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Page last updated at 20:32 GMT, Friday, 27 February 2009

US detainee 'on terror charges'

Ali al-Marri (2003 pic)
Ali al-Marri has been detained at a US naval base since 2003

A man held as the last "enemy combatant" on US soil has been formally charged by a federal court with supporting a foreign terror group.

Ali al-Marri, accused of being an al-Qaeda sleeper agent, has been held at a military jail for more than five years.

His lawyers say he has been seriously mistreated in custody.

The decision to move his case into the US civil court system shows a policy shift by President Barack Obama's administration, correspondents say.

If convicted Mr al-Marri, 43, who has dual Saudi-Qatari nationality, faces up to 30 years' imprisonment for providing support and conspiracy. He denies the charges.

Appeal ruling

Correspondents say the decision by the new US administration to move Mr al-Marri into the court system marks a significant shift in policy, because the Bush administration had contended Mr al-Marri could be held indefinitely without charge.

We are pleased that after more than seven years of detention, Mr al-Marri will finally have his day in court
Andrew Savage
Lawyer for Mr al-Marri
The US Supreme Court had agreed to rule on whether Mr al-Marri could be detained in prison indefinitely by the government without being charged.

Mr Obama's administration has asked the court to dismiss Mr al-Marri's appeal now that the case has been transferred to the justice department.

"We are pleased that after more than seven years of detention, Mr al-Marri will finally have his day in court," the defendant's lawyer, Andrew Savage, was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

Mr al-Marri will now be transferred to the state of Illinois, where he will face trial in a civilian court on the charges.

A district court in Peoria, Illinois, charged him with "conspiracy to provide material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organisation".

It also charged him with "providing material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organisation", while a student at a university in Peoria in 2001.

The last of three "enemy combatants" held on US soil, Mr al-Marri has been held at a US naval base in South Carolina since 2003.

His lawyers have said he has been confined in a special unit surrounded by 100 empty cells.

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SEE ALSO
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US 'cannot hold enemy combatant'
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