MIAMI — Two men from Libya have been released from the prison on the U.S. base in Cuba after nearly 14 years in custody without charge and were granted settlement in the West African nation of Senegal, officials said Monday.
Their departure comes amid an effort by President Barack Obama to release Guantanamo prisoners who are no longer deemed a threat and to eventually close the detention center, a prospect that faces strong opposition in Congress. With the release of the two Libyans, there are 89 men left, including 35 cleared for release who are expected to be gone within months.
Officials have said that both Salem Abdu Salam Ghereby, 55, and Omar Khalif Mohammed Abu Baker Mahjour, who records show is about 44, were members of the Libya Islamic Fighting Group, an organization that sought the ouster of dictator Moammar Gadhafi and had been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. since 2004. Both men were captured in Pakistan.
Neither could be sent back to the homeland they fled in the 1990s because of the instability there unleashed by the violent overthrow of Gadhafi. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed thanks that Senegal agreed to take the men.
“The United States appreciates the generous assistance of the government of Senegal as the United States continues its efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility,” Kerry said. “This significant humanitarian gesture is consistent with Senegal’s leadership on the global stage.”
During the Clark County Commission on Aging speaker series, experts will address different aspects of housing. Presentations are 4:30 p.m. on the third Tuesday of every month in the sixth-floor hearing room of the Public Service Center at 1300 Franklin St., Vancouver.
• Tuesday: Alan DeLaTorre speaks about the housing options needed for the increasing number of people reaching 50.
• March 15: What does aging-in-place mean? How can it be achieved?
• April 19: What housing options would best serve young and old alike?
• May 17: Simple design choices that help people age in place and within their budgets.
• June 21: Commission members make a presentation to Clark County councilors, sharing information gleaned from meetings and from the perspectives of the experts and public.
• July 19: What financing options are available for remodeling, retrofitting or building a new home?
• Aug. 16: Smaller or larger: What to consider when contemplating a move.
• Sept. 20: Guidelines when choosing a contractor for a remodel or new home construction.
• Oct. 18: Constraints of remodeling or retrofitting a home in public housing.
• Nov. 15: What technologies exist to support aging in place?
• Dec. 20: How can the commission share and use information learned this year?
Senegal’s Foreign Affairs Ministry confirmed they would be receiving the former detainees in a statement released Monday on the country’s Independence Day. It cited the “Senegalese tradition of hospitality” and Islamic solidarity.
Khalifa, who had been cleared by a U.S. government review board last year, was described in a profile issued by the Pentagon as having worked for a company owned by Osama bin Laden in Sudan after he fled Libya in the 1990s. He later moved to Afghanistan, where he allegedly fought against the Northern Alliance in its war with the Taliban. His lawyer, Ramzi Kassem, said that a U.S. federal court judge found there was no evidence that he was ever involved in any attacks on the U.S. or its allies.
His right leg is missing below the knee from stepping on a land mine in Afghanistan in 1998, he has shrapnel in leg and arm and is blind in one eye. Kassem, a professor at City University of New York School of Law, said Khalifa looks forward to “receiving proper medical care” and rebuilding his life after Guantanamo.
“This is a bittersweet moment. I’m unsure why a half-blind, one-legged man with only one fully-functioning arm, and whose only supposed crime was to object to the Gadhafi dictatorship in his native Libya, was not freed years ago,” he said.
More than two dozen countries have now taken nearly 100 former Guantanamo prisoners since 2009. These are the first to go to Senegal.
Jihadists have held bases for years in neighboring Mali, but Senegal had until recently largely avoided Islamic extremism inside its borders. However, officials in the moderate, predominantly Muslim country on West Africa’s coastline have grown increasingly concerned about the threat of extremism in recent months. Al-Qaida’s North Africa branch has carried out a series of deadly attacks on places popular with foreigners, including hotels, a restaurant and a beach in the region.
Senegal is now widely considered a possible next target after the attacks in Mali, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast. As a result, security has been significantly enhanced at upscale international hotels, along with French-owned grocery stores and restaurants in the normally peaceful capital. Armed police officers in flak jackets search the contents of all vehicles entering the parking lot of Dakar’s sole upscale shopping center, Sea Plaza.
Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed to this report.