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Biden Administration Releases Suspected Al-Qaida Instructor from Guantanamo Bay

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The Biden administration returned Said bin Brahim bin Umran Bakush, a suspected al-Qaida instructor, to Algeria on Thursday after holding him at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base detention facility for two decades, according to a Department of Defense news release.

Bakush is one of the last detainees to be released among a group of 20 low-level Islamist fighters captured in a 2002 raid on facilities U.S. and Pakistani authorities believed al-Qaida was using as safe houses, according to The New York Times.

The DOD reached an agreement with Algeria to transfer Bakush, originally thought to hail from Libya, subject to continued monitoring, travel restrictions and security conditions, the news release said.

“The United States appreciates the willingness of the Government of Algeria, 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 the Guantanamo Bay facility,” the Pentagon said.

Bakush is the sixth Guantanamo prisoner released in the past six months, according to the Times, as the Biden administration seeks to reduce the population and eventually shut down the facility.

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A DOD review board determined Bakush was eligible for transfer April 13 after Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin notified Congress of his intent to repatriate the detainee in February, according to the statement.

All 20 operatives swept up the raid on Faisalabad dwellings were detained in Guantanamo, but only one remains as of Bakush’s transfer, the Times reported.

U.S. forces initially identified Bakush as Ali Abdul Razzaq from Libya, but he later claimed to be from Algeria and gave his name as Said Bakush, the report said.

Bakush became increasingly reclusive during his two decades as a prisoner, boycotting hearings to determine his suitability for release and in 2017 or 2018 refusing to speak with his lawyer, H. Candace Gorman, according to the Times.

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He huddled in his cell at Camp 6, a building where more pliant detainees are permitted to eat, pray and watch TV together.

A U.S. military officer representing Bakush’s interests told the outlet he “prefers to be alone and spends a lot of time in his cell” and planned to become a delivery driver.

U.S. intelligence agencies determined at his 2021 court appearance Bakush “probably attended basic and advanced training in Afghanistan and later served as an instructor at an extremist camp prior to his capture,” according to the Times.

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Of the 30 detainees remaining at Guantanamo, more than half are eligible for transfer or repatriation, the Pentagon statement said.

However, those 16 captives include 11 Yemenis, a Libyan and a Somali who are legally unable to return, requiring more complex diplomatic negotiations to arrange their transfer, according to the Times.

The number of Guantanamo inmates reached a high of 660 in 2003, the outlet reported.

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