Two decades after he attempted to take part in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the U.S., a would-be hijacker was released back to Saudi Arabia.
The Biden administration sparked fiery backlash with the decision to repatriate Mohammad Mani Ahmad al-Qahtani, 46, who was released from Guantanamo Bay prison and sent back to Saudi Arabia where he will reportedly receive psychiatric treatment.
The would-be terrorist who was reportedly trained by al Qaeda missed being the “20th hijacker” on 9/11 when he was prevented from boarding a plane by authorities for immigration reasons. He has been held in Gitmo in Cuba since 2002, but the Periodic Review Board concluded last year that holding al-Qahtani was “no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the national security of the United States.”
His release was approved last month by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, sparking criticism ahead of the announcement by the Department of Defense (DOD) on Monday.
“The United States appreciates the willingness of Saudi Arabia and other partners to support ongoing U.S. efforts toward a deliberate and thorough process focused on responsibly reducing the detainee population and ultimately closing of the Guantanamo Bay facility,” the DOD said in a statement.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who is vice-chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, blasted the Biden administration’s “massive error” in releasing the would-be terrorist.
“Al-Qahtani is a terrorist who made it his life goal to kill Americans. I believe he remains committed to jihad and the destruction of the United States,” the Florida Republican said. “Now, because of the Biden Administration’s misguided policies, he has the opportunity to once again return to the battlefield. The decision to transfer al-Qahtani is not simply a lapse in judgment, it is a massive error which poses a serious risk to our national security and the security of our allies.”
Sen Rubio issued a statement following the transfer of Al-Qaeda terrorist Mohammed al-Qahtani from Guantanamo Bay to Saudi Arabia, calling it “a massive error which poses a serious risk to our national security and the security of our allies.”
— Senator Rubio Press (@SenRubioPress) March 8, 2022
Rubio joined Senators James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, Jim Risch of Idaho in addressing Biden in a letter last week, urging him to reverse the decision to release al-Qahtani saying, “We are concerned that he may try to resume terrorist activity once released from U.S. custody.”
“It is absolutely appalling that the President would release a known terrorist out of U.S. custody,” Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y) said in a statement last month. “Allowing this 9/11 co-conspirator to walk free is turning a blind eye to the horror the 9/11 hijackers reaped on the world, and especially New Yorkers. While we will never forget the tragedy and loss of life of 9/11, Joe Biden is turning his back on the thousands of families who lost loved ones on that fateful morning over 20 years ago.”
According to The New York Times:
The U.S. military airlifted Mr. Qahtani from remote Guantánamo on Sunday, soon after the clock ran out on the 30 days’ notice Congress requires for a detainee transfer. In an unusual move, the Saudi government did not send its own aircraft to retrieve him, which delayed the announcement of his release until the U.S. military transfer operation was complete.
Al-Qahtani becomes the second Guantanamo detainee released by President Joe Biden since taking office. The DOD noted that “38 detainees remain at Guantanamo Bay: 19 are eligible for transfer; 7 are eligible for a Periodic Review Board; 10 are involved in the military commissions process; and two detainees have been convicted in military commissions.”
According to NBC News, lawyers for al-Qahtani “maintain that he has displayed symptoms of schizophrenia since a young age, and in 2002 an FBI official saw al-Qahtani speaking to non-existent people, hearing voices and crouching in a corner of his cell while covering himself with a sheet for hours.”
“After two decades without trial in U.S. custody, Mohammed will now receive the psychiatric care he has long needed in Saudi Arabia, with the support of his family,” Ramzi Kassem, a law professor at the City University of New York.
“Keeping him at Guantanamo, where he was tortured, and then repeatedly attempted suicide, would have been a likely death sentence,” added Kassem, who represented al-Qahtani for more than 10 years with help from students.
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