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Three former Guantanamo detainees go home to Bosnia

Video by George HARRIS

Latest update : 2008-12-17

On Nov 20th, a US federal court ruled that the military had failed to prove that three Bosnian suspects of Algerian origin were enemy combatants subject to detention under international rules of war. They were released on Tuesday.

AFP - Three Guantanamo detainees of Algerian origin arrived Tuesday in their adopted homeland Bosnia after a US judge ordered their release last month, police said.
   
The three, who were held at Guantanamo for almost seven years, were the first inmates of the US "war on terror" detention camp released by the US administration of President George W. Bush under a judge's orders.
   
"They were released to go to their homes," a police officer told journalists at the airport without elaborating.
   
Zeljka Kujundzija, spokeswoman for Bosnia's State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA), said earlier the three had been interviewed to establish their identity.
   
US officials who requested anonymity said earlier the three were Mustafa Ait Idir, Mohamed Nechla and Hadji Boudella.
   
The Pentagon confirmed the transfer saying the action was prompted by a federal judge's ruling in November that the miltiary had failed to prove that the three were enemy combatants subject to detention under the laws of war.
   
"Following the court's decision, the government determined that the detainees should be transferred to their country of citizenship, Bosnia and Herzegovina," the Pentagon said in a statement.
   
The trio were escorted from the airport to SIPA headquarters in Sarajevo by the agency, a small contingent of Bosnia's joint police force.
   
They were followed by Boudella's wife Nadja Dizdarevic and three of the couple's children, including a seven-year-old daughter who has never met her father, all of them in tears.
   
The three men were among six Algerians living in Bosnia where they had been given Bosnian nationality but who were arrested by Bosnian police in late 2001 under suspicion of plotting an attack on the US embassy in Sarajevo.
   
In January 2002, although a Bosnian court released them due to lack of evidence, they were transferred to the US camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
   
But on November 20, more than seven years after the opening of the Guantanamo prison, a US judge for the first time acknowledged that five of the six men had been illegally detained and ordered their release.
   
Judge Richard Leon found however that the sixth Guantanamo inmate, Belkacem Bensayah, 46, arrested with the others in Bosnia in 2001, had been held legally.
   
He was accused of planning to travel to Afghanistan "to facilitate the travel of any others to do the same," Leon said.
   
Earlier, Boudella's wife, who was wearing a full Islamic veil and waiting at the airport with the children, told AFP she hoped those responsible for their imprisonment would be brought to justice.
   
"With this, the fight for the return of these three men has ended, but the fight for human rights has not stopped, not only for those who remain (in Guantanamo) but for all the others who have been there," said Dizdarevic.
   
"It would be stupid, it would not make sense to let those who sent them there get away unpunished for all those years they have spent there," she stressed.
   
Dizdarevic, 35, said the youngest of the couple's four children, seven-year-old Nur, was to see her father for the first time in her life.
   
"I'm trembling. I hope everything will be all right," she said.
   
Also awaiting them at the airport was a group of around a dozen bearded men dressed in trousers raised above the ankles, which are characteristic of Bosnia's hardline Wahhabi Islamic movement.
   
Meanwhile, the inmates' lawyer Robert Kirsch hailed their return to Bosnia labeling it as "historic".
   
"We are very pleased that both the Bosnian court and the American court have ruled that these three men should be reunited with their families," he told journalists at Sarajevo airport speaking over the phone from Boston.
   
Kirsch said that the remaining two Algerians freed by the US judge -- Lakhdar Boumediene and Saber Lahmar -- did not return since they had their Bosnian citizenship revoked and stressed that Sarajevo should take them back.
   
Some 250 people are still detained at Guantanamo, which US president-elect Barack Obama has vowed to close once he takes office on January 20.
 

Date created : 2008-12-17

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