Bobby Fischer, citizen of Iceland, freed by Japan to fly to new home

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A bitter legal drama, which kept the reclusive chess genius Bobby Fischer in a Japanese immigration detention centre for nearly nine months, ends today with his release, after a remarkable intervention by the Icelandic government.

A bitter legal drama, which kept the reclusive chess genius Bobby Fischer in a Japanese immigration detention centre for nearly nine months, ends today with his release, after a remarkable intervention by the Icelandic government.

Mr Fischer, who has been held since last July, will walk out as the holder of an Icelandic passport thanks to a decision by Reykjavik to grant him full citizenship. He is expected immediately to board a plane with his long-time Japanese partner, Miyoko Watai, for Iceland, scene of his classic 1972 Cold War showdown with the Russian chess champion Boris Spassky. "We are looking forward to our new lives there," Ms Watai said.

The citizenship decision, which winged its way through the Icelandic legislature this week in a record 12 minutes, thwarted Tokyo's plans to extradite Mr Fischer to the US, where he is wanted for violating sanctions against the former Yugoslavia by playing a $3m (£1.6m) chess match there in 1992. Washington objected, calling Mr Fischer "a fugitive from justice."

But his supporters said his detention was illegal in the first place, because his passport was revoked illegally. "There is no question of Bobby Fischer slipping away from justice," John Bosnitch, who heads Mr Fischer's support committee, said. "He is slipping away from injustice into justice. There is an extradition treaty between the US and Iceland, and he will fight his case there."

Japan detained him at Narita airport for allegedly trying to leave the country on a revoked US passport, a move his supporters say was inspired by a vengeful post-9/11 Washington, increasingly outraged by the chess master's anti-American views. Mr Fischer called the 9/11 atrocity "wonderful news" in an interview broadcast immediately after the attacks on a Philippines radio station.

He said: "I applaud the act. The US and Israel have been slaughtering the Palestinians, just slaughtering them for years. Robbing them and slaughtering them. Nobody gave a shit. Now it's coming back to the US. Fuck the US. I want to see the US wiped out."

The interview capped years of controversial statements, included anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, which tarnished his reputation. By the time he made a last play for fame and fortune two decades later in Yugoslavia, Mr Fischer had fallen into obscurity and poverty, claiming that he "hated" America. He is believed to have based himself in Japan for years before his detention, which caused the legal battle to prevent his extradition to the US. Supporters produced documents during the fight which they said suggested the decision to detain him had been made at the "highest levels" in Washington. "The US government didn't like Bobby and we think they told Tokyo to hold him," Ms Watai said.

Mr Fischer won the backing of several Japanese politicians, including Mizuho Fukushima, leader of the Social Democratic Party, and received thousands of letters of support while eating prison food and sharing a small cell with other visa over-stayers at the detention centre north of Tokyo.

A spokesman for the Icelandic embassy in Tokyo said the country was "delighted" to welcome him: "He left a deep impression on us all those years ago."

Mr Fischer is likely to face a renewed legal battle against extradition in his new home. "If the US government wants to extradite Bobby for whatever charge it might come up with now, 13 years after the event, they're welcome to do so," Mr Bosnitch said. "He will defend himself in the Icelandic courts. He chose Iceland because he thinks he will get a fair trial."

CHESS HERO OF REYKJAVIK

Iceland granting citizenship to a reclusive chess genius and fugitive from US justice, with vocal and extremist views may seem strange. But to his many supporters it is merely confirmation that Icelanders have a good memory.

Fischer's historic world championship showdown against Russia's Boris Spassky in Rekjavik in 1972 brought unprecedented media attention to the city and earned the eccentric chess genius a permanent place in Icelandic hearts.

"He put Iceland on the international map," said Pall Stefansson, of Iceland Review magazine. "For us, he has the status of a football player, he is like our David Beckham."

Iceland, with a population of 270,000, has the highest number of chess grandmasters per capita in the world. Not even the prospect of falling out with an ally as powerful as Washington has dimmed support for providing asylum to Mr Fischer, who had faced extradition to the US. "I think it's Icelandic stubbornness, that maybe we do what we like," Mr Stefansson said.

Lilja Gretasdottir, president of Iceland's chess federation, said the passport was "wonderful news", adding: "A lot of Icelanders, even if they have no interest in chess, feel attached to Bobby Fischer. His only crime was to play chess but playing chess is not a crime."

The US has delivered a "message of disappointment" to Iceland's government.

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