WASHINGTON — The U.S. military has transferred two Libyan detainees to Senegal from its wartime prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, government officials said Monday, the first time Senegal has resettled a Guantanamo prisoner.
The men had been imprisoned without trial for about 14 years, and their transfers reduced the detainee population to 89.
Secretary of State John Kerry thanked Senegal for taking them. He reiterated the Obama administration's arguments that the prison should be closed because it is costly and fuels anti-American sentiments abroad.
"The United States appreciates the generous assistance of the government of Senegal as the United States continues its efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility," Kerry said in a statement. "This significant humanitarian gesture is consistent with Senegal's leadership on the global stage."
The transfers over the weekend also reduced to 35 the number of detainees recommended for transfer if security conditions can be met in the receiving country. Nine are expected to leave in the next two weeks.
Officials have said they expect to transfer everyone left on that list — many of whom are Yemenis who have been on it for years because of the chaos in their home country — by summer's end.
The Libyan men transferred to Senegal were captured in Pakistan and were turned over to the United States after the start of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. They were accused of having trained in al-Qaida camps and of then fleeing into Pakistan after the bombing campaign began.
Both of the men were suspected of being longtime members of a Libyan Islamist group — known as the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group — that was dedicated to overthrowing the dictator Moammar Gadhafi, and of having served as explosives trainers at Islamist training camps in Afghanistan. One is missing a leg, and the other is missing fingers, according to leaked military dossiers.
One of the men, Omar Khalif Mohammed Abu Baker Mahjour, who is 43 or 44, was captured by Pakistani security forces in March 2002. The other, Salem Abdu Salam Ghereby, 55, was captured by Pakistani forces in December 2001.