Earlier versions of this article, including in the print edition of Friday's Washington Post, misstated the number of Yemeni detainees represented by attorney David Remes. He represents 17 Yemeni detainees.
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Six Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo Bay to be repatriated
Yemen's government has been struggling with a civil war in the north, a secessionist movement in the south and humanitarian crises as the economy crumbles. In this void, al-Qaeda has steadily grown, using the nation's vast lawless, rugged terrain as a haven. U.S. officials are concerned that al-Qaeda could use Yemen, strategically located in the heart of one of the world's lucrative oil and shipping zones, as a launching pad for attacks against neighboring Saudi Arabia and in the Horn of Africa.
On Thursday, the weak central government launched one of its biggest counterterrorism efforts in recent memory, as Yemeni forces, backed by airstrikes, killed at least 28 al-Qaeda militants and captured 17 others in a pre-dawn assault on an alleged training camp. Mohammed Albasha, spokesman for the Yemeni Embassy in Washington, said that the dead included Mohammed Saleh al-Kazemi, a leading al-Qaeda figure in Yemen.
The operation targeted militants planning suicide bomb attacks against Yemeni and foreign sites, including schools, according to a statement on 26Sep.net, a Yemeni Web site linked to the government's military. Several civilians were also apparently killed and homes destroyed, witnesses told local news agencies.
Obama called Yemen's president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to praise the country's efforts to fight terrorism, saying Thursday's raids "show Yemen's determination to face the threat of Osama bin Laden's global terrorist network of Al Qaeda," according to Yemen's Saba state news agency.
Bin Laden has close ties to Yemen, where his father was born, and al-Qaeda has struck there repeatedly. In 2000, al-Qaeda bombers attacked the USS Cole in the southern city of Aden, killing 17 American sailors. Since then, militants have carried out a string of attacks on U.S. missionaries, foreign tourists and Yemeni security forces. Last year, heavily armed gunmen targeted the U.S. Embassy with a car bomb and rockets. The attack killed 16, including six assailants.
Against this backdrop, some U.S. military and intelligence officials have blanched at the prospect of sending large numbers of Yemenis home from Guantanamo Bay.
Yemeni officials said none of the 15 former Guantanamo Bay detainees have returned to terrorism, and officials are demanding the release of more of their nationals.
The Obama administration attempted to forge a deal with Saudi Arabia that would allow Yemeni detainees to attend its highly regarded rehabilitation program. But Saudi officials said the program, which relies on strong family and tribal involvement, was ill-suited for Yemenis.
Officials in Yemen, the poorest Arab nation, insist that they need financial assistance from the United States to successfully reintegrate returning detainees.