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Bosnian Detainees Return Home After Seven Years In Guantanamo

December 17, 2008

(RFE/RL) -- It was an emotional moment for their friends and relatives waiting at Sarajevo airport as the plane carrying three Algerian-born Bosnian men touched down.

The three were the first to be released under a U.S. court order from the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after being held as terrorist suspects for almost seven years.

But the reunion was delayed as an armored car drove to the aircraft and the three men were whisked away to police headquarters before their families could greet them.

At police headquarters, the men underwent bureaucratic formalities, and then were released to their tearful families.

One of the waiting wives was Nadja Dizdarevic, the spouse of Boudella al-Hajj, with their three children. She had been active in trying to gain the release of her husband and the other Bosnian-Algerians. She told Reuters at the airport that the men had been "kidnapped" in 2001.

"After seven years, my fight for the release of these three men has, thank God, come to an end," Dizdarevic said. "But this will not end my fight for the human rights of other people. I will keep fighting so that those responsible for the kidnapping of these men are held accountable."

Dizdarevic had sued the state of Bosnia in the European Court of Human Rights after the country's Supreme Court ruled that Bosnian authorities had violated the law by handing the men over to the United States without citing evidence against them.

Last month, a U.S. judge in Washington ordered the release without delay of Boudella al-Hajj, Mustafa Ait Idr, and Mohammed Nechle, saying the U.S. government's case was not strong enough to continue holding them. The judge noted in his ruling that the suspicion of their involvement in terrorism activities was based on only one source, the credibility of which was unverifiable.

Three Still Held

They were among six Algerian-born men arrested by Bosnian authorities in October 2001 and handed over the United States several months later. They were held at Guantanamo under the status of "unlawful enemy combatants," but were never charged with specific crimes.

After his arrival in Sarajevo, Mustafa Ait Idr expressed bitterness at the length of his detention. "What can you say after being detained for seven years for doing nothing?" he said. "And then you look at your kids who are grown up. What can I say?"

The other three Algerian detainees are still at Guantanamo, and the judge ruled in the case of one of them that there is sufficient evidence to keep him in custody.

This was the first time that Guantanamo detainees have been released under a court order. It follows a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court that detainees are entitled to a court review of their cases.

Not everybody is pleased to see them return to Bosnia-Herzegovina. Parliamentary deputy Dusanka Majkic said they still represent a potential threat to the country.

"We consider that these people must go to the countries of their origin, as they are still seen as a threat to national security in Bosnia-Herzegovina," Majkic said. "When it comes to the opinion of the president of the [Bosnian] Republika Srpska, he believes they have to leave this country as they are a threat to Bosnia."

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has said he will close the Guantanamo detention center after he takes office on January 20, and transfer the 250 remaining inmates to U.S. prisons, where they will face court proceedings.

RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service contributed to this report. With agency reports


Copyright (c) 2008. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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