Growing evidence that the Nigerian man charged with trying to blow up a commercial airliner as it landed in Detroit Friday spent time in Yemen and may have been fitted with customized, explosive-laden clothing there could complicate the U.S. government’s efforts to send home more than 80 Yemeni prisoners currently at Guantanamo Bay.
Since Yemenis represent almost half of the roughly 200 remaining prisoners at Gitmo, new hurdles to their resettlement could spell more trouble for President Barack Obama’s plan to close the island prison while transferring a limited number of detainees to a prison in the U.S. Six Yemeni nationals were returned home earlier this month, and officials hoped more transfers would follow.
“I’d expect Yemen’s handling of returned Guantanamo detainees to come under intense U.S. scrutiny,” said Matthew Waxman, a Columbia law professor who was an assistant defense secretary for detainee affairs under President George W. Bush. “In the past, the Yemeni government has not shown great capacity or reliability, but the U.S. hopes to build a stronger partnership and improve that record, in part because it has few other options in this important region.”
The White House had no comment on how Abdulmutallab’s history might impact future prisoner releases or official dealings with Yemen.