Spanish judge frees US al-Qaida suspect

A Spanish judge ordered the release Thursday of a U.S. citizen of Algerian origin who was detained on suspicion of financing al-Qaida's North Africa affiliate, citing a lack of evidence but keeping the investigation open.

Judge Santiago Pedraz took away suspect Mohamed Omar Dehbi's passport, barred him from leaving Spain and ordered him to check in with police daily.

Dehbi was arrested Tuesday in a Barcelona suburb. After a hearing Thursday in which Dehbi testified, Pedraz said there was insufficient evidence to back up police allegations that Dehbi financed al-Qaida by sending money to an associate in Algeria who is wanted in Spain on terror-related charges.

Dehbi's name was originally erroneously spelled Debhi by Spanish authorities.

The Spanish Interior Ministry had said Wednesday that Dehbi, who used to live in Texas but has resided in Spain since 2002, was suspected of laundering money and sending some of it to the associate in Algeria, Toufik Mizi, to be passed on to cells of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. Mizi is wanted in Spain after eluding a police raid in 2008.

The ministry said Dehbi used bank transfers or human couriers to send Mizi amounts in excess of euro60,000 ($80,000), although it did not specify how much was sent altogether.

But Judge Pedraz said wiretapped conversations Dehbi held with the associate did not clearly show that any money Dehbi sent was for the purpose of financing terrorism.

Dehbi testified that he has known Mizi for 25 years and cut off all business ties with him upon learning that Mizi was wanted in Spain, the judge wrote in his order.

Dehbi said he lent Mizi euro1,600 to buy clothes but there is no evidence to back up police allegations that this money was for buying a satellite telephone, the judge said.

Nor do police have strong evidence to back up accusations that Dehbi engaged in money laundering, tax fraud and forgery, the judge wrote.