SAN’A, Yemen (AP) — A former Guantanamo detainee who later became an al-Qaeda field commander has surrendered and was handed over Tuesday to Saudi authorities.
Abu al-Hareth Muhammad al-Oufi was one of two Saudis released from Guantanamo who re-emerged as al-Qaeda operatives in a militant video released a day after President Barack Obama signed an executive order to close the prison within a year.
In the video, al-Oufi wore a camouflage shirt with a leather bandolier of bullets draped over shoulder and threatened the United States.
“In the end, we say to the countries of the cross that are garrisoned on the land of (Saudi Arabia) and which support the crusader war against Muslims: By Allah, we are coming. By Allah, we are coming,” he said.
Al-Oufi was detainee number 333 at Guantanamo, and he was released in 2007. In the video, he said he went to Yemen after completing the Saudi government’s rehabilitation program for former Guantanamo inmates and other militants.
The kingdom, the birthplace of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and home to 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers, is trying to rehabilitate those it believes can abandon their violent extremist beliefs and reintegrate into society.
But in the video, released on Web sites commonly used by militants, al-Oufi railed against the rehab program, saying it aims “to drive us away from our Islam.”
Saudi Arabia named al-Oufi on a recently released list of 85 most wanted men that included 10 other former Guantanamo detainees.
The Yemeni Interior Ministry announced al-Oufi’s surrender Tuesday. Saudi government officials confirmed he was handed over to Saudi authorities in order to contact his family and return to his former rehabilitation center, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.
Sheik Mohammed al-Nujaimi, who helps run the rehabilitation program, said al-Oufi had contacted the program’s headquarters and “expressed a desire to surrender and return to Saudi Arabia.”
The whereabouts of the other ex-Guantanamo inmate who appeared with al-Oufi in the video and claims he is one of the leaders of al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen is unknown. Said Ali al-Shihri also was listed among Saudi Arabia’s 85 most wanted.
Yemen, the ancestral home of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, is re-emerging as a potential base of al-Qaeda operations. The impoverished country on the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula, the site of the 2000 USS Cole bombing that killed 17 American sailors, has a weak central government, a powerful tribal system and large swaths of lawless territory.
In November, outgoing CIA director Michael Hayden said al-Qaeda in Yemen conducted an “unprecedented number of attacks” in 2008 and was likely to be a launching pad for attacks against neighboring Saudi Arabia. The most recent attack, in September on the U.S. Embassy in San’a, killed 16.
Also Tuesday, Yemen announced it arrested seven Saudi men and was questioning them on suspicion of having ties to al-Qaeda and other terror groups. The men’s identities were not released.
Earlier this year, the Pentagon issued a report saying that increasing numbers of former Guantanamo prisoners have rejoined militant organizations and carried out attacks.
Guantanamo still has about 245 detainees — many of them Yemeni — but it is not clear how many will be prosecuted or where many will be transferred.