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Disappearance of ex-Guantanamo prisoner sparks alarm

Jihad Diyab, a 44-year-old Syrian, was resettled in Uruguay in 2014 along with five other ex-detainees

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The Obama administration came under fire Thursday over the disappearance of a former Guantanamo Bay inmate in Uruguay, as Republican lawmakers voiced fears he and others freed from the military prison could again threaten America.

Jihad Diyab -- a 44-year-old Syrian who was resettled in Uruguay in 2014 along with five other ex-detainees -- went off the South American country's radar several weeks ago after apparently evading border controls and crossing into Brazil.

The disappearance has sharpened US debate over President Barack Obama administration's push to resettle other detainees, especially amid security concerns as the Olympics are set to kick off in Rio de Janeiro in August.

"That's a heck of a terrorist target, folks," said Republican representative Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, who said Diyab was a "forger for Al-Qaeda" who might be helping others to fake documents that would enable passage to the US.

Lee Wolosky, the US special envoy for Guantanamo closure, admitted to lawmakers at a House hearing: "I would have preferred that he stayed in Uruguay with the five other detainees through the end of the program, which was for another few months."

Before he leaves office in January, Obama hopes to resettle 29 of the 79 current Guantanamo detainees, all of whom have been deemed eligible for transfer.

The remaining 50 have been deemed not eligible, and Obama's government is trying to find an alternate prison for them in order to fulfill his promise to close Guantanamo before the end of his term.

According to US government statistics, about 13 percent of prisoners freed from Guantanamo since Obama began his first term have returned to violent extremism or are believed to have done so, down from 35 percent under former president George W. Bush.

Paul Lewis, the Pentagon's special envoy for Guantanamo closure, said that 14 ex-prisoners have gone on to participate in attacks that killed Americans.

Both Lewis and Wolosky noted that release of those inmates came before Obama took office.

"The assessment of the intelligence community is that no detainees released since 2009 are responsible for the death of Americans," said Wolosky.

Of the 29 Guantanamo prisoners eligible for transfer, 22 are from Yemen, further complicating their resettlement as the US administration would not return them to their war-torn home country.