The United States is transferring nine detainees from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay to Saudi Arabia, the Pentagon said Saturday.
The transfer, which brings the number of prisoners remaining at Guantanamo to 80, comes amid President Barack Obama’s renewed effort to close the prison — one of the earliest pledges of his presidency.
It also comes ahead of Obama’s planned trip to Saudi Arabia next week.
The Defense Department expressed gratitude to the kingdom in a statement on Saturday.
“The United States is grateful to the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its humanitarian gesture and willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility,” the statement said.
The Department of Defense identified the men as Ahmed Umar Abdullah Al-Hikimi, Abdul Rahman Mohammed Saleh Nasir, Ali Yahya Mahdi Al-Raimi, Tariq Ali Abdullah Ahmed Ba Odah, Muhammed Abdullah Muhammed Al-Hamiri, Ahmed Yaslam Said Kuman, Abd al Rahman Al-Qyati, Mansour Muhammed Ali Al-Qatta and Mashur Abdullah Muqbil Ahmed Al-Sabri.
Obama signed an executive order in the first week of his presidency to close the controversial prison, marking a decisive break from his predecessor, George W. Bush.
But Obama has yet to deliver on that promise, as many Republicans — and some Democrats — have long been wary of closing the facility and having to transfer remaining inmates.
In February, Obama detailed his plan to Congress to close the prison.
The blueprint involves transferring the bulk of remaining detainees to other countries and moving the rest — who can’t be transferred abroad because they’re deemed too dangerous — to an as-yet-undetermined detention facility in the United States.
A major concern of lawmakers has been the risk that released detainees will return to the battlefield. Underscoring the threat, Spain, working with Moroccan intelligence officials, announced in February the arrest of four individuals in anti-terror operations in Spain and Morocco, including one who had spent time at Guantanamo.