Two freed Guantanamo inmates released on bail

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The Independent Online

A British resident and former Guantanamo inmate was last night recovering with his wife and children, one of whom he has never seen, five years after leaving his London home for a business trip to west Africa.

But what should have been a jubilant family reunion was mixed with despair as it emerged that Jamil el-Banna could face up to 15 more years of captivity in a Spanish prison on charges of terrorism.

A second man, Omar Deghayes, who flew back from Guantanamo on Wednesday night, is also expected to face extradition to Spain. Abdenour Samuer, the third man returned to Britain, was arrested and held in custody but released without charge.

Mr Deghayes said in a statement last night: "I am very, very happy to be home. I am very grateful to everybody who has helped me. I would have been happier if everybody in Guantanamo were released and that ugly, bad place was closed down if not demolished. I need some rest, but I will be very happy to speak to everybody in the media to help other people to be released."

Mr Banna, 45, who in protest at his mistreatment at the hands of the Americans has grown shoulder-length hair and a long, grey beard, was brought by British police before a London magistrate to answer a European arrest warrant.

The new allegations concern his alleged membership of an al-Qa'ida cell based in Spain between June 1996 and July 2001 which was involved in the recruitment of jihadists for Afghanistan and Indonesia.

Melanie Cumberland, for the Spanish judicial authorities, urged the court to remand Mr Banna in custody because of his "deep reluctance" to return to prison.

She told the court that he had first come to Britain in 1994 on a false Kuwaiti passport seeking asylum and was eventually granted indefinite leave to remain.

Because he had been out of the UK for more than two years, this leave had been lifted and he now only had temporary permission to remain in the country.

But Mr Banna's barrister said there was "not a shred of evidence" against his client and insisted he had no reason to flee the country after enduring five years of "hell" in Guantanamo Bay and American prisons in Afghanistan.

Edward Fitzgerald QC told the court the US administrative review board had conducted an exhaustive investigation into his client and concluded in May that he was no threat to the US or its allies. He said: "It simply cannot be said that this is someone who is a danger or was associated with a dangerous organisation. If he was, the administrative review board would never have reached the decision it did."

The barrister added that MI6 had also concluded that Mr Banna did not require the imposition of a control order. Mr Banna, who has five children, was freed after his supporters, including the actress Vanessa Redgrave, agreed to be sureties for his 50,000 bail.

District judge Timothy Workman, sitting at Westminster magistrates' court, set further conditions on his release that Mr Banna obeys a curfew and lives at his home in Dollis Hill, north-west London. Mr Workman said: "I am satisfied that subject to stringent conditions the risk of flight is very small."

Outside court Mr Banna gave a brief statement: "Thank you very much everybody, my solicitor, the British people, the British Government for your help. I'm tired. I want to go home and see my children."

His lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, legal director of the human rights group Reprieve, said: "He looks like Santa Claus and that's because of everything he's been through. He refused to let the Americans shave him because they had done him before like a sheep."

Sarah Teather, Mr Banna's MP, said: "I think he was hoping to meet his wife under very different circumstances. His wife wanted that first meeting to be with her and the children, particularly his youngest daughter, Mariam, who he has never met."

Redgrave told reporters that she was "very happy to be of some small assistance for Jamil and his wife... Guantanamo Bay is a concentration camp. It is a disgrace that these men have been kept there all these years and today justice has been done."

From MI5 informant to prisoner

* The seeds of Jamil el-Banna's ordeal were sown when he began an association with the cleric Abu Qatada in the late 1990s.

* After 11 September 2001, Qatada, tarnished with the sobriquet of Osama bin Laden's ambassador in Europe, was actively engaged in a dialogue with British security services .

* Mr Banna, a Palestinian with Jordanian nationality, and his friend Bisher al-Rawi, an Iraqi national, were approached by MI5 to help develop this relationship. Mr Rawi is thought to have been the lead contact with Mr el Banna providing limited assistance.

* The next year both men were part of a business venture in the Gambia, planning to start a peanut oil factory. But when they arrived at Banjul airport in November they were arrested on suspicion of links to terrorism.

* Two other members of the party, both British nationals rather than residents, were detained at the same time but flown home after a few days' questioning.

* But Mr Banna and Mr Rawi, who endured weeks of questioning by both Gambian and American officials, were taken in chains to prisons in Afghanistan. In early 2003, they were sent to Guantanamo Bay. Mr Rawi was released without charge earlier this year.