Ex-Guantanamo Inmates Among Detroit Plot Planners

Four members of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the group that claimed responsibility for the attempted Christmas Day airliner attack, were previously detainees at the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Although most Guantanamo detainees have returned to their old lives, several have rejoined the battlefield.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

In less than a week, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has become almost a household name, that's after the militant group claimed responsibility for the attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day. At least four members of the group were detained at the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, before being released and sent home. And that could complicate President Obama's plans to close that controversial detention camp.

NPR's Jackie Northam joins us to discuss who's been released from the camp so far and what's happened to the majority of them. Hi.

JACKIE NORTHAM: Hi.

SIEGEL: First, what do we know about the four former Guantanamo detainees who are released from prison and joined the al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula group, the AQAP?

NORTHAM: Well, three of them are Saudi Arabian nationals and one of them is a Yemeni man. Out of the three are Saudis, the second-in-command of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is a man named Saeed al-Shehri. The theological advisor to the group is a man named Ibrahim Suleiman al-Rubaish. Now the third Saudi, oddly enough was involved with the group but gave himself up in February. So, he's under custody again. The fourth is a Yemeni man as I said. The Yemeni government says that he was killed in one of these airstrikes earlier in December. They don't have a name for him. They only call him number 225.

SIEGEL: These are four former Guantanamo detainees who were known to have gone into this AQAP group�

NORTHAM: That's right.

SIEGEL: �in Yemen. It's based in Yemen. How many Yemenis have been released from Guantanamo so far?

NORTHAM: Well, so far about 20 Yemenis have been released and most of them were under the Bush administration, 14 under the Bush administration. President Obama, under court order, has had to release six Yemeni detainees and these are really considered the best to the best. They were considered not jihadists. They were released earlier this year and they completely underground, nobody known what has happened to them. Two other Yemenis committed suicide in Guantanamo. So, they went home in body bags.

SIEGEL: Now, nearly 600 detainees, all told, have been released from Guantanamo. Do we know what happens to most of them once they leave Guantanamo?

NORTHAM: Yes, there are people who track it definitely. Some of them go into like the Saudis have this rehabilitation program, a lot go into that there. There are countries where they will bring them home. The government will look at the evidence and they'll say not enough to hold them. Let's let them go. Sometimes, some of the detainees - the former detainees have to go home and serve a little bit of time. We've looked into this quite a lot over the number of the years and, you know, in other organizations and you watch them, and a lot of the detainees really have just tried to rebuild their lives.

The Pentagon says about 36, about three dozen of them have returned to the battlefield. They'll give you specifics on a few of them but a lot of the others that will not give you specifics. So, it's really hard to form up that number.

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm. Now, President Obama wants to close Guantanamo. He has not gotten it done in one year as he once hoped, but what do we know about what will happen with the detainees who are still in custody there? Will they all be heading to Illinois if that facility is actually set up?

NORTHAM: Well, in the world that the Obama administration would like to create here is that about a hundred of them will head to Illinois if and when that really does get set up and they will either fall, you know, go through a military commission or they will just be held in definitely. And that's about a hundred that they're looking at. Now you have about 90 Yemenis still - about half the population remaining in Guantanamo, still at Guantanamo, 30 to 40 of those are cleared for release, Robert.

That means that they are considered no longer a national security threat to the U.S. or any of its allies. So, they're still trying to get them home. The others thing is that they're trying to get European countries to take in a lot of these detainees and that's been fairly successful so far. So, there's a variety of things they're trying to do.

SIEGEL: NPR's Jackie Northam, thank you very much.

NORTHAM: Thank you, Robert.

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