WASHINGTON—Four men belonging to the mostly Muslim Uyghur ethnic group and held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay for more than seven years have been released and landed early Thursday on the North Atlantic island of Bermuda, Uyghur sources and the U.S. Justice Department said.
The four men, part of a larger group of 17 Uyghurs detained after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, landed on the tiny North Atlantic island at about 5:30 a.m., according to Ilshat Hassan, vice president of the Uyghur American Association.
In a written statement, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said, "By helping accomplish the president's objective of closing Guantanamo, the transfer of these detainees will make America safer."
"We are extremely grateful to the government of Bermuda for its assistance in the successful resettlement of these four detainees, and we commend the leadership they have demonstrated on this important issue."
The four released men were identified as Abdulla Abduqadir, 30; Helil Mamut, 31; Ablikim Turahun, 38; and Salahidin Ablehet, 32. The remaining 13 Uyghurs are believed to have remained at Guantanamo, and their fate wasn't immediately clear.
The Pacific island of Palau agreed this week to temporarily take in up to 17 of the men.
Most of the 17 Uyghurs from China's remote northwestern Xinjiang province held at the controversial detention facility for suspected terrorists were cleared more than four years ago of being "enemy combatants." But U.S. officials have struggled to find a country willing to take them in. A previous group was sent to Albania.
The Uyghurs were living in a self-contained camp in Afghanistan when the U.S.-led bombing campaign began in October 2001 after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. They fled to the mountains but were turned over to Pakistani authorities, who then handed them over to the United States.
The Chinese government says the men are members of the outlawed East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which Beijing and Washington regard as a terrorist organization. Beijing blames ETIM for a series of violent attacks inside China in recent years.
Rights advocates argued against returning them to China for fear they would face torture there.
Original reporting by Shohret Hoshur for RFA's Uyghur service. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.