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Algerian freed from Guantanamo after 12 years

Ahmed Belbacha turned over to Algerian government after being held in US prison for more than a decade without charge.

Last updated: 13 Mar 2014 14:50
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The transfer brings the total prisoner population at the US base in Cuba to 154 [AP]

An Algerian national held in Guantanamo Bay for 12 years without charge has been released and sent back to his home country.

The Pentagon said on Thursday that Ahmed Belbacha, 44, was turned over to the Algerian government. The transfer brings the total prisoner population at the US base in Cuba to 154.

Lawyers for Belbacha, from the British human rights group Reprieve, said it expected he would be released by the Algerian government and allowed to return to his family.

Ahmed Belbacha [Reprieve]

Reprieve said that he was subjected to violent interrogation, physical abuse and held incommunicado by US authorities.

The Pentagon alleged that Belbacha, an Algerian army veteran, had weapons training in Afghanistan and twice met Osama bin Laden.

Belbacha had lived briefly in the UK, where he worked as a waiter before his 2001 capture in Pakistan, where he was reportedly visiting to pursue religious studies.

In 2007, his lawyer had expressed his fears of being repatriated to Algeria where he believed he would be mistreated for being “unjustly branded as a terrorist".

He also said that Belbacha feared that he would be hunted by al-Qaeda’s North African affiliate because he worked for a government-owned oil company and had been called for another term of military service.

Meanwhile, another prisoner, the 34-year old Yemeni national Abdel Malik al-Rahabi, who also spent 12 years without charge at Guantanamo Bay, was rejected for release on Wednesday.

The Associated Press news agency reported that al-Rahabi was the second Guantanamo prisoner to appear before a board re-evaluating the cases of about 40 men previously deemed too dangerous to release.

The the six-member panel determined al-Rahabi should remain in custody, saying that he had significant ties to al-Qaeda and would pose a threat if he returned to Yemen.

Al-Rahabi's lawyer told the review panel in January that the prisoner was eager to return to his family and to launch an farming enterprise with other former Guantanamo prisoners.

The US president, Barack Obama, vowed to close Guantanamo after being elected into office, but has been thwarted by Congress. Obama pledged a renewed effort to close the prison last year.

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AP
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