By ABDULLAH AL-SHIHRI
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi Arabia confirmed on Thursday the arrival of a prisoner who was sent back to the kingdom from the Guantanamo Bay detention center to serve out the remainder of his 13-year sentence.
Ahmed Mohammed al-Darbi is the first detainee to leave the U.S. base in Cuba since President Donald Trump took office. The Pentagon first announced the transfer in a brief statement on Wednesday.
Saudi state security says al-Darbi arrived just before midnight on Wednesday and that his relatives had been notified.
After serving the remainder of his sentence, about nine years, al-Darbi will spend time in a Saudi rehabilitation center for convicted extremists that aims to help them assimilate back into society through frequent visits with relatives, religious counseling with moderate clerics, art therapy and even cash assistance to help them once out.
There have been around 140 detainees transferred from Guantanamo Bay to Saudi Arabia. His transfer brings the number of men still held at Guantanamo to 40.
The agreement to repatriate al-Darbi was made under President Barack Obama, whose administration had hoped to eventually close the detention center. Trump reversed that policy and has vowed to continue using the center.
Al-Darbi pleaded guilty before a military commission at the U.S. base in Cuba in 2014 to charges stemming from an al-Qaida attack on a French oil tanker. His plea deal included extensive testimony against others held at Guantanamo.
His charges included conspiracy, attacking civilian objects, terrorism and aiding the enemy for helping to arrange the 2002 al-Qaida attack on the French tanker MV Limburg. The attack, which killed a Bulgarian crew member, happened after al-Darbi was already in U.S. custody and was cooperating with authorities, according to court documents.
Al-Darbi, 43, was captured at an airport in Azerbaijan in June 2002 and taken to the U.S. base in Bagram, Afghanistan. He has testified to being kept in solitary confinement, strung up from a door in shackles, deprived of sleep and subjected to other forms of abuse as part of his early interrogation.
His lead defense counsel, Ramzi Kassem, said the transfer was the culmination of “16 long and painful years in captivity” by the United States at Guantanamo and in Afghanistan, with his children growing up without him and his own father dying.
In a statement released by Kassem, who was part of a legal team that included two military officers, al-Darbi described what he expected to be an emotional reunion with his family in Saudi Arabia.
“I cannot thank enough my wife and our children for their patience and their love. They waited sixteen years for my return,” he said. “Looking at what lies ahead, I feel a mixture of excitement, disbelief, and fear. I’ve never been a father. I’ve been here at Guantanamo. I’ve never held my son.”
Associated Press writer Ben Fox in Miami contributed to this report.