ISLAMABAD — Two Pakistani brothers who were held by US authorities at Cuba’s Guantanamo detention center for more than two decades have been released and returned home to their families, officials said.
Pakistani authorities arrested Abdul and Mohammed Rabbani in 2002 in Karachi on suspicion of links to al-Qaeda.
Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Friday welcoming the brothers’ release.
“We are delighted that these Pakistani citizens are finally reunited with their families,” the agency said, noting that it coordinated “an extensive interagency process to facilitate the repatriation” of the two citizens.
Earlier in the day, Mushtaq Ahmed Khan, chairman of the human rights committee of the upper house of Pakistan’s parliament, tweeted that the Rabbani brothers had landed at Islamabad airport.
“There was no trial against them, no trial, no charges brought against them. Congratulations on their release! he wrote.
The release of the brothers was the next step for the United States to prepare for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention center. It was created after the September 11, 2001 attacks by the administration of President George W. Bush to contain extremist suspects.
The brothers have been accused by US authorities of helping al-Qaeda members find housing and providing other forms of organizational support. The brothers said they were tortured while held under CIA surveillance before being transferred to Guantanamo Bay. US military documents indicate that they provided little valuable information and did not recant their interrogation testimony.
The Pentagon announced their repatriation in a statement Thursday.
A close friend of the Rabbani family told The Associated Press that Pakistani authorities have officially notified the family of the brothers’ impending release.
A family friend who declined to be named out of fear for his safety said the younger brother had learned to paint while incarcerated at Guantanamo and would likely bring some of his paintings with him.
He said that Ahmed Rabbani often went on hunger strikes, after which he was force-fed.
In 2003, around 600 people were held at Guantanamo on suspicion of terrorism by the United States. Proponents of using Guantanamo Bay to detain suspected terrorists say it has prevented terrorist attacks. Critics, however, argue that prisons and military tribunals undermine human and constitutional rights and America’s credibility abroad.
The Pentagon said Guantanamo currently holds 32 detainees, 18 of whom meet the criteria for transfer to “stable third countries,” if applicable. Many prisoners are citizens of Yemen, a war-torn country infested with extremist groups that is reportedly unable to provide those released with the services needed to be sent there.
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