updated 12/14/2006 10:27:53 AM ET 2006-12-14T15:27:53

Sixteen Saudis held in the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, where foreign terrorism suspects are held, returned to the kingdom on Thursday, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

The United States sent 29 Saudis home earlier in 2006 after negotiating a framework agreement with Saudi Arabia for the return of its citizens from the controversial prison.

Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz told SPA they will be allowed to meet their kin but did not say when they will be freed.

“The returnees will be subject to regulations applied in the kingdom,” he said without elaboration.

In August, Saudi authorities said 9 returnees had been freed for lack of evidence against them.

Prince Nayef said the kingdom will continue efforts to seek the return of other Saudis without saying how many remained in U.S. custody.

Many of the men held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were captured in Afghanistan in the U.S.-led war to oust the Taliban after the Sept. 11 attacks. Many have been held for years and nearly all are being held without charge.

Most of the 19 suicide hijackers who carried out the aircraft attacks on U.S. cities in 2001 were Saudis.

Washington has designated the Guantanamo prisoners “enemy combatants,” denying them the prisoner-of-war status that would guarantee certain rights under international law.

Public anger over the treatment of the Saudi detainees in Guantanamo has been high in the kingdom. Two Saudis were among the three prisoners who hanged themselves in June at Guantanamo. Many Saudis suspect they died from maltreatment.

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