SAN'A, Yemen – The Yemeni government welcomed on Saturday the release of two Yemenis jailed in the U.S. over terrorism charges, and called for the return of those still held in Guantanamo Bay prison.
Yemeni Minister of Human Rights, Hoda al-Ban, said that the release of Sheik Mohammed Ali Hasan Al-Moayad and his assistant, is a first step in the return of all Yemeni inmates.
"Releasing Al-Moayad and Zayed is the first step on the road of freeing all the Yemenis imprisoned in Guantanamo and other American prisons so that they get a fair trial before Yemen's judiciary, if it was proven that they were involved in any terror cases," she told reporters in the capital San'a.
Al-Moayad, 60, who suffers from liver disease and other illnesses, was arrested in 2003 and sentenced to 75 years in prison for supporting terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda.
On Friday, Al-Moayad and his assistant pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of supporting the Palestinian militant group Hamas and were sentenced to six years time served.
Though Al-Moayad was not serving in the Guantanamo facility, his release has given a boost to Yemeni government calls for the return of its citizens from the infamous detention facility in Cuba.
Of the 229 inmates still in Guantanamo, roughly half are Yemeni, largely because the U.S. administration does want to release them straight back to Yemen for fear they will simply go free. Other nations, such as Saudi Arabia who have been able to get their citizens repatriated.
The Obama administration wants the Yemeni detainees to first go through rehabilitation centers in Saudi Arabia before they are released to make sure they pose no threat to Americans.
Despite months of delicate diplomacy, a senior administration official said the U.S. has been unable to persuade Saudi leaders to let the Yemeni go through its rehabilitation center, in part because of a public-relations problem.