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After 6 years, Jazeera journo released

Sami al-Haj, along with two other Sudanese released from Guantanamo prison in Cuba, arrived at the airport in Sudan’s capital Khartoum on a US military plane.

world Updated: May 02, 2008 22:30 IST

An Al Jazeera cameraman released from US custody at Guantanamo Bay returned home to Sudan early on Friday after six years of imprisonment that drew worldwide protests.

Sami al-Haj, along with two other Sudanese released from Guantanamo prison in Cuba on Thursday, arrived at the airport in Sudan’s capital Khartoum on a US military plane. The cameraman, who had been on a hunger strike for the past 16 months, grimaced as he was carried off the plane by US military personnel. He was put on a stretcher and taken straight to a hospital.

Al-Jazeera showed footage of Al-Haj being carried into the hospital on a stretcher, looking feeble with his eyes closed but smiling. Some of the men surrounding his stretcher were kissing him on the cheek.

“Thank God...for being free again,” he told Al-Jazeera from his hospital bed. “Our eyes have the right to shed tears after we have spent all those years in prison. ... But our joy is not going to be complete until our brothers in Guantanamo Bay are freed,” he added. "The situation is very bad and getting worse day after day,” he said of conditions in Guantanamo. He claimed guards prevent Muslims from practicing their religion and reading the Quran. “Some of our brothers live without clothing.”

The US military says it goes to great lengths to respect the religion of detainees, issuing them Qurans, enforcing quiet among guard staff during prayer calls throughout the day. All cells in Guantanamo have an arrow that points toward the holy city of Mecca.

Al-Haj was the only journalist from a major international news organisation held at Guantanamo and many of his supporters saw his detention as punishment for a network whose broadcasts angered US officials.

The military alleged he was a courier for a militant Muslim organisation, an allegation his lawyers denied. Al-Haj said he believed he was arrested because of US hostility toward Al-Jazeera and because the media was reporting on US rights violations in Afghanistan.

Sudanese officials said Al-Haj would not face any charges.