By Doina Chiacu and Idrees Ali
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States released a suspected al Qaeda propagandist to the government of Kuwait on Friday, leaving a total of 104 inmates at the U.S. naval prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The U.S. Defense Department announced the repatriation of Faez Mohammed Ahmed al Kandari, a Kuwaiti who had been held at Guantanamo for 13 years. It said in a statement his detention "does not remain necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States."
Kandari, 38, was suspected of being a propagandist and also may have served as "spiritual adviser" to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, according to a U.S. Department of Defense profile.
Kandari was transferred on Friday to Kuwait, where he will be put into a rehabilitation program to help him reintegrate into society, according to his lawyer in Washington, Eric Lewis.
"Mr. Al Kandari is delighted to be going home and reuniting with his beloved parents and family after all these years away," Lewis said.
He said Kandari was the last of 12 Kuwaitis who had been at Guantanamo, which the George W. Bush administration established as a prison for foreign terrorism suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
President Barack Obama, who campaigned in 2008 on a pledge to close the prison, views it as a damaging symbol of inmate abuse and detention without charge that he inherited from Bush. He is still working on a plan to close it, despite opposition from the Republican-controlled Congress.
Earlier this week, the Pentagon announced two Yemeni detainees were transferred to Ghana. Kandari's release leaves 104 inmates at the prison, 45 of them already approved for transfer.
"It's a good illustration of our effort to chip away at the population there and to try to resolve these individual cases in a way that's consistent with our national security interests," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Friday.
General John F. Kelly, outgoing commander of the U.S. Southern Command, told reporters more Guantanamo inmates would be released this month but did not elaborate.
"I think we can all quibble on whether 13 or 12 or eight years in detention is enough to have them pay for whatever they did, but they're bad guys," Kelly said on Friday.
"If they go back to the fight, we'll probably kill them."
Kandari's release came after the parole-style Periodic Review Board determined in September that his detention was no longer necessary.
The board, established by Obama in 2011, is comprised of six intelligence and national security agencies. After detainees are approved for transfer, the U.S. government has to find countries willing to take them and provide the security arrangements.
(Additional reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Bill Trott and G Crosse)