LONDON – A terrorism suspect alleged to have deep ties to Usama bin Laden and Al Qaeda has been set free on bail, British officials said Thursday in the second such case in less than three weeks after courts ruled the men could not be kept in jail indefinitely.
Authorities stressed that like the first case, draconian bail conditions deny the suspect any unmonitored contact with the outside world. But the release was another setback for Britain's faltering effort to keep suspected extremists behind bars.
The 45-year-old Algerian — identified only as "U" — may not leave his home or have visitors, except for a lawyer, doctor or social worker. He is denied access to the Internet and cannot use a cell phone or a computer. Police have the right to search his home any time they want.
His new address is supposed to be kept secret, but British Broadcasting Corp. reported that some journalists had been given printed reports containing the details.
In the earlier case, radical preacher Abu Qatada was set free with similar bail conditions June 17 — although he is allowed to leave home for two hours each day.
"U" has been accused of taking part in a number of terror plots, including an unsuccessful plan to bomb Los Angeles International Airport in 1999 and a scheme to detonate a large bomb at the popular Christmas market in Strasbourg, France, the following year.
The suspect was taken into custody seven months before the Sept. 11 attack in the U.S. and is alleged to have played an important role in planning earlier Al Qaeda attacks that were thwarted or called off. He is accused of being most active during the period when Al Qaeda was developing sleeper cells in many parts of the world during the run-up to Sept. 11.
British court documents refer to the suspect only as "U" due to a court order that prevents him from being publicly identified. A U.S. indictment, later dropped because the key witness refused to testify, identified him only by an alias.
According to court documents, "U" was born in Constantine, Algeria, in 1963. He arrived in England in 1994 — claiming asylum by asserting he was mistreated in Algeria — and allegedly went to Afghanistan in late 1996 to play a senior role in a terrorist training camp. He is accused of returning to England in the spring of 1999 to execute terror attacks against Western targets.
After taking him into custody in February 2001 when he tried to board a plane for Saudi Arabia with a false passport, British officials tried to deport him to Algeria. Producing evidence they say links him to Al Qaeda, they convinced the Special Immigrations Appeals Commission that he posed a risk to national security and should be deported.
"U" and his legal team persuaded a Court of Appeal that the deportation should be halted. The court asked the Special Immigrations Appeal Commission to reconsider and, after a second study, the body ruled again that he should be deported.
With the suspect's lawyers pursuing further appeals, courts then decided that "U" could not be held in jail indefinitely. The Special Immigrations Appeal Commission said Thursday that government officials then agreed on terms allowing "U" to be released on bail.
If the case goes forward as planned, it will next be heard in the House of Lords, which has the final say in determining whether "U" will face deportation. It has been rare for British courts to permit deportation to countries with serious human rights shortcomings.