US denies handing 2 ex-Guantanamo detainees to Mauritania

NOUAKCHOTT (AFP) - The Pentagon on Saturday denied reports that two former Guantanamo detainees have been returned to their native Mauritania after being cleared of suspected terror-related activities.

Hamoud Ould Nebagha, the head of a group that works for the liberation of Mauritanians held at Guantanamo Bay told AFP on Saturday that the two men - Mohamedou Ould Slahi and Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz - had arrived in Nouakchott late Friday "after having been cleared by American tribunals".

He said they had both been held at the US prison camp in southern Cuba for several years. It was not immediately clear when the court decision was made.

A security source who requested anonymity said the pair had been accompanied by US police officials who handed them over to local police in Nouakchott. They were then driven "to an unknown location".

But the Pentagon denied the claim, with spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Samuel House saying "there was no release".

"We still have 166 detainees," he said.

Another Pentagon spokesman, Lieutenant Todd Breasseale, said reports that any detainees were transferred from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay recently "are patently false".

"The last transfer was to Canada, months ago," he said Saturday.

Slahi was detained on suspicion of being a member of the so-called "Hamburg cell" in Germany linked to the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Since May 23, a handful of the men's family members have been gathering outside the US embassy in Nouakchott to demand their release.

In 2009, the US transferred a third Mauritanian Guantanamo detainee to Nouakchott.

More than 11 years after it opened, the Guantanamo prison still holds 166 detainees. Of those still languishing at the US military prison, more than half - 86 - have been cleared for transfer, some of them up to five years ago.