Pakistani returns home after 18 years of U.S. detention in Guantanamo prison camp

By Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam

KARACHI, Pakistan (Reuters) - A Pakistani national held by the United States for 18 years in the Guantanamo Bay prison camp without trial on suspicion of links to al Qaeda returned home to Pakistan on Saturday, Pakistan and the United States said.

Saifullah Paracha, a Karachi-based businessman, was first picked up in Thailand in July 2003 and taken to the U.S. military base at Bagram, Afghanistan, before being transferred in 2004 to the camp in the U.S naval station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"We are glad that a Pakistani citizen detained abroad is finally reunited with his family," the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

At 75, he was the oldest inmate at the camp, according to Reprieve, a London-based human rights group that worked on his case. He was never charged.

The U.S Department of Defense confirmed the repatriation. It said in a statement that Paracha's continued detention was no longer necessary to protect against a "significant threat" to the security of the United States.

Paracha is the latest release from the prison camp set up following a U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in pursuit of the al Qaeda network behind attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, the Pentagon and rural Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001.

The camp drew worldwide condemnation for holding large numbers of prisoners without charging them or holding trials. Its population peaked at about 800 inmates, then declined during the 2009-2017 Obama administration.

The Defense Department said 35 detainees remain at Guantanamo Bay, of whom 20 are eligible for transfer and three for a Periodic Review Board. Nine are involved in the military commissions process and three convicted in military commissions.

(Reporting by Gibran Peshimam in Karachi, Pakistan, and Idrees Ali in Washington, Editing by Angus MacSwan)