Two former Guantanamo detainees return to Afghanistan 20 years after their arrest

A welcome sign for the two prisoners, at Kabul airport, Monday February 12, 2024
WAKIL KOHSAR / AFP

Abdul Karim and Abdul Zahir landed at Kabul airport on Monday morning from Oman, where they had been transferred in 2017 and placed under house arrest.

Two Afghans, detained in the American military prison until 2017, returned to Afghanistan on Monday, more than 20 years after their arrest, we learned from the family of one of them. Abdul Karim and Abdul Zahir landed at the airport on Monday morning from Oman, where they had been transferred in 2017 and placed under house arrest, said the second’s son, Mohammad Osman, and staff members of the ‘airport. “By the grace of God and the efforts of the leaders of the Islamic Emirate, he returned to the country”said Mohammad Osman. “I am very happy. When I woke up this morning, I felt like it was (the Muslim holiday of) Eid.” The two ex-detainees were shielded by the authorities from the gaze of the press and the large crowd which had gathered at the airport to welcome them, some people holding bouquets.

Abdul Zahir arrived in 2002 in the controversial American detention center at Guantanamo, opened on the island of Cuba after the attacks of September 11, 2001 as part of “the war on terrorism”, according to Afghan Interior Ministry spokesperson Abdul Mateen Qani and American documents. Abdul Karim was transferred there a year later, after being detained in Pakistan and then handed over to American authorities. Both told Hurriyat media that they were overjoyed to have returned home. “Praise be to Allah, I returned to my country at a time when there is an Islamic system and peace throughout Afghanistan”, said Abdul Karim. The two men had been under surveillance for seven years in Oman, without the right to travel, Abdul Mateen Qani said on X on Sunday. “Thanks to the efforts of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the restrictions imposed will be lifted and they will return to their homeland”he added.

One remaining Afghan detainee

Before their arrival, signs to welcome the two men had been placed along the road leading to Kabul airport and strong security had been deployed. There is only one Afghan detainee left at Guantanamo. Muhammad Rahim arrived there in March 2008. He was accused by the CIA of being a close associate of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. His family called for his release in November.

Guantanamo Prison has housed up to 780 detainees. It became infamous for keeping its most important detainees in cages and its brutal interrogation methods, many describing it as torture. Most of the detainees have been released over the years, including some members of Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban government. The Biden administration has worked to reduce the number of detainees locked up at Guantanamo, with the eventual goal of closing the prison.

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