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Last Updated: Friday, 28 January, 2005, 08:07 GMT
Australian freed from Guantanamo
Australian Guantanamo Bay detainee Mamdouh Habib steps off a chartered jet as he arrives in Sydney, Australia, Friday, Jan. 28, 2005
Mr Habib spent nearly three years in Guantanamo Bay
An Australian held at the US prison camp in Cuba's Guantanamo Bay for the last three years has returned home.

Mamdouh Habib was arrested in Pakistan in 2001, accused of helping al-Qaeda and having prior knowledge of the 11 September attacks on the US.

Egyptian-born Mr Habib flew home to Sydney on Friday and was immediately allowed to join his family.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said he was unlikely to face any charges.

Another Australian, David Hicks, is still being held at Guantanamo Bay, where he is facing criminal charges.

Four British men were returned home earlier this week, and were also released, after being questioned by police.

MAMDOUH HABIB
Mamdouh Habib, undated photo
Born in Egypt, but has lived in Australia since 1980
Arrested in Pakistan after September 11 attacks
Flown to Egypt, where his lawyer says he was tortured
Transferred to Guantanamo Bay in May 2002
Released January 2005

Mr Habib arrived in Sydney airport at about 3:30 pm (0430 GMT) on Friday, and spent his first 30 minutes on Australian soil having his documentation processed by immigration officials.

Looking thin and gaunt, he then walked across the tarmac to a smaller plane that took off for an undisclosed location.

"He's at liberty and the exact whereabouts are really a matter for him and his family," Attorney General Philip Ruddock told reporters.

Torture claims

Mr Habib, a 48-year-old taxi driver and father of four, was born in Egypt but had lived in Australia since 1980.

He was arrested three weeks after the 11 September terror attacks on the US, while in Pakistan.

The US alleged he knew in advance of the attacks on New York and Washington, and had trained some of the hijackers in martial arts.

Mr Habib has claimed he was tortured for six months in Egypt with beatings and electric shocks, before being sent to Cuba in 2002.

His lawyer, Stephen Hopper, alleged the US had Mr Habib sent to Egypt in the full knowledge of what would happen to him there.

Earlier this month Australian Prime Minister John Howard said Mr Habib would not receive an apology or compensation from the government for his ordeal.

But on Friday the authorities signalled that he would be unlikely to face further charges now he is on Australian soil.

"The specific criminal terrorism offences of being a member of, training with, funding or associating with a terrorist organisation such as al-Qaeda did not exist under Australian law at the time of Mr Habib's alleged activities," Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said in a joint statement.

"For this reason... it does not appear likely that Mr Habib can be prosecuted for his alleged activities under those Australian laws," the statement said.

Since his capture, however, new laws have been introduced to outlaw membership of groups Australia regards as terrorist organisations, one of which is al-Qaeda.

Despite his release, Mr Habib is likely to remain of interest to Australian security for some time to come, and some travel restrictions are likely to be placed upon him.

"We will make sure that at no time he becomes a threat to the Australian people," Mr Downer told reporters.



SEE ALSO:
Profile: Mamdouh Habib
28 Jan 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Australia against Habib cashing in
25 Jan 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Howard: No apology for Habib
12 Jan 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Australia's Hicks 'losing sanity'
02 Nov 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Terror suspect pleads not guilty
25 Aug 04 |  Americas
The 'Australian Taleban'
10 Jun 04 |  Asia-Pacific


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