May 6, 2009 / 6:27 PM / 10 years ago

France agrees to take Algerian Guantanamo detainee

PARIS, May 6 (Reuters) - France said on Wednesday it would take in an Algerian detainee from the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, honouring a pledge made by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama.

Terrorism suspects have been held at the prison, which became a symbol of former President George W. Bush’s administration, for years without charge. Some were subjected to treatment that Obama has said amounted to torture.

Shortly after he took office in January, Obama ordered that Guantanamo be closed within a year and he has appealed to allies to take in prisoners who may still pose a risk and cannot be sent back to their home countries.

France said on Tuesday Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner had written to the U.S. authorities to confirm that France would take one prisoner, and on Wednesday Paris said the prisoner was Algerian national Lakhdar Boumediene.

"It is indeed that person," Foreign Ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier said when asked if the prisoner was Boumediene.

Boumediene was one of several Algerians picked up by Bosnian authorities in October 2001 and sent in January 2002 to Guantanamo, where he remains held without charge, even though a U.S. federal judge ordered his release in November.

Bush said in 2002 the Algerians had been planning a bomb attack on the U.S. embassy in Sarajevo.

Justice Department attorneys later said they would no longer rely on that accusation to justify the men’s continued detention but argued they should be held because they planned to go to Afghanistan in late 2001 to fight U.S. forces.

In ordering the release of Boumediene and four other Algerians, the judge said the allegation was based on only one unnamed source and he did not have enough information to judge the source’s reliability.

European governments, who for years called for Guantanamo to be closed and want to mend ties with Washington that were damaged under the Bush administration, are now under pressure to take in some of the roughly 245 remaining prisoners.

But EU states have been split on how far they are prepared to go, particularly for prisoners with no link to their country.

Paris has said a prisoner’s ties with France were a factor it took into consideration in deciding whether to take them in. Chevallier said Boumediene was the only detainee France would take in for now but there were likely to be other candidates. (Reporting by Francois Murphy)



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