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Published: Tuesday December 17, 2013 MYT 12:20:01 AM
Updated: Tuesday December 17, 2013 MYT 12:20:01 AM

U.S. repatriates two Guantanamo detainees to Saudi Arabia

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has sent two detainees being held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility back to their native Saudi Arabia, the Pentagon said on Monday, the latest push in a slow-moving effort towards eventually shuttering the prison.

The transfers of Saad Muhammad Husayn Qahtani and Hamood Abdulla Hamood lowered the prisoner population to 160 and follows the repatriation of two prisoners to Algeria earlier this month.

The Saudi detainees, who have been held at the Guantanamo facility in Cuba since 2002, were not charged with a crime.

The facility was set up to house foreigners suspected of acts of terrorism against the United States in the wake of the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, which killed nearly 3,000 people.

"The U.S. has made real progress in responsibly transferring Guantanamo detainees despite the burdensome legislative restrictions that have impeded our efforts," Paul Lewis, the Pentagon's special envoy for the closure of the facility, said in a statement.

Obama had promised to shut down the Guantanamo Bay facility during his 2008 presidential campaign, saying it had damaged the reputation of the United States around the world.

But he has been unable to do so during nearly five years in office, in part because of resistance from Congress.

One of the Saudi detainees, Hamood, 48, was initially listed by the U.S. military as a Yemeni national, though his late father lived in Saudi Arabia.

U.S. military documents alleged he was an al Qaeda courier who fought on the front lines against U.S.-led forces near Bagram and fled to Pakistan. He was captured by Pakistani forces in a raid on a suspected al Qaeda safe house in February 2002.

Qahtani, 35, told U.S. investigators he was a student who went to Afghanistan in April 2001 to fight on the side of the Taliban. U.S. military documents say he was an al Qaeda member who volunteered to become a suicide bomber.

He fought against U.S. forces near Kabul then fled through the Tora Bora mountains into Pakistan, where he was captured in December 2001.

Separately news media in Sudan cited that country's foreign ministry as saying the last two Sudanese prisoners at Guantanamo would be sent home later this week.

The Pentagon confirmed earlier this month that one of them, Noor Uthman Muhammed, had finished a 34-month sentence on a conspiracy conviction and would be repatriated "as soon as practicable."

(The story refiled to remove extraneous text at bottom of story.)

(Reporting by Phil Stewart in Washington and Jane Sutton in Miami; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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