January 24, 2009 / 5:15 PM / 10 years ago

Yemen says awaiting 94 Guantanamo returnees

SANAA (Reuters) - Yemen said on Saturday it expected the repatriation soon of 94 Yemenis held at the U.S. Guantanamo Bay prison camp, and vowed it would make sure they did not rejoin the ranks of Islamic militants.

The remarks by Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh came as two men released earlier from Guantanamo appeared on an al Qaeda video posted on Islamist websites to say they had become commanders of the group in Yemen.

The Pentagon said this month that 61 former detainees from its camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, appeared to have returned to fight alongside militants since their release.

Saleh said the United States was expected to release within about three months 94 Yemenis who would undergo “rehabilitation ... to rid them of extremism.”

“Security bodies have been instructed to prepare a center for their rehabilitation with a school, health and appropriate facilities and housing so their families can live with them,” Saleh told military and security officials in a speech.

A government official said Saleh’s speech was based on contacts with U.S. officials before President Barack Obama took office, but that Yemen expected the releases to go ahead under Obama, who has ordered the closure of Guantanamo within a year.

“Imprisonment made us more determined in our conviction ... and today God has blessed us with immigration to the land of jihad (holy war), Yemen,” said Said al-Shihri, identified as Guantanamo prisoner number 372, on the video. It said he was a deputy commander of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula group.

The video also showed Mohammed al-Oufi saying he was Guantanamo prisoner 333 and now a field commander of the group.

Yemen, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s ancestral home, joined the U.S.-led “war on terrorism” after the September 11 attacks on U.S. cities in 2001.

Yemen has jailed scores of militants in connection with the bombings of Western targets and clashes with authorities, but is still viewed in the West as a haven for Islamist militants.

Reporting by Mohammed Sudam; writing by Firouz Sedarat; editing by Elizabeth Piper

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