Four Yemenis freed from Guantanamo arrive in Saudi Arabia

Four Yemenis freed from Guantanamo arrive in Saudi Arabia

Riyadh (AFP) - Four Yemenis released from the US prison at Guantanamo Bay arrived Thursday in Saudi Arabia where they had a tearful reunion with relatives, after the White House rejected a freeze on transfers.

The four were among 59 prisoners who were still being held in the detention centre in Cuba.

In the Saudi capital, an AFP reporter saw the four prisoners after they landed at a terminal normally reserved for royals at the Riyadh international airport.

Prisoners and family members wept as they saw each other for the first time in years.

One of the released inmates, Salim Ahmed bin Kanad, told reporters he felt "born again" after seeing his relatives.

Another, Mohammed Bawazir, said he hoped to move on and forget the past.

"I want to give back to my family the 15 years I lost," he said.

Officials identified the other former prisoners as Mohammed Rajab Abu Ghanim and Abdullah Yahya al-Shalabi.

On Tuesday, US President-elect Donald Trump tweeted: "There should be no further releases from Gitmo. These are extremely dangerous people and should not be allowed back onto the battlefield."

Hours later, outgoing President Barack Obama's spokesman, Josh Earnest, said he would expect "additional transfers" before Obama hands power to Trump on January 20.

Saudi King Salman has said the four Yemenis who arrived Thursday will live in the kingdom, where they will take part in a rehabilitation and de-radicalisation programme, the interior ministry said in a statement.

The bearded ex-prisoners appeared healthy and were all dressed in two-piece Pakistani-style tunics.

One prisoner was welcomed by 21 relatives, including children, but only a handful greeted the others.

A lone woman waited for one of the inmates.

Reporters were kept in the terminal and could not see what type of aircraft had transported them.

- Whittling down numbers -

Obama came to office eight years ago vowing to shutter the Guantanamo facility because, he said, detention without trial did not reflect American values.

But he has run up against political and legal hurdles, Pentagon foot-dragging and stubborn Republican opposition in Congress.

With Guantanamo's closure blocked, Obama's White House has focused on whittling down the number of inmates.

Before Thursday's transfer, around 20 of the remaining prisoners had been cleared for removal. But finding countries to take them has often proven time-consuming.

Only a handful of those who remain have started moving through military tribunals, including the alleged plotters of the 9/11 attacks.

Many of the others are in legal limbo -- not charged but deemed too dangerous to release.

Fifteen of the 19 Al-Qaeda hijackers who carried out the attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001 were Saudi. But Riyadh denies any ties to the plotters who killed nearly 3,000 people.

In recent months, Obama has authorised a flurry of transfers of prisoners to other countries including Yemen and Saudi Arabia -- prompting outrage from Republicans each time.

In April, nine Yemeni inmates were transferred from Guantanamo Bay to Saudi Arabia, the first time the kingdom received any inmates from the facility.

The move followed years of negotiations with the Saudi government.

Yemen's civil war meant those inmates could not be sent to their home country.

Because the Guantanamo Bay naval base is on Cuban and not US soil, it is not subject to the same federal laws and legal processes as the United States.

Obama's predecessor George W. Bush released or transferred around 500 inmates before leaving office. Obama had released or transferred more than 180.

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