The Obama administration’s plans to shut down the Guantánamo Bay prison facility in Cuba are running into new challenges as information becomes available about the extent of Christmas bombing suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s ties to Yemen. Nearly half of remaining Guantánamo detainees are from Yemen.
Abdulmutallab is in custody in Michigan after trying to detonate a bomb ,sewn into his underwear, on a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day. The bomb contained approximately twice as much explosive as was used by convicted “shoe bomber” Richard Reid, and “could have blown a hole in the side of his Detroit-bound aircraft,” according to the Washington Post.
The attack has been linked to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an Al Qaeda cell active in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The BBC reports that the group claimed responsibility for the attempted attack in a Web posting, calling it a retaliation for US attacks on its operatives in Yemen and posting photographs of Abdulmutallab in front of its banners.
The BBC also reports that Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian Muslim, a student at University College London, and the son of a wealthy banker, was living in Yemen as recently as early December on a student visa to study Arabic in the capital, Sanaa.
The attempted Christmas Day attack is focusing more international attention on Al Qaeda activity in Yemen, much of which has been organized by former detainees from Guantánamo Bay, reports Al Jazeera. Two of its leaders have been linked to the US-run island prison: Abu al-Hareth Muhammad al-Oufi, a field commander, and Said al-Shihri, its deputy leader, who was transferred to Saudi custody and then released in 2007.
Yemen’s allegedly growing Al Qaeda problem, and its long reach into the US, may begin to challenge to US plans to close the prison complex and resettling dozens of prisoners in their home countries.
Republicans have led the charge, according to Politico, with Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R) of Michigan saying the attempted attack “just highlights the fact that sending this many people back — or any people back — to Yemen right now is a really bad idea…. It’s just dumb. If you made a list of what the three dumbest countries would be to send people back to, Yemen would be on all the lists.”
Some Democrats appear unsure of the administration's plans as well. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D) of Mississippi, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told Politico: “In terms of sending more of them to return to Yemen, it would be a bit of a reach. I’d, at a minimum, say that whatever we were about to do we’d at least have to scrub it again from top to bottom.”
According to Fox News, nearly half of the remaining detainees in Guantánamo Bay – a total of 90 men – are from Yemen. Last week, the US sent six Yemenis from Guantánamo back to their home country. But with pressure growing to find a new place for them one suggestion has emerged: Saudi Arabia.
Robert Jordan, former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said the Middle Eastern nation would have a natural "self-interest" in working with the United States on the issue and called the country a reliable partner.
"The Saudis have a pretty good system of sorting out who's who. It's not perfect, but it's going to be a lot more effective than allowing the Yemenis to do what they've done in the past, which is to cast a blind eye at the effectiveness of detention," Jordan said.
The Christian Science Monitor