RIYADH, (AP) – Sixteen Saudis from the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay arrived home Monday and were immediately detained by authorities investigating possible terrorist connections, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.
A total of 77 Saudis have now been returned from Guantanamo, Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki told SPA. He said 53 remain at the U.S. military facility in Cuba, a source of tension in U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia, a close ally. Al-Turki’s figures correspond to those maintained independently by The Associated Press.
A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, confirmed that 16 detainees had been transferred from Guantanamo to Saudi Arabia.
“These detainees were determined to be eligible for transfer following a comprehensive series of review processes conducted at Guantanamo Bay,” a Pentagon statement said.
Saudi Interior Minister Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz expressed “great joy” over the return of the 16 prisoners, praising “the cooperation by the American authorities,” according to SPA. He said he hoped the remaining Saudi detainees would return home in the near future.
The prisoners who were transferred Monday were expected to remain in custody while authorities investigated whether they had links to militant organizations, the report said.
Six groups of Saudis have returned from Guantanamo, the first in May 2006, and all have been detained on arrival.
Three Saudis have died in Guantanamo in what U.S. officials have said were suicides. Many Saudis don’t believe that and think the detainees were abused — a claim the U.S. denies.
The United States began using the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in January 2002 for people captured in Afghanistan and Pakistan who were suspected of having links to al-Qaeda or the Taliban.
Of the 759 people who have been held at Guantanamo, according to Defense Department documents released to the AP, 136 have been Saudis, making them the second-largest contingent of prisoners, behind Afghan nationals.
About 360 detainees remain at Guantanamo, including 80 deemed eligible for transfer or release. Most have been held for years without being charged.