism official.

“They’re one and the same guy,” said the official, who insisted on anonymity because he was discussing an intelligence analysis. “He returned to Saudi Arabia in 2007, but his movements to Yemen remain unclear.”

The development comes as the Obama administration has moved toward closing down the Guantanamo facility and moving its most hard-core inmates to U.S. prisons, where they’d have the same rights as American criminals. Critics fear that putting them on U.S. soil will also increase the risk of attacks and hostage taking designed to release them.

Of special concern is the fact that almost half the camp’s remaining detainees are Yemenis, and efforts to repatriate them depend in part on the creation of a Yemeni rehabilitation program — partly financed by the United States — similar to the Saudi one. The Times reports that, until now, Saudi Arabia has claimed that no graduate of its program has returned to terrorism.

That Pentagon has said that at least 60 – possibly more – of the detainees released from Guantanamo have rejoined terrorist cells and have fought once again against Americans.

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