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Guantanamo panel to weigh Kuwaiti prisoner's transfer

By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Kuwaiti inmate at the Guantanamo Bay prison faces a hearing this week on whether he should be transferred home, with the Pentagon saying on Wednesday that he likely had ties to Osama bin Laden and his lawyer contending he was no threat to the United States.

Faez Mohammed Ahmed al-Kandari has been at the U.S. military prison in Cuba since May 2002. The parole-style hearing on Thursday will weigh whether he should still be held without charge or be sent to Kuwait.

A Defense Department profile released on Wednesday said al-Kandari acted as a recruiter and propagandist for al Qaeda and went to Afghanistan in 2001. It gave his age as 36 or 37.

He likely served as spiritual adviser and confidant to bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader killed by U.S. forces in 2011, and probably fought against U.S.-backed forces, the Pentagon said.

After a stay in a Kuwaiti rehabilitation center, al-Kandari likely would return to his family, but their "numerous connections to extremists could afford (him) opportunities to re-engage" in militant activities, the profile said.

In a statement, al-Kandari's lawyer Barry Wingard said his client was in Afghanistan for charity work. The government of Kuwait has given security assurances about returning Guantanamo prisoners, he said.

Al-Kandari comes from a family of professionals and government ministers and has agreed to spend six months at a rehabilitation center in Kuwait. He wants to get married, start a family and conduct business, Wingard said.

Al-Kandari's hearing comes amid a furor over the transfer of five Taliban inmates from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for captured U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. A U.S. congressional committee voted on Tuesday to bar the use of federal funds to transfer detainees from Guantanamo.

Al-Kandari is the eighth Guantanamo prisoner to appear before the national security panel. The board was established to speed up the prison's closing as ordered by President Barack Obama.

The Periodic Review Board has determined that three Yemenis are eligible for transfer and two should continue to be held. In its most recent ruling, the panel found that Salem Ahmad Hadi Bin Kanad should remain in custody, in part because of his history of fighting for a Taliban unit.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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