BAGHDAD, April 16 (Reuters) - A Pulitzer Prize-winning
photographer working for the Associated Press in Iraq was freed
from U.S. military custody on Wednesday after being held for two
years, the news agency said.
Bilal Hussein, an Iraqi, was handed over to AP colleagues at
a checkpoint in Baghdad. He was smiling and appeared in good
health, the AP said in a report from the Iraqi capital.
"I want to thank all the people working in AP ... I have
spent two years in prison even though I was innocent. I thank
everybody," Hussein said after being freed.
The U.S. military had accused Hussein of working with
insurgents in the country. AP has repeatedly denied any improper
links and said Hussein was only doing his job as a journalist.
Hussein, 36, was freed after the U.S. military conducted a
review of his status and decided he was no longer a security
threat. That followed a decision by an Iraqi judicial panel that
dismissed allegations against Hussein and ordered him released
under an amnesty law passed by parliament in February.
He was taken to the checkpoint aboard a prisoner bus and
left U.S. custody wearing a traditional Iraqi robe, the AP said.
The photographer was embraced by family members, including
his brother and mother after his release, and received flowers.
AP executives welcomed the news of Hussein's release.
"After two years and four days of captivity, Bilal Hussein
is back with the AP," Thomas Curley, president and chief
executive of the AP, told a gathering of U.S. newspaper editors
and executives in Washington.
Hussein was seized in Ramadi, capital of western Anbar
province, in April 2006, at a time when a Sunni Arab insurgency
was raging in the vast desert region. He was part of the AP's
photo team that won a Pulitzer prize in 2005.
In a statement on Monday, the U.S. military said Hussein was
alleged to have possessed bomb-making materials and conspired
with insurgents to photograph explosions directed at security
Hussein was not being exonerated of any wrongdoing, it had
said. The Iraqi judicial panel dismissed two separate
accusations against Hussein this month.
Many of the 23,000 detainees in U.S. military custody in
Iraq have not been charged but remain in jail because they are
deemed a security risk.
Hussein is just one of several Iraqi journalists who have
been held by the U.S. military without facing trial. Reuters
journalists have also been detained by the U.S. military for
months and later released without charges.