Page last updated at 15:41 GMT, Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Al-Qaeda accused faces US court

Ali al-Marri, file image
Mr Marri is said to have met Osama Bin Laden

An alleged al-Qaeda agent has appeared in a US criminal court after more than five years in military custody.

Following a review of his case ordered by President Barack Obama, Ali al-Marri was charged with supporting terrorism and conspiracy.

The 43-year-old confirmed he understood the charges at a brief hearing in South Carolina, and is now expected to be transferred to Illinois for trial.

Mr Marri, a joint Saudi-Qatari national, has not yet entered a plea.

He denies the charges, his lawyers say.

'Momentous' hearing

He was arrested shortly after the attacks on New York and the Pentagon on 11 September 2001 and charged with credit card fraud.

Two years later, the US authorities deemed him an enemy combatant and under powers allowing the then US President, George W Bush, to detain terrorism suspects indefinitely without charge, he was transferred to a naval jail in South Carolina.

The US authorities have alleged that he met Osama Bin Laden and volunteered for a suicide mission while he was a student in Illinois.

Lawyers for Mr Marri had appealed against his continuing detention in a military jail, but the Obama administration moved to head off the challenge by bringing charges and moving him into civilian custody.

He had been labelled the last enemy combatant to be held on US soil - as opposed to Guantanamo Bay.

Before the hearing, his lawyer, Andy Savage, welcomed the court date as "momentous".

He told journalists his client was finally being given the "most fundamental rights granted to all citizens and lawful residents of the United States".

"He believes that this will result in his repatriation to his homeland [of Qatar] and return to his family, a goal that he has pursued for more than seven years," the lawyer said.

The charges he faces carry a maximum of 30 years in jail.

He will appear before judges again on 18 March.

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