Guantanamo three detained after flying home to Britain

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Three British residents who have been held by the United States government for nearly six years were released from Guantanamo Bay yesterday and flown home to be reunited with their families. Jamil el-Banna, Omar Deghayes and Abdenour Samuer were handed over to British police officers and arrived at Luton airport by chartered aircraft last night.

Mr Deghayes and Mr Samuer were arrested and taken straight to the high-security Paddington Green police station in London, and Mr Banna, who was not arrested but was detained, was taken to a police station in Bedfordshire for questioning by British officers.

Another detainee, the British resident Shaker Aamer is to be repatriated to Saudi Arabia while a fifth man, Binyam Mohamed, is to remain at the US naval base along with three other detainees who also claim association with Britain.

But in a further twist, Mr Deghayes and Mr Banna may now face an extradition request from Spain, which wants to try them on terrorist charges.

Mr Banna has never seen the youngest of his five children because he has been held in Guantanamo. His wife, Sabah, said: "After five years of waiting, a lot has happened to me and to my children. It has been a very difficult time, but thank God it is now finished and we have justice at last.

"Today is Eid and it feels to me that I have two Eids I feel so blessed my Jamil will be home to celebrate with my children."

Their release followed months of sensitive negotiations between the Foreign Office and the US administration. David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, announced in August that the UK had formally requested the release of the five men, and a final agreement on the security arrangements for returning the trio was reached on 10 December.

A Home Office statement said: "This does not imply a commitment on our part that they can remain permanently in the UK ...their immigration status will be reviewed immediately following their return."

But Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve, which represented the three men, said it was likely they would be allowed to stay, and that he would fight Spain's extradition request.

Spanish judges first requested Mr Banna's extradition in 2004, alleging he was linked to the radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada. Mr Banna has maintained that he only met him once, in the UK. Spain's interest in Mr Deghayes relates to his alleged apperance in a Chechen rebel training video, which his lawyers say was a case of mistaken identity.

The three men had suffered "shocking, shocking abuse" in Guantanamo ,Mr Stafford Smith said, and would be receiving psychiatric help for the torture they endured. Deghayes had been blinded in his right eye as a result of "US mistreatment" in Guantanamo..

The three had agreed to "voluntary security arrangements" required by the British government, he added. The terms of their return prevented him from revealing those arrangements, but he said they fell well short of the control orders imposed on some terrorist suspects in the UK.

"We agreed to exactly what the British government wanted because our clients have absolutely nothing to hide, " he said.

The Conservatives had feared the men would pose a risk to national security, but Mr Stafford Smith said: "You have nothing to worry about from our clients. We have had 10 of our clients come back to Britain and the Americans said on each occasion they were dangerous people and on each occasion our clients have caused no trouble."

Zachary Katznelson, of Reprieve, said: "Imagine if you were ripped away from your family for five or six years all the things you have missed. That's what these men have gone through and what they will now have to deal with to get back their lives, and rebuild their lives in the UK."

On arrival at Luton Mr Deghayes and Mr Samuer were arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism. Mr Banna was detained but not arrested, under Schedule 7 Port and Border Controls within the Terrorism Act 2000.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: "All the men will be medically examined by a forensic medical examiner to ensure that they are fit to be detained and interviewed by police. As is normal each man will have access to a solicitor of his choice.

"Police are conducting investigations into the cases of each man on an individual basis. Their inquiries are being carried out, as they must be, strictly in accordance with UK law."

Amani Deghayes, Mr Deghayes' sister, said: "Our family has always said that Omar was totally innocent one of the hundreds of people taken to Guantanamo by the Americans for no good reason.

"At the same time, we always insisted that if there was any evidence against Omar then it was only right that he should stand trial. Instead he's been on the receiving end of brutal and illegal treatment."

The men 'coming home'

Omar Deghayes, 38

A law graduate who lived in Brighton for 20 years, he is a refugee from Libya, whose father was tortured and murdered by Muammar Gaddafi in 1980. He travelled widely and lived in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime, where his supporters say he was trying to run a business exporting organic fruit. He was arrested in Pakistan having fled the US-led airstrikes in 2001 in what Clive Stafford Smith said was a case of mistaken identity. He was alleged to have appeared in a Chechen rebel training video, but his lawyers proved the man in the film was someone else who had since died.

Jamil el-Banna, 45

A former teacher and mechanic, is a refugee from Jordan. He was seized in 2002 on a business trip to Gambia with Bisher al-Rawi, another British resident who was returned home two months ago. The pair had invested 250,000 in a project to set up a mobile peanut pocessing plant when they were arrested by the Gambian authorities, who turned them over top the US. They were believed to have spent some time in Afghanistan under the US's rendition system before arriving in Guantanamo. Mr el-Banna was quesioned about "links" to the imprisoned radical cleric Abu Qatada, who he maintained h e had met only once in the UK.

Abdenour Samuer, 34

Came to the UK in 1999 from his home country of Algeria, where he was said to have deserted from the army. He was granted leave to remain in 2000, and lived in Harrow, London, working as a painter and wallpaper hanger. But he felt he was unable to live as a good Muslim in Britain and left for Afghanistan. He was picked up on the border with Pakistan after a skirmish in which he was shot in the leg. He later said his confession to having prior knowledge of the September 11 attacks was forced out of him by interrogators who threatened to deny him treatment for his wound, leading him to believe it would be amputated.