WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said on Tuesday it had transferred Abdul Shalabi, a longtime hunger striker at the Guantanamo Bay prison and described as a bodyguard for former al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, to his home country of Saudi Arabia.
His departure after more than 13-1/2 years at the Guantanamo facility leaves 114 detainees at the U.S. naval base in Cuba, the Pentagon said in a statement.
The U.S. Defense Department has described the 39-year-old Shalabi as a member of al Qaeda and a longtime bodyguard for bin Laden, who received “specialized close combat training for his role as a suicide operative in an aborted component” of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
Shalabi was transferred “to the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the Pentagon said, marking the second detainee departure from Guantanamo in less than a week. The Pentagon last Thursday said Younis Abdurrahman Chekkouri, a Moroccan detainee held since 2002, had been returned to his home country.
“The United States is grateful to the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility,” the Pentagon said.
It said the United States coordinated with Saudi Arabia “to ensure this transfer took place consistent with appropriate security and humane treatment measures.”
In April, Shalabi’s representatives urged the United States to transfer him to Saudi Arabia “as soon as possible” and that he “should not be considered a significant and continuing threat to the security of the United States.”
They said he had been on a hunger strike since 2005.
They told a review board considering his case that hunger striking “is not an illegal act, but rather a non-violent and peaceful means of protesting camp conditions and continued detainment.”
A 2008 Pentagon document said he was captured by Pakistani forces in December 2001 while attempting to cross the Afghanistan-Pakistan border after fleeing from bin Laden’s Tora Bora mountain complex.
He arrived at Guantanamo in January 2002, becoming among the first detainees sent there by former President George W. Bush’s administration.
The review board said on June 15 it determined his continued detention at Guantanamo was “no longer necessary” to protect U.S. security and expressed confidence in a Saudi “rehabilitation program” and that country’s ability to monitor him after he competes the program.
Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Peter Cooney