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US panel urges transfer of Yemeni from Guantanamo

The US flag is viewed at the US Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on August 7, 2013
The US flag is viewed at the US Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on August 7, 2013

A military panel has recommended transferring a Yemeni detainee from the US prison in Guantanamo Bay, reversing earlier orders for him to be held indefinitely without trial, officials said Friday.

The move came as part of a renewed effort by President Barack Obama's administration to close the controversial jail at the US naval base in southeast Cuba.

Mahmud al Mujahid had been deemed too dangerous to release and Pentagon officials on Friday did not say why they had decided he no longer posed a major threat.

A leaked 2008 Defense Department assessment had alleged he was captured by Pakistani authorities in December 2001 and was considered a hardcore jihadist. The document alleged he had worked as a bodyguard to Osama bin Laden for one year.

The decision to allow the transfer of Mujahid was handed down by a "Periodic Review Board," designed as a rough equivalent to a parole board that is supposed to review the status of Guantanamo inmates.

The board was set up in March 2011 by the Obama administration but had not delivered any decisions until now.

"By consensus, the PRB members found that continued law of war detention is no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the United States and that Mujahid is therefore eligible for transfer subject to appropriate security and humane treatment conditions," the Pentagon said in a statement.

Mujahid could be transferred back to his native Yemen or to a third country, according to the Pentagon.

But the decision does not ensure the detainee is likely to be let go anytime soon, as US authorities have been reluctant to return Yemenis back to their home country due to worries about security.

Dozens of other Yemeni inmates have been cleared for transfer but remain behind bars in Guantanamo.

Yemenis make up 87 of the remaining 155 detainees at Guantanamo.

Since May 2013, 11 inmates have been transferred out of the prison, surpassing the number allowed to leave in the previous two years. But none of the recently transferred detainees were Yemeni nationals.

Last year, Obama repealed a moratorium on repatriating Yemeni detainees.

However, a deadly attack on Yemen's defense ministry by Al-Qaeda-linked militants on December 5 has revived concerns about security in the country among US lawmakers, which could complicate Washington's plans to transfer Yemeni detainees out of Guantanamo.