An Algerian-born terror suspect wanted in the United States walked free from a Dublin court after five years behind bars and a two-year legal battle against extradition.
US authorities had sought to convict Ali Charaf Damache, 50, on two counts of conspiring to develop a European terror cell and to aid Pakistan-based terrorists. He had been held without bail in Ireland since March 2010 but walked free from Dublin High Court on Thursday after justice Aileen Donnelly delivered a 333-page judgement that criticised Irish prosecutors and potentially cruel US prison conditions.
Donnelly cited what she called "substantial grounds for believing that Mr Damache will be at real risk of being subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment if extradited to the USA." She also ruled that Irish state prosecutors abdicated their responsibilities in 2011 when they ruled out the possibility of trying Damache for additional terror charges in Ireland, where he actually lived, rather than the US, which he had never visited.
Prosecutors took that decision, in part, to ease Damache's extradition but instead it inspired two successful appeals by Damache's legal team challenging the fairness of his case's handling.
Damache, who has lived in Ireland for 15 years and has Irish citizenship, said in a statement issued by his legal team: "I am very happy with today's ruling, I always had faith in the Irish legal system ... and after more than five years in jail I am looking forward to moving on with my life here." He had been jailed in Ireland since US investigators tied him to a failed 2009 conspiracy to kill Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who had drawn jihadis' ire with sketches depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a dog.
According to FBI affidavits and other evidence presented in US and Irish courts, Damache was the ringleader who recruited white American women to his cause using online chat rooms. He allegedly wanted to build a European terror cell with Western female members who, because of their appearance and background, could avoid being added to terrorist watch lists.
Damache also was accused of conspiring to supply a US passport stolen in Ireland for use by an al Qaeda member in Pakistan, possibly delivered by one of his alleged American followers.