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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 June, 2003, 16:17 GMT 17:17 UK
US takes Malawi al-Qaeda suspects
Al-Qaeda suspect Ibrahim Itabaci in front of his Bedir International School
Al-Qaeda suspect Ibrahim Itabaci is now in US custody
Five suspected al-Qaeda members arrested by Malawi have been handed to US authorities, despite an injunction blocking deportation.

The BBC's southern Africa correspondent, Barnaby Phillips, says the five suspects appear to have been whisked out of Malawi, although the Americans are not yet saying where they have been taken.

On Tuesday, Malawi's High Court ruled the country's government could not circumvent its own laws by handing over the five detainees, who come from Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Turkey,

An injunction obtained by the suspects' lawyers to block their deportation ordered the government either to charge the men with an offence within 48 hours or release them on bail.

The 48-hour time period elapsed at 2200 local time (2000 GMT) on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, a High Court judge demanded that they be freed but he was told they were no longer in Malawi custody.

No trails

Malawi's Director of Public Prosecutions, Fahad Assani, refused to disclose when the five Muslim foreigners had left Malawi, but denied that they had been deported.

"If the Americans have intelligence linking anyone residing in the country to terrorism, Malawi has the duty to facilitate their arrests," he told the BBC.

We are out of the country - [the suspects] are not in the custody of Malawi, they are in American custody
Malawian official

He confirmed the five were no longer in the custody of Malawi authorities.

Their lawyer, Shabir Latif, accused the government of violating its own laws.

A senior Malawian immigration official told Reuters news agency that he was travelling with the suspects.

"I'm not in Malawi at the moment. We are out of the country. They are not in the custody of Malawi, they are in American custody," he said.

State prosecutors say the five men - two from Turkey, one Saudi, one Sudanese and a Kenyan - were arrested in a joint operation run with US officials at the weekend, barely two weeks before President Bush is scheduled to visit Africa.

A spokesmen for the police chief and interior ministry said that Malawi intelligence and immigration officers apprehended the men after they were identified by the US Central Intelligence Agency.

The BBC's Raphael Tenthani in Blantyre says that Malawi does not have an extradition treaty with the United States.

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