ISLAMABAD (AP) — Two Pakistani brothers held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay detention facility for two decades were freed and returned home on Friday to be reunited with their families, officials said.
Pakistan arrested Abdul and Mohammed Rabbani on suspicion of links to al-Qaida in 2002 in Karachi, the country's southern port and largest city. That same year, Ramzi Binalshibh, a top al-Qaida leader, was arrested by Pakistan's spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence on a tip from the CIA.
The Rabbanis' releases come months after a 75-year-old Pakistani, Saifullah Paracha, was freed from Guantanamo.
The Foreign Ministry later Friday released a statement welcoming the brothers' release.
“We are pleased that these Pakistani nationals have finally reunited with their families," the ministry said, adding that it had “coordinated an extensive inter-agency process to facilitate repatriation" of the two brothers.
Earlier in the day, Pakistani lawmaker Mushtaq Ahmed Khan, chairman of the human rights committee in the upper house of Pakistan's Parliament, tweeted that the Rabbanis had landed at the Islamabad airport.
“There was no trial, no court proceedings, no charges against them. Congratulations on their release. Thank you Senate of Pakistan," Khan tweeted.
Khan later told The Associated Press that the brothers were on their way to Karachi, the capital of southern Sindh province, where their families live.
The brothers' release was the latest U.S. move toward emptying and shutting down Guantanamo Bay. Former President George W. Bush's administration set it up to house extremist suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
U.S. officials accused the brothers of helping al-Qaida members with housing and other logistical support. The brothers alleged torture while in CIA custody before being transferred to Guantanamo. U.S. military records describe the two as providing little intelligence of value, and that they did not recant statements made during interrogations on the grounds they were obtained through physical abuse.
The U.S. Defense Department announced their repatriation in a statement Thursday.
In Islamabad, Amina Masood Janjua, who heads the Defense of Human Rights Pakistan group, said the two were from an impoverished family.
“Their family members suffered a lot after their arrest and transfer to Guantanamo," she told the AP.
Janjua has been campaigning for the release of suspects arrested in Pakistan after the 9/11 attacks. She is the wife of Masood Ahmad Janjua, a businessman who went missing in 2005 in the garrison city of Rawalpindi. Since then, she has been fighting a legal battle for his release and that of others.
A close family friend of the Rabbanis told the AP on Friday that Pakistani authorities had formally informed the family about their imminent release and return to Pakistan.
The family friend, who is Pakistani and refused to be identified by name, fearing for his own safety, said the younger Rabbani learned painting during his detention at Guantanamo, and that he was expected to bring with him some of those paintings.
He said Ahmed Rabbani frequently went on hunger strikes and that prison officials fed him through a tube. He said Ahmed remained on nutritional supplements up to his release.
Guantanamo at its peak in 2003 held about 600 people considered terrorists by the U.S. Supporters of using the detention facility for suspected terrorists say that holding them prevented attacks. Critics say the military detention and courts subverted human rights and constitutional rights and undermined America's standing abroad.
Thirty-two detainees remain at Guantanamo Bay, including 18 eligible for transfer if stable third-party countries can be found to take them, the Pentagon says. Many are from Yemen, considered too plagued with war and extremist groups and too devoid of services for freed Yemeni detainees to be sent there.
Nine of the detainees are defendants in slow-moving military-run tribunals. Two others have been convicted.
Associated Press writer Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington contributed to this report.