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US transfers six Guantanamo detainees to Oman

Six Yemeni inmates are relocated as the US president attempts to close the jail before his second term ends
A 2002 photo of Guantanamo military base in Cuba (AFP)

Washington has transferred six inmates from its Guantanamo Bay prison to Oman, the Pentagon said on Saturday, as part of a drive by President Barack Obama to close the controversial jail.

"The United States is grateful to the government of Oman for its humanitarian gesture and willingness to support ongoing US efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility," a statement said.

It named the six men as Idris Ahmad Abd Al Qadir Idris, Sharaf Ahmad Muhammad Masud, Jalal Salam Awad Awad, Saad Nasser Moqbil Al Azani, Emad Abdallah Hassan and Muhammad Ali Salem Al Zarnuki.

The Omani foreign ministry said all six were Yemeni. 

The move comes weeks after US and UK diplomats held talks with leaders of Yemen's Houthi movement who have captured large swathes of territory in the country since last year.

During those talks, American freelance journalist Casey Coombes was released from captivity in Yemen where the Houthis were thought to have held him.

The men arrived in the sultanate on Saturday for a "temporary stay," said a ministry statement carried by the official ONA news agency. It did not elaborate on their subsequent travel plans.

The transfer means 116 inmates remain at the prison at a US naval base in southeastern Cuba.

Saturday's announcement marked the second Guantanamo prisoner transfer this year, after the Pentagon announced in January that is had moved four Yemeni detainees to Oman and another to Estonia.

One hundred and fifteen citizens of Yemen have been held at Guantanamo, more than any other country except Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.

“I see this as a chance that maybe, finally, this prison will be closed,” Baraa Shiban of Reprieve, a UK-based charity that works in Yemen and represents a number of Guantanamo detainees, told MEE at the time.

“I hope that this era, where people thought it was OK to detain people indefinitely and without trial, will soon be over,” Shiban said.

A total of 28 inmates were transferred out of Guantanamo in 2014.  

Thwarted by Congress in his effort to close the prison, Obama has had to rely on a handful of countries that have agreed to accept detainees.

The prison was set up to hold alleged terror suspects after the September 11, 2001 attacks. But human rights groups have condemned the jail as a "legal black hole", where inmates languish for years without being tried in court.