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U.S. to Suspend Gitmo Detainee Transfers to Yemen

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Dec. 30, 2009: This photo taken from a video released Jan. 23, 2009 by al-Malahim Media Foundation, the media arm of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Two of the men Said al-Shihri, second from left, and Abu al-Hareth Muhammad al-Oufi, far right, were both housed at Guantanamo Bay but released. Al-Oufi surrendered in Yemen recently and was handed over to Saudis (AP/IntelCenter)

The U.S. will not transfer any detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Yemen right now, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday.

Ninety detainees in Gitmo are from Yemen, which is combating a resurgent Al Qaeda. A delayed return could mean they will end up in a federal prison in Thomson, Illinois, Gibbs said.

"One of the very first things Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula used as a tool was Gitmo," Gibbs said. "We're not going to make transfers to a country like Yemen that they're not capable of handling (the detainees). While we remain committed to closing the detention facility, the determination has been made that right now any additional transfers to Yemen is not a good idea."

Intelligence sources say alleged Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab spent four months in Yemen and received terror training before carrying explosives on a Northwest flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. His attempt to detonate the bomb was foiled when his device malfunctioned and he was tackled by a passenger.

The announcement comes as President Obama misses his original deadline for closing the facility -- a pledge he made on his third day in office. Since taking office, the president has argued that keeping the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay open is more harmful to U.S. national security because extremists use its existence as a recruiting tool and to encourage attacks against Americans.

But Obama is facing considerable political pressure from several lawmakers who've asked him not to return any detainees to the poorest Arab country, located across from the Horn of Africa.

On Tuesday, Sen. John McCain, who's traveling with Sen. Joe Lieberman in Iraq, said the two lawmakers and Sen. Lindsey Graham recently wrote Obama to urge that no detainees be sent to Yemen "until such time that we can be sure and be confident that they will not return to the fight."

"We can not allow Yemen to be a base for Al Qaeda to mount attacks on other countries in the region and the United States," McCain, R-Ariz., said. "Others who have left Guantanamo and have gone back to Yemen have not only gone back to the fight but have also been suicide bombers and leaders. This has got to stop."

More than a dozen detainees transferred to Yemen reportedly have returned to fight with Al Qaeda. But on Sunday Deputy National Security Adviser for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security John Brennan did not rule out sending Yemeni detainees back to that country.

"Guantanamo facility must be closed. It has served as a propaganda tool for Al Qaeda,told "Fox News Sunday." "Working closely with the Yemeni government right now we are looking at the other detainees in Guantanamo from Yemen, and we are going to take the right steps, but we're not going to do anything that put Americans at risk."

Gibbs noted that court trials will begin soon for several individuals currently in Guantanamo Bay though they are not of Yemeni descent.