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Guantanamo Britons freed without charge
March 11, 2004

Five Britons sent home by the United States from its Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba were all free men today after British police released them without charge.

Four of the men, all British Muslims, were freed late yesterday after being questioned under anti-terrorism laws at the high-security Paddington Green police station in west London.

The fifth was released on Tuesday night.

The five returned to Britain on Tuesday on a Royal Air Force (RAF) flight from the Guantanamo naval base, where the US is holding some 650 alleged al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters - suspects in its post-September 11 "war on terror".

Negotiations between London and Washington are continuing on the fate of four other Britons imprisoned at the base, who could face trial before controversial US military courts.

Four of the repatriated men - Ruhal Ahmed, 23, Asif Iqbal, 22, Shafiq Rasul, 26, and Tarek Dergoul, 26 - were arrested by anti-terrorist police on their arrival at a RAF base outside London.

The fifth returnee, Jamal al Harith, 37, was detained at RAF Northolt for just four hours under immigration rules before he was given a police escort through a crush of reporters to rejoin his family at a secret location.

Late yesterday, police said that Dergoul, a former care worker for the elderly from east London who had been held under the Terrorism Act 2000, had been freed after "close liaison" between police and state prosecutors.

He had been questioned under a section the Act which refers to alleged involvement "in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism", according to police.

Just before midnight (1100 AEDT Thursday), the four other men were released, bringing an end to their two-year ordeal.

They were then taken to undisclosed locations of their choice.

Dergoul was allowed to make brief phone calls to relatives before his release. According to today's Daily Mirror newspaper, he told his brother Halid: "I want to clear my name and set the record straight.

"In the beginning I was messed up and it took a long time to come to terms with where I was. But now I am feeling emotionally positive and physically strong."

The Mirror reported that Halid denied that his brother had links with extremists or Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, adding: "Tarek was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."

A lawyer for Jamaican-born Al Harith, a web designer from Manchester who converted to Islam in his 20s, said the freed man wanted the US authorities to "answer for the injustice which he has suffered" at Guantanamo Bay.

"He has been detained as an innocent for a period of two years. He has been treated in a cruel, inhumane and degrading manner. He wants the authorities to answer for that," lawyer Robert Lizar said.

"He's an innocent man," Lizar added.

"He wants to know why he was kept in custody for so long."

The Pentagon said on Tuesday it was releasing the five from Guantanamo Bay - after months of haggling between London and Washington-- because Washington believed they no longer posed a threat to US national security.

Asked why it took two years to come to that conclusion, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said: "The goal was to keep these people off a battlefield and to keep them away from killing other people.

"That's a good thing," he added.

"That's not a bad thing."

Guantanamo Bay, a US naval base at the eastern end of Cuba, was converted into a detention camp for "enemy combatants" captured by US forces in Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington.

Human rights groups say Guantanamo Bay, and the "military commissions" that the Pentagon is setting up to try and sentence its detainees, are a travesty of justice and due process.

The four Britons who remain in Guantanamo Bay are Feroz Abbasi, Moazzam Begg, Richard Belmar, and Martin Mubanga, who also holds Zambian citizenship.

US officials, quoted on Monday by Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper, alleged that the four were trained "terrorists" who would rejoin Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network if they were released.

AFP

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