Wire: Released Guantanamo Detainee Resurfaces as al-Qaida Chief
News in Balance:
WASHINGTON, Jan. 23, 2009 -- News outlets around the world reported Friday that a Saudi man who was released after spending six years inside the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo has joined al-Qaida's branch in Yemen and is now the terror group's No. 2 in the country, according to a purported Internet statement from al-Qaida.
The announcement, came as President Barack Obama ordered the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay closed within a year.
The emergence of the former detainee as the deputy leader of al-Qaida's Yemeni branch has underscored the potential complications in carrying out Obama's executive order closing Guantanamo without having a plan to deal with detainees now at the facility or when forces capture a high value individual such as Osama bin Laden in the future.
The Yemen branch -- known as "al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula" -- said the man, identified as Said Ali al-Shihri, returned to his home in Saudi Arabia after his release from Guantanamo about a year ago and from there went to Yemen. The Internet statement, which could not immediately be verified, said al-Shihri was the group's second-in-command in Yemen and his prisoner number at Guantanamo was 372.
The militant is suspected of involvement in a deadly bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Yemen's capital, Sana, in September. He was released to Saudi Arabia in 2007 and passed through a Saudi rehabilitation program for former jihadists before resurfacing with al-Qaida in Yemen.
The Internet statement by the militant group was confirmed by a U.S. counterterrorism official. "They're one and the same guy," said the official, who insisted on anonymity because he was discussing an intelligence analysis. "He returned to Saudi Arabia in 2007, but his movements to Yemen remain unclear."
Documents released by the U.S. Defense Department show that al-Shihri was released from the facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in November 2007 and transferred to his homeland. The documents confirmed his prisoner number was 372.
Earlier this month news outlets reported 61 former Guantanamo detainees appear to have returned to terrorism since their release from custody.
In an official briefing spokesman Geoff Morrell from the Pentagon stated, "[Of former detainees] we believe, 18 confirmed and 43 suspected of returning to the fight. So 61 in all former Guantanamo detainees are confirmed or suspected of returning to the fight."
(Report from multiple sources.)
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