Five Taliban leaders freed from Guantanamo Bay under a prisoner swap deal with the United States said Friday in their first statement since arriving in Qatar that they would remain “loyal” to the conditions Qatar has set for their release.
But the statement gave no information on what those conditions were or whether there are any limitations on their freedom of movement inside Qatar. U.S. officials have said they include a one-year ban on their travel from Qatar.
"We want to assure all stakeholders that we are steadfast and loyal to the agreement between the Islamic Emirate and State of Qatar that was made specifically for our release (from Guantanamo Bay)," they said. The Islamic Emirate is what the Taliban call their government.
"We are grateful to the State of Qatar, which made sincere efforts for our release and hosted us," said the statement, which was released just after the Friday prayers in Qatar.
The message was released in Urdu, a language most Taliban leaders speak well for having studied in religious schools in Pakistan.
The statement closely tracked the contents of a Pashto-language video that the Taliban released Wednesday providing details of the exchange for U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. The five thanked God, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban’s advisory council and the Taliban political office in Doha for working for their freedom. Three of the men had been incarcerated at Guantanamo since the detention center opened Jan. 11, 2002. The other two arrived later that year.
“Also, we want to thank the people and all Muslims, especially those who tried to get us released or prayed for our release or expressed happiness at our release. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” the statement said.
The five released Taliban leaders are: Mohamed Fazl Akhund, the former chief of staff of the Taliban army; Noorulallah Noori, who was head of the Taliban administration of Afghanistan’s northern zone and the governor of Balkh province; Khairullah Khairkhuwa, former minister of interior and said to be a founding member of the Taliban; Abdul Haq Wasiq, former deputy chief of the Taliban intelligence agency; and Maulvi Mohamed Nabi Omari, who was a commander of a border patrol unit during the years the Taliban ruled Afghanistan.
Their release set off a storm of protest in the United States from some members of Congress, angry that the Obama administration did not follow U.S. law and provide 30 days notice of its plans to transfer them from Guantanamo.