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KABUL: Abdul Karim (left) and Abdul Zahir (center), two former prisoners held at the US detention center in Guantanamo Bay, gesture after arriving at the Kabul airport on February 12, 2024. — AFP
KABUL: Abdul Karim (left) and Abdul Zahir (center), two former prisoners held at the US detention center in Guantanamo Bay, gesture after arriving at the Kabul airport on February 12, 2024. — AFP
2 ex-Guantanamo prisoners return to Afghanistan

KABUL: Two former prisoners held at the US detention center in Guantanamo Bay until 2017 were welcomed home to Afghanistan on Monday, more than 20 years after they were arrested. They were among hundreds of suspected militants captured by US forces during the United States’s “War on Terror” and held in the secretive prison in Cuba.

Abdul Karim and Abdul Zahir landed in Kabul early on Monday from Oman, where they had been transferred in 2017 and held under house arrest, said Zahir’s son Mohammad Osman and airport staff. “With the grace of God and efforts by the leaders of the Islamic Emirate, he has returned to the country,” Osman said, referring to Afghanistan’s Taliban authorities.

US authorities faced accusations of torture and abuse against prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay facility, where many were held without charge or the legal power to challenge their detention. Most of the military prison’s inmates have been released over the years, including senior Taliban leaders. “I am very happy. When I woke up in the morning, I felt like it was Eid for me,” Osman said.

The returnees were whisked to a VIP area away from media and a jostling crowd of supporters, some clutching bouquets, who had gathered for their arrival. Karim and Zahir both told media outlet Hurriyat they were overwhelmed with happiness at their return. “Praise be to Allah, I returned to my country in such a time when there is an Islamic system and peace all over Afghanistan,” Karim said.

Zahir arrived at the controversial prison in 2002, the year it opened in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, according to Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul Mateen Qani and US documents. Karim arrived in 2003, having been detained and held in Pakistan before he was handed over to US custody. Both men had been under surveillance without the right to travel for seven years in the Gulf kingdom of Oman, Qani said in a post on social media site X on Sunday.

“Due to the efforts of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the imposed restrictions will be lifted and they will return to their homeland,” he said.

Billboards welcoming the two men back to Afghanistan were erected en route to the airport ahead of their arrival and a heavy security presence was deployed on Monday morning. One Afghan prisoner remains in detention at Guantanamo Bay, Muhammad Rahim, whose family called for his release in November.

The US government has said for years it is working to reduce the number of detainees and eventually shut down Guantanamo Bay, which lies on the island of Cuba but is under US jurisdiction. — AFP

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