Last UK resident imprisoned in Guantanamo returns home

An undated handout file picture released on Sept 25, 2015, shows British national Shaker Aamer. The last British resident in Guantanamo Bay was on Friday Oct 30, 2015.
An undated handout file picture released on Sept 25, 2015, shows British national Shaker Aamer. The last British resident in Guantanamo Bay was on Friday Oct 30, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - The last British resident detained in Guantanamo Bay landed back in London on Friday (Oct 30) having been released after spending over 13 years at the US military jail in Cuba, officials said.

"We can confirm that Shaker Aamer has been released from Guantanamo Bay and has returned to the UK," the Foreign Office said in a statement.

Aamer arrived at Biggin Hill airport south of London on a direct flight from Guantanamo Bay aboard a Gulfstream jet.

The plane taxied into a hangar and an ambulance was seen arriving and leaving the terminal building.

The United States accused the 46-year-old Saudi national of acting as a recruiter, financier and fighter for Al-Qaeda, as well as being a close associate of Osama Bin Laden, but never charged him.

Prime Minister David Cameron's office said Thursday there were no plans to detain him.

"As soon as he is returned to the UK he is no longer in detention. He is free to be reunited with his family," said Cameron's official spokeswoman.

"It is a case that he has personally raised with the president. He also wanted to support the president's efforts to close Guantanamo Bay," she said, referring to US President Barack Obama.

Following the release of Mauritanian detainee Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz from Guantanamo this week, the US defence ministry said 113 detainees were left.

The father of four, who was twice cleared for release from the camp in 2007 and 2009, has always denied the allegations against him and said he was in Afghanistan working for a charity.

Aamer's father-in-law Saeed Siddique called it "a delightful day for all of us." "It's really a miracle," he told the BBC.

"Everybody is looking forward to seeing him, especially after all this time. But it won't be necessarily today." Aamer's US lawyer Clive Stafford Smith his client's first act would be "to see a doctor and have a full medical check-up." "It's going to be really hard for him," he told Sky News. "He would say to him that he's only ever responded to his prison number 239 all these years." The lawyer said Aamer was planning to set up a charitable foundation "to help get the truth so in the future we don't repeat the same mistakes of history".

Aamer was born in Saudi Arabia in December 1968, and lived in the United States before settling in Britain, where he married a British woman and, in 1996, became a resident.

In 2001, he took his family to Afghanistan, but sent them to Pakistan after the September 11 attacks. He said he was about to join them when he was detained.

Aamer claims to have suffered sleep deprivation, beatings and humiliation at the hands of American troops while being held at the notorious Bagram Prison north of Kabul.

He was transferred to Guantanamo Bay on February 14, 2002 - the day his youngest child was born - where he said the maltreatment continued, leading him to become an advocate for prisoners' rights and an organiser of hunger strikes.

He remained on hunger strike as Obama's administration announced last month that he was to be freed, leading his family to fear they would not see him again.

A medical examination ordered by his lawyers in December 2013 found Aamer was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, as well as migraine headaches, asthma and kidney pain.

Rights goup Amnesty International, which took up Aamer's cause, called his detention "intolerable".

"We should remember what a terrible travesty of justice this case has been," said UK director Kate Allen said.

"Having been held in intolerable circumstances for nearly 14 years, Mr Aamer will need to time to readjust to his freedom." British Pakistani Moazzam Begg, who was detained in Guantanamo for nearly three years, wrote on Twitter: "Many questions re UK complicity in #ShakerAamer torture & Iraq war link but for another day. Today celebrate his release."

Rightwing think-tank the Henry Jackson Society warned that the "security services must monitor who Aamer associates with very carefully" following his release, saying that charities Aamer claimed to have worked for were known al-Qaeda support groups.