Saudi detainee sent home from Guantanamo

Mohammed al-Zahrani is the latest of seven prisoners freed from the controversial jail in the past three weeks

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A Saudi Arabian inmate at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba was repatriated Saturday, leaving 142 prisoners still at the jail President Barack Obama has pledged to close, the Pentagon said.

Mohammed al-Zahrani is the latest of seven prisoners freed from the controversial jail in the past three weeks, and his release comes just days after authorities transferred five inmates to Georgia and Slovakia.

Al-Zahrani was approved for transfer last month by the special review board, created by Obama in his efforts to shut the prison, the Pentagon statement said, adding that Congress was duly informed informed of the transfer.

Held at Guantanamo for 12 years, the 43 or 44-year-old Saudi national was considered until the latest review to present a "high risk" to American interests.

But the review board, composed of representatives from six government agencies, including the State and Defense departments, decided on October 3 that Al-Zahrani, a suspected Al-Qaeda operative, no longer represented a threat to the United States.

Of the 142 inmates remaining, a total of 73 have been cleared for release -- some of them during the administration of Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush -- but remain incarcerated without charges or trial.

Obama has accelerated releases in recent weeks, including sending home the first Yemenis since 2010.

"A total of 13 detainees have been transferred this year," noted Paul Lewis, Special Envoy for Guantanamo Detention Closure, in Saturday's statement.

"This strikes a responsible balance and reflects the careful deliberation the Secretary of Defense brings to the transfer process, and follows a rigorous process in the interagency to review several items including security review prior to any transfer," he added.

In early November, a military official told AFP that about 15 detainees would be transferred over the winter. Six inmates are expected to go to Uruguay, and another four could be sent back to Afghanistan.

The closure of the prison, set up to hold detainees from President George W. Bush's post-9/11 "War on Terror," was a prominent part of Obama's election campaign in 2008.

Yet attempts to realize his ambition have been thwarted by domestic and international obstacles, leaving the fate of the jail and its prisoners in limbo.

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