Terror charges dropped against Arab publisher

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The Independent Online

An Egyptian publisher yesterday became the second high-profile terrorist suspect arrested in Britain in the wake of the 11 September attacks to have charges against him dismissed in court.

Yasser al-Siri, 38, had been accused of plotting to kill the Afghan opposition leader Ahmed Shah Masood. The charges, relating to a plan to blow up the leader of the Northern Alliance on 9 September, were thrown out at the Old Bailey after a judge ruled that Mr Siri was used as "an innocent fall guy" by the assassins.

Moments after being freed he was rearrested on an extradition warrant over American allegations that he provided funds for the al-Qa'ida terror network.

The collapse of the case comes a month after Lotfi Raissi, 27, an Algerian pilot accused by the US of training some of the 11 September hijackers, walked free from a British court after the judge ruled that charges against him were unsubstantiated.

Mr Siri is due to appear at Bow Street magistrates' court today on an extradition warrant that accuses him of providing money for al-Qa'ida in May 2001, knowing or suspecting it would be used to fund terrorism against the United States.

He is one of four people accused of assisting Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, a blind Egyptian cleric serving a life sentence for the first bombing of the World Trade Centre in 1993 and a later plot to unleash a "day of terror" on New York.

Mr Siri, who ran the Islamic Observation Centre, based in west London, until his arrest by Scotland Yard's anti-terrorism branch in October, had been charged with conspiracy to murder.

He was accused at the Old Bailey of providing two suicide bombers with letters of introduction to General Masood. The men posed as television journalists before detonating explosives during an interview with the Afghan leader.

The charge against Mr Siri of conspiracy to murder was dismissed by the Common Serjeant of London, Judge Beaumont, who said he was satisfied there was sufficient evidence to show that letters of accreditation written by Mr Siri had been used by the two bombers, but not enough to prove he knew that they were involved in the murder plot.

He said the original letters had been used as a template, but had then been forged, "thus using the applicant as an innocent fall guy".

Three charges under anti-terrorism legislation were also dropped. Mr Siri, who still faces charges of publishing a book which incited racial hatred, has spent seven months in custody.

Ben Emmerson QC, for the defence, said his client had agreed to provide accreditation for a film to be made in Afghanistan.