Senegal has agreed to take in two former detainees from the Guantánamo Bay detention facility for humanitarian reasons, the West African nation’s justice minister said Tuesday, reassuring residents that the two Libyan men are not a threat.
“These are simply men who we must help because they are African sons who have been tested for years,” Minister of Justice Sidiki Kaba said. “It is important, under the conditions of American law, that these detainees be able to have access to humanitarian asylum.”
Kaba said the two were not known to be jihadists. The Foreign Ministry disclosed a day earlier that the predominantly Muslim nation had taken in the two cleared captives for resettlement. Salim Gherebi, 55, and Omar Khalif, 44, were held at Guantánamo for nearly 14 years without charge.
They were profiled at Guantánamo as members of the Libya Islamic Fighting Group, which sought the ouster of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. The State Department listed LIFG as a terrorist organization in Dec. 17, 2004 but lifted that designation on Dec. 9, 2015.
President Barack Obama is making efforts to release Guantánamo prisoners who are no longer deemed a threat and to eventually close the detention center. More than two dozen countries have now taken nearly 100 former Guantánamo prisoners since 2009. Ghana also has accepted two former detainees.
“President Sall accepted them for humanitarian reasons,” Kaba said. “The importance is to ensure that Guantánamo can be closed. There have been serious human rights violations in this prison.”
The men’s arrival comes amid growing concern about Islamic extremism in Senegal — a moderate, predominantly Muslim country on West Africa’s coastline now widely considered a possible next target after attacks in Mali, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast.
Senegal resident Abdoulaye Mbaye was worried.
“Our world is marked by the development of terrorism. We must be careful,” he said.
However, another resident, Cheikh Ndong, said: “If the government has agreed to accept these two detainees, it is because the American government has given guarantees.”
Meantime, at the Pentagon, spokesman Navy Cmdr. Gary Ross said Tuesday the Defense Department would not disclose how much, if anything, the Obama administration was paying the Senegalese government to resettle the two men.
“We are not going to discuss the details of our diplomatic arrangements, which can include limited financial support provided on a case-by-case basis to offset the costs associated with a detainee's resettlement,” Ross said in a statement.
The Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg contributed to this report from Miami.