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U.S. sends Saudi detainee accused of link to 9/11 home from Guantanamo

Mohammad Mani Ahmad al-Qahtani, 46, who has been held at the U.S. base in Cuba since 2002, will receive treatment at a psychiatric facility.
Path To Closure Of US Detention Center At Guantanamo Bay Still Uncertain
Razor wire and a guard tower at a closed section of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, also known as "Gitmo" at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Oct. 22, 2016.John Moore / Getty Images file

A Saudi detainee at Guantanamo Bay who allegedly tried to take part in the 9/11 hijacking plot has been sent back to Saudi Arabia, the Pentagon said on Monday.

Mohammad Mani Ahmad al-Qahtani, 46, who has been held at the U.S. base in Cuba since 2002, will receive treatment at a psychiatric facility. His lawyers 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.

A U.S. review board determined in 2021 that his detention “was no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the national security of the United States.”

Mohammad Mani Ahmad al-Qahtani.
Mohammad Mani Ahmad al-Qahtani.JTF-GTMO

In February, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin informed Congress that al-Qahtani would be sent home. 

“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,” said Ramzi Kassem, a law professor at the City University of New York who represented al-Qahtani with help from students for over a decade. “Keeping him at Guantanamo, where he was tortured, and then repeatedly attempted suicide, would have been a likely death sentence.”

Prior to the 9/11 al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington, immigration officers in Orlando, Florida, refused al-Qahtani admittance to the U.S. The lead Sept. 11 hijacker, Mohammed Atta, was going to pick him up to take part in the plot, according to previously released documents.He was later captured in Afghanistan and sent to Guantanamo, where he was subjected to what a Pentagon official has previously characterized as torture.

In a statement, the Pentagon said, “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.

Al-Qahtani is the second Guantanamo prisoner released during the Biden administration. Nearly 800 detainees have been held at Guantanamo since 2002. Thirty-eight remain, including 10 who face trial by military commission. Five have alleged links to 9/11. Nineteen other detainees are awaiting repatriation or resettlement outside the U.S.