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Osama linked terror suspect freed in UK

world Updated: Jul 03, 2008 20:02 IST
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A suspected Islamist extremist said to have "direct links" with al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has been freed on bail in Britain after more than seven years in jail, court officials said on Thursday.

The 45-year-old Algerian, identified only as "U", was released from a high security jail where he was awaiting deportation, a spokeswoman for the Special Immigration Appeal Commission (SIAC) said.

"As of today I can confirm he has been released," she said.

The release, following a successful appeal which overturned an earlier SIAC ruling that he could be deported to his homeland, comes after another man with alleged links to bin Laden was freed under stringent restrictions last month.

Firebrand preacher Abu Qatada, once described by a Spanish anti-terror judge as bin Laden's "right-hand man in Europe", is subject to a 22-hour-a-day curfew, has to wear an electronic tag and other conditions.

The British government has claimed that "U" was a leading organiser of a major terror group, which cannot be named due to a court order.

The order also bans publication of where he is now living, exact details of his release and photographs.

His followers plotted to bomb the Christmas market in Strasbourg, France, in 2000 and were also involved in an earlier plan to attack Los Angeles airport, according to the government.

SIAC ruled in May last year that there were "credible grounds" to believe the government's claims that he had "direct links to Osama bin Laden" and held a "senior position" at a training camp for extremists in Afghanistan.

They said they shared the intelligence services' view that he remained a "risk to national security".

"U" had been in custody since February 2001, when he was detained at London's main Heathrow airport trying to board a flight to Saudi Arabia on a false passport.

The US authorities had tried to extradite him, but the application was withdrawn after the main witness against him, supergrass Ahmed Ressam, refused to testify.

Ressam, also an Algerian national, was detained in December 1999 as he tried to enter the United States with a car loaded with explosives to bomb Los Angeles airport. He is now serving a 22-year jail sentence.

Lawyers for "U" refused to comment. The Home Office also said it could not comment on the case, but maintained that any non-British national deemed a threat of national security should be deported.