Judge to rule on al-Qa'ida suspects

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A court in upstate New York was expected last night to rule on a defence request for bail for six men arrested near Buffalo last month on charges of supporting al-Qa'ida.

A court in upstate New York was expected last night to rule on a defence request for bail for six men arrested near Buffalo last month on charges of supporting al-Qa'ida.

The court's decision will be watched closely because it is likely to have consequences for other terror cases pending in the US. In the past ten weeks, authorities have charged 17 American citizens with assisting the terror group headed by Osama bin Laden.

The New York six, who were tracked down in the industrial town of Lackawanna, were accused of "providing material support to a foreign terrorist organisation" by attending an al-Qa'ida training camp in Afghanistan between April and June 2001.

Two of the defendants, Sahim Alwan and Mukhtar al-Bakri, told the FBI that they were at the camp and identified the other four – Yasein Taher, Faysal Galab, Yahya Goba and Shafal Mosed. Prosecutors have not accused the six of involvement in the 11 September attacks, but charge them with maintaining a conspiracy of silence about the plot on their return to the US.

At issue in the bail hearing, however, were concerns about the constitutionality of the charges. Defence lawyers argue that the right of free speech and free association in the US means the men cannot be prosecuted for simply attending a camp of a foreign group, whatever its goals.

* One of six men charged last Friday of belonging to another so-called terror "cell" in Oregon was arrested by police in Malaysia yesterday.

An American, Ahmed Ibrahim Bilal, was due to be flown back to the US to face trial, but a judge granted a stay order allowing him to fight extradition. He is claiming political asylum.

Augustine Paul, a high court judge, granted the stay until a hearing is held today on the legality of the arrest.

Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmed Badawi said Mr Bilal was arrested for not having a valid passport, as it had been revoked by the US government.

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