Mohamed Haneef, the Indian doctor held on terror charges in Australia and then cleared, was on his way home at the time of going to press. Haneef boarded a Thai Airways flight from Brisbane airport that took off at 7.55 pm (India time).
It was to have brought him to Bangalore via Bangkok early on Sunday morning.
Free, at last
The smile was back on Haneef’s face as he entered Brisbane airport. Despite being granted his freedom on Friday evening, Haneef remained in legal limbo at an undisclosed location till Saturday. He awaited a decision by Federal Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews on whether to reinstate his work visa.
Haneef's lawyer Peter Russo said his first words after his dramatic release were: "Thank you, thank you, thank you, Peter."
Haneef was interviewed for two hours by immigration authorities before being taken to an undisclosed location. After nearly three weeks in custody, he dined on an Indian meal bought for him by Imran Siddiqui, a relative who arrived in Australia from Bangalore last weekend.
Russo said Haneef cannot work until the Immigration Department completes its review of the visa issue. "With his visa cancelled, he doesn't have a job, so he'd just be sitting around until that is settled," he said.
In Bangalore, Haneef's wife Firdous Arshiya couldn't wait for him to return. "I'm just glad he's coming back," she said.
There was no sign of an apology from Canberra or from the Australian Federal Police (AFP), but Prime Minister John Howard blamed the AFP and Damien Bugg, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, for the bungled prosecution. However, he continued to support the decision to revoke Haneef's visa.
While Bugg was willing to admit to the blunder, he refused to resign. "Mistakes are embarrassing," he said. "I'm disappointed that it's happened and I will try to obtain a better understanding of how it came about."
Civil rights activists demanded an inquiry that focused on Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock and Andrews, while others called for a judicial review of Bugg's actions.
Meanwhile, India's External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee expressed happiness at Haneef being let out of detention. He hoped that Australia would restore his work visa.
(Inputs from BR Srikanth and agencies)