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US to release last British resident held in Guantánamo

Shaker Aamer was cleared for release in 2007 but has remained in Guantánamo despite objections by the UK

U.S. officials have decided to release Shaker Aamer, the last United Kingdom resident imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay, after more than 13 years in U.S. custody, the British government said Friday.

President Barack Obama has told Congress of his decision, and 46-year-old Aamer will be returned to Britain once a 30-day notice period has expired, the British Foreign Office said.

Britain has been asking the U.S. for years to free Aamer, the last of a dozen British nationals or residents held at Guantánamo.

Aamer, originally from Saudi Arabia, is married to a British woman, with whom he has four children, and he lived in Britain for several years before 2001. He was detained by anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan in 2001 after the U.S. invasion and handed over to U.S. troops. He has been held at Guantánamo since 2002.

American officials previously alleged that Aamer had ties to convicted terrorists. In 2007, a senior U.S. official said Aamer had shared an apartment in London in the late 1990s with Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person in the United States charged in the Sept. 11 attacks, and had lived on a stipend from Osama bin Laden.

Aamer was not charged with a crime, denies links to terrorism and says he was in Afghanistan to do volunteer work. He was cleared for release from Guantánamo in 2007 but has remained in custody.

During his time in Guantánamo, Aamer has emerged as the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking the end to force-feeding of Guantánamo prisoners. Officials had begun force-feeding detainees after many of them initiated a hunger strike to protest their indefinite detention and conditions at the facility.

Aamer's British lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, said the U.S. decision to release his client was good news, "albeit about 13 years too late."

The Foreign Office said Friday that Britain "has regularly raised Mr. Aamer's case with the U.S. authorities, and we support President Obama's commitment to closing the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay."

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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