District Judge Barbara Caulfield freed Jimmy Smyth, 40, on Thursday after ruling that he should not be returned because he would be at risk of victimisation as a republican.
Her verdict marks the first significant legal test of Article 3a in the amended extradition treaty between Britain and the US, which exempts defendants from return if they face the risk of prejudice or victimisation because of their race, nationality, religion or politics.
The judge concluded that Britain had failed to rebut evidence that Smyth would be at risk of retaliatory attacks and that the security services in Northern Ireland collude with loyalist paramilitaries in attacks on Catholics.
Smyth, who denies ever belonging to the IRA, was one of 38 republican prisoners who escaped from Northern Ireland's Maze prison in 1983 in the biggest breach of its security. He was serving a 20-year sentence for attempting to murder a prison official.
Meanwhile, the early release of IRA prisoners proposed by the Irish government brought accusations of 'appeasement' from Ulster Unionists and loyalist Tory MPs.
Ulster Unionist politicians said the move raised further suspicions of a deal with the IRA by the British government, in spite of repeated assurances by John Major yesterday that no deal had been struck.
Andrew Hunter, chairman of the Tory backbench Northern Ireland committee, attacked remarks by the Irish Minister for Justice, Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, after she confirmed that some IRA prisoners in the Republic nearing the end of their sentences would not serve the full term.
The secure unit at Whitemoor prison, scene of last week's armed escape by IRA prisoners, has been closed down, and its nine high-risk prisoners moved out, writes Heather Mills.
A Prison Service spokeswoman yesterday denied allegations that the Cambridgeshire unit was out of control. She said the closure was a temporary measure to facilitate the escape inquiry. The prisoners have been moved to Full Sutton jail near York.Reuse content