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U.S. halting transfer of Guantanamo detainees to Yemen

Detainees pray at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention center in 2009.
Detainees pray at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention center in 2009.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Critics of transfers say Yemen unstable; al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen
  • Yemen is "not capable of handling" additional returned detainees now, says official
  • Transfers may continue after careful review of the situation
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Washington (CNN) -- The United States is halting for now its plans to continue transferring terror suspects detained at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, facility to Yemen, President Barack Obama said Tuesday.

"We will not be returning detainees to Yemen at this time" due to the "unsettled situation" in the country, Obama told reporters in a statement on the failed Christmas Day terror attack on a U.S. airliner.

Critics of the Guantanamo transfers have raised concerns over political instability in Yemen and the presence of al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula, noting that some previous detainees released to Yemen by the Bush administration have renewed their terrorist ties.

Obama said his government remains committed to closing the Guantanamo facility, which will require transferring the roughly 200 remaining detainees to either an Illinois prison, their home countries or a third country.

The Guantanamo facility was "a specific rationale" for the creation of al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula, the group linked to the botched December 25 bombing attempt of Northwest Airlines flight on its final approach to Detroit, Michigan, Obama said.

Earlier Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Yemen is "not capable of handling" additional returned detainees now.

U.S. authorities have said 23-year-old Faruk Umar AbdulMutallab may have received training from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is based in Yemen.

On Christmas Day, AbdulMutallab allegedly attempted to blow up an international flight into Detroit, Michigan.

On Sunday, John Brennan, the assistant to President Obama for homeland security and counterterrorism, said the transfer of Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo Bay back to Yemen would continue after careful review of the situation.

The United States is working with the Yemeni government to make sure "the situation on the ground is taken into account," Brennan said on CNN's "State of the Union."

"We're going to do this the right way at the right time," he said.

Closing the Guantanamo facility is necessary because al Qaeda and others have used it as a propaganda tool against the United States, Brennan said.

Most congressional Republicans oppose closing the Guantanamo facility, and some Democrats and independents said Sunday that no detainees should be sent to Yemen due to the terrorist network operating there.

"It would be irresponsible to take any of the Yemeni detainees in Guantanamo and send them back to Yemen," Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut who belongs to the Democratic caucus, said on the ABC program "This Week."

 
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