- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 5, 2004

A quarter of the 650 terrorism suspects being detained at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are from Saudi Arabia, according to a UPI survey.

The 160 Saudi nationals at Guantanamo are nearly twice as many as the countries with the second- and third-most detainees there, Yemen with 85 and Pakistan with 82, said the survey that for the first time establishes the homelands of 95 percent of the prisoners.

Afghans are the fourth-largest nationality with 80 detainees, followed by Egypt and Jordan, both with 30.

The Defense Department has repeatedly declined to provide any breakdown of the detainees by nationality. A defense spokesperson told UPI Wednesday “such a list exists, but it is classified.”

Sources close to the Pentagon maintain “sensitive diplomatic considerations” were behind the decision to keep the nationalities secret, saying their release could both endanger ongoing negotiations with governments and be used by terrorist organizations.

The large number of Saudi nationals at Guantanamo is likely to intensify concern in Congress about the real state of the U.S.-Saudi relationship, and the nine British citizens of Muslim background there already have proven to be a political liability for Prime Minister Tony Blair, as calls have been made in Parliament for their repatriation.

The UPI survey was based on material collected over many months from foreign media outlets, interviews with foreign embassy officials, statements by and interviews with foreign government officials seeking extradition of their citizens, U.S. government sources, the Red Cross and detainee-advocacy groups such as Amnesty International.

The figures are incomplete because of the “sensitive” nature of the material and because many detainees were taken into custody with little or no identification and some prisoners have willfully misled their captors.

Complicating the issue is the sporadic release of a number of detainees; in the wake of last week’s release of three teenagers, another 87 detainees have been transferred pending release. In addition, four detained Saudis have been transferred to continue their imprisonment in Saudi Arabia.

Yemeni officials believe the Pentagon’s list is flawed and fear more than twice as many of their citizens are being held in Cuba.

When asked if the UPI’s number of 85 was accurate, Yahya Alshawkani, Yemeni Embassy deputy chief of communication in the United States, replied, “We have been communicated 37 names by United States authorities. I think it is more than 37. Domestic reports indicate more than 70.”

Suspected terrorists are detained by U.S. forces at a number of points around the world, including Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and Bagram air base outside Kabul. But Camp Delta, the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo, has attracted the most media attention and international protest.

One member of the Bahraini royal family is among those detained. He is Sheik Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa, the son of Sheik Ibrahim bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, chairman of the Bahrain German Entertainment Projects Company and a distant cousin of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. Sheik Ibrahim claims that an unspecified party had received $20,000 for handing over his son, who was in Afghanistan doing “charity work.”

Both Tunisia and Russia have eight of their nationals at Camp Delta; a Russian Embassy spokesman was careful to point out however that the eight Russian citizens are not ethnic Russians, but members of its Muslim community. The Russian Embassy nonetheless is quietly pursuing negotiations with Washington to extradite its citizens.

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