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Mauritanian detainee freed from Guantanamo Bay

Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, who had been held at US military facility since 2002, returned to home country five years after being cleared for release
US President Barack Obama pledged to shut down Guantanamo in 2008 but 113 detainees remain there (AFP)

A Mauritanian man held at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay for 13 years was released on Thursday and returned to his home country, US officials announced.

Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, who was transferred to the Cuban detention facility soon after being detained in Karachi by Pakistani authorities in June 2002 on suspicion of being a member of al-Qaeda, had never been charged and was cleared for release in 2010.

In a statement, the US defence department said it had repatriated Aziz to the Government of Mauritania following a "comprehensive review of his case".

"The United States coordinated with the Government of Mauritania to ensure this transfer took place consistent with appropriate security and humane treatment measures," the statement said.

Clive Stafford Smith, Aziz's lawyer of the human rights group Reprieve which has represented a number of Guantanamo detainees, said that the 45-year-old's release had been delayed because he had protested about mistreatment.

"While it's great that Ahmed is home with his family, it's 14 years late, and long after he was cleared," said Smith. "His release was only delayed because he, an innocent man, routinely protested his mistreatment."

In US defence department documents on Guantanamo detainees dating from 2008 that were obtained and released by Wikileaks in 2011Aziz was described as an "enemy combatant" and a member of al-Qaeda who admitted knowing senior members of the organisation but had "steadfastly denied involvement in al-Qaeda or terrorist operations".

The documents described him as a "high risk" detainee who was likely to pose a threat to the US, and as somebody of "high intelligence value".

US President Barack Obama pledged to close Guantanamo Bay soon after his election in 2008, but has faced resistance from Congress and reluctance from countries unwilling to accept returning prisoners.

The defence department said there were 113 detainees left at the facility following Aziz's release, which comes amid expectations in the UK that the release of Shaker Aamer, a Saudi-born British resident who has been called Guantanamo's "last Briton", could happen in the next few days.

“We are hearing now that his [Aamer’s] release will be at the end of this week or early next week,” Andy Worthington, co-director of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, told Middle East Eye on Tuesday.