SAN'A, Yemen – A former Saudi Guantanamo Bay detainee who later went to Yemen to become an Al Qaeda field commander has surrendered and was handed over to Saudi authorities on Tuesday, Yemen's Interior Ministry said.
Abu al-Hareth Muhammad al-Awfi was one of two Saudi ex-Guantanamo detainees who re-emerged as Al Qaeda operatives last month in a militant video released a day after President Barack Obama signed an executive order directing the closure of the prison at the U.S. naval base in Cuba within a year. Saudi Arabia also named al-Awfi on a recently released list of 85 most-wanted men who had fled abroad.
"He handed himself over the Yemeni authorities in the province of Shabwah, and Yemeni security authorities handed him over to the Saudi authorities," a statement from the Yemeni Interior Ministry said.
Al-Awfi, who was released from Guantanamo in 2007, said in the video he went to Yemen after completing the Saudi government's rehabilitation program for former Guantanamo inmates and other militants.
Saudi government officials confirmed he surrendered and was handed over to Saudi authorities in order to contact his family and return to his former rehabilitation center, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.
Sheik Mohammed al-Nujaimi, who helps run the Saudi rehabilitation program, said al-Awfi had contacted the program's headquarters and "expressed a desire to surrender and return to Saudi Arabia." Arrangements were made for his return, and he returned Tuesday afternoon, he said.
Al-Awfi was detainee number 333 at Guantanamo, and the Pentagon has said number 333 was released from Guantanamo on Nov. 11, 2007. The military had listed his name as Muhamad Attik al-Harbi, but the difference in names has been attributed to the common Arab practice of referring to men by an honorific, like the name of a son. Al-Harbi is a tribal designation.
In the recent video, released in January on Web sites that commonly used by militants, al-Awfi wore a dark cap and camouflage shirt with a leather bandolier of bullets draped over shoulder. He threatened the United States.
"In the end, we say to the countries of the cross that are garrisoned on the land of (Saudi Arabia) and which support the crusader war against Muslims: By Allah, we are coming. By Allah, we are coming," he said.
He also railed against the Saudi rehabilitation program, saying it aims "to drive us away from our Islam."
Yemen, the ancestral home of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, is re-emerging as a terrorist battleground and potential base of operations for Al Qaeda. The impoverished country on the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula, which was the site of the 2000 USS Cole bombing that killed 17 American sailors, has a weak central government, a powerful tribal system and large swaths of lawless territory.
In November, outgoing CIA director Michael Hayden said Al Qaeda in Yemen conducted an "unprecedented number of attacks" in 2008 and was likely to be a launching pad for attacks against Saudi Arabia. The most recent attack, in September on the U.S. Embassy in San'a, killed 16 people.