By Jane Sutton
MIAMI, Dec 3 (Reuters) - A Sudanese weapons trainer who pleaded guilty to conspiring with al Qaeda finished his sentence at the Guantanamo prison on Tuesday and will be sent home "as soon as practicable," the Pentagon said.
Prisoner Noor Uthman Muhammed has met the terms of his February 2011 plea agreement, which cut his 14-year sentence to 34 months in exchange for his cooperation with prosecutors, the Pentagon official overseeing the Guantanamo war crimes tribunal wrote in a memo signed last month and obtained by Reuters on Tuesday.
His sentence ends Dec. 3, Convening Authority for Military Commissions Paul Oostburg Sanz wrote in the memo. A Pentagon spokesman said on Tuesday that Noor would be repatriated.
"Although we will not discuss specific dates or times of transfers due to operational security and diplomatic reasons, the United States intends to transfer him as soon as practicable after the completion of his sentence of confinement," said the spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Todd Breasseale.
Noor's departure would bring the United States one small step closer to President Barack Obama's goal of emptying the Guantanamo detention camp, which holds 164 men rounded up in counterterrorism operations overseas since Sept. 11, 2001.
Noor will likely leave the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval base in Cuba ahead of scores of other prisoners who have never been charged with crimes.
About half of the remaining captives were cleared for release or transfer years ago, and U.S. officials are working slowly to repatriate them or resettle them in third countries.
Six others are in pretrial hearings on charges in connection with the Sept. 11 hijacked plane attacks and the deadly bombing of a U.S. warship. Prosecutors have said most of the rest will never face charges because there is no evidence against them that could be used in court.
Noor, who is about 46 and asked to be called by his first name, had already been held at Guantanamo for nearly nine years when he pleaded guilty in February 2011 to conspiring with al Qaeda and providing material support for terrorism.
He admitted he was a weapons trainer at the Khaldan paramilitary camp in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2000. He said he never joined al Qaeda or plotted any attacks but acknowledged that he should have known some Khaldan graduates would become al Qaeda operatives.
A prosecutor called Khaldan a "terrorist assembly line" that turned young Muslim men into religious fanatics and tutored them in killing, bomb-making and conducting surveillance on embassies, military bases and airports.
A tribunal of U.S. military officers sentenced Noor to 14 more years in prison but his plea agreement suspended all but 34 months of that, so long as he cooperated with the U.S. government. Details of his cooperation were not made public.
Noor was captured in Faisalabad, Pakistan, in March 2002 at a safe house run by Abu Zubaydah, a "high-value" Guantanamo prisoner described by U.S. officials as a senior al Qaeda figure.
SUPPORT FROM TRIBAL LEADER
Noor, who is barely literate and signed his plea deal with a thumbprint, said he cooked and kept house there for men who fled the Afghan camps after the U.S. invasion in 2001.
His lawyers did not return requests for comment on Monday and Tuesday. They said at his sentencing hearing that Noor's tribal leader in Sudan has offered to find him a wife and job when he returns, and that his extended family pledged support.
Appeals courts have ruled in other Guantanamo cases that the charges Noor pleaded guilty to - conspiracy and material support - were not internationally recognized as war crimes at the time in question. The government is appealing the rulings. (Reporting by Jane Sutton; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)