The United States announced Wednesday the release of a Saudi engineer detained more than two decades ago as a suspect in the Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaida attacks from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay but never charged.
Ghassan Al Sharbi (48) was arrested in March 2002 in Faisalabad, Pakistan, with an associate of Al-Qaeda. He was targeted because he studied at Arizona Air Force College and attended flight school with two al-Qaeda fighters. 9/11 plot.
The US military considered charges against Sharbi and several others, but dropped them in 2008.
Still, he continued to be held as an enemy combatant in a military prison at the US Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and his status remained in limbo — he was never charged, but neither was his release approved.
However, in February 2022, the Pentagon’s Periodic Review Committee, which handles petitions for release from Guantánamo, ruled that the native of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, could be released.
It said he had no leadership or intermediary position in al-Qaida and was compliant in custody – after being considered an enemy prisoner years ago.
He also stated that he had unspecified “physical and mental problems”.
The 2022 decision indicated he could enter Saudi Arabia’s long-term rehabilitation program for radical jihadists, which seeks to slowly change their outlook while ensuring they are monitored when they return to society.
The review panel said in a statement on Wednesday that it recommended that Sharbi be transferred to Saudi custody “subject to the implementation of a comprehensive set of security measures including monitoring, travel restrictions and ongoing information sharing”.
After Sharbi’s release, 31 detainees remain at Guantanamo, down from a peak of nearly 800.
17 of them are eligible for transfer, and the Pentagon and State Department are looking for countries to accept them.
Another three are eligible for review by the Committee of Regular Review, while nine face charges before military commissions and two have been convicted before such commissions.