Terror suspect wanted in US wins Irish case, walks free

An Algerian-born terror suspect wanted in the United States walked free from a Dublin court Thursday after winning a two-year legal battle against extradition.

American authorities had sought to convict Ali Charaf Damache, 50, on two counts of conspiring to develop a European terror cell and to aid Pakistan-based terrorists. He had been held without bail in Ireland since March 2013 pending Thursday's Dublin High Court decision.

The court decided to free Damache, who has lived in Ireland for 15 years and has Irish citizenship. Justice Aileen Donnelly ruled that Irish state prosecutors abdicated their responsibilities in 2011 when they ruled out the possibility of trying Damache for the terror charges in Ireland rather than the U.S. That decision, designed to speed Damache's extradition, instead inspired two successful appeals by Damache's legal team. Donnelly said she would not order state prosecutors to reopen the case, meaning the chance of Damache facing new charges in Ireland is minimal.

Damache spent five years total behind bars in Ireland after U.S. investigators tied him to a failed 2009 conspiracy to kill Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who had drawn jihadis' ire with sketches depicting the prophet Muhammad as a dog.

According to FBI affidavits and other evidence presented in U.S. and Irish courts, Damache was the ringleader who recruited white American women to his cause using online chatrooms. He allegedly wanted to build a European terror cell with Western female members who, because of their appearance and background, could avoid being added to terrorist watch lists. Damache also was accused of conspiring to supply a U.S. passport stolen in Ireland for use by an al-Qaida member in Pakistan, possibly delivered by one of his American recruits.

One of his alleged recruits, Colleen "Jihad Jane" LaRose, was arrested by the FBI in Philadelphia soon after she returned from Ireland in September 2009. LaRose, 51, is serving a 10-year sentence for conspiracy to murder and aiding terrorists.

Damache married another alleged online recruit, Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, on the first day she arrived in Ireland from her hometown of Leadville, Colorado, accompanied by her 6-year-old son. Paulin-Ramirez, 35, is serving an 8-year sentence after being arrested in 2010 in Ireland alongside Damache, agreeing to U.S. extradition, and pleading guilty in 2014 to providing material support to terrorists.

Damache served a 3-year sentence in Ireland after his 2010 arrest, because he belatedly pleaded guilty to an unrelated charge of making a telephoned death threat to a Michigan-based Muslim critic of jihadis. Irish police bearing a U.S. extradition warrant arrested him outside an Irish courthouse in March 2013 minutes after Damache had pleaded guilty to that charge and been freed because he had already spent three years behind bars.

U.S. and Irish authorities at the time said they expected swift extradition, but Damache successfully appealed to Ireland's Supreme Court in hopes of having any further criminal charges handled in Ireland, rather than the United States, where prison terms for terror offenses are much more severe. The High Court judge, Donnelly, agreed with the Supreme Court's criticism of the Irish prosecutors' 2011 decision to relent on any further Irish charges.