MIAMI (Reuters) - The United States sent three Algerian-born prisoners to their adopted homeland of Bosnia on Tuesday in the first release under court order from the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The three were among five Algerians ordered released last month by a U.S. judge who ruled that the Bush administration had failed to support its claim that they planned to travel to Afghanistan to fight U.S. forces in 2001.
The three — Mustafa Ait Idir, Mohamed Nechla and Hadj Boudella — landed in Sarajevo, where they were taken into protective custody, said one of their attorneys, Stephen Oleskey.
“We’re sure they will all soon be released to their families because there’s no basis to hold them,” Oleskey said.
In Sarajevo, dozens of friends and relatives waited at the airport for their arrival. But all they could see was the armored vehicle that took them away. Bosnia’s State Investigation and Protection Agency said it would question them, check their identity and release them.
Boudella’s three children were visibly upset as the vehicle drove off with their father. His wife, Nadja Dizdarevic, assured them he would be home soon.
“I still cannot believe this is happening,” said his son, Abdul Aziz.
“I will tell dad that I have missed him,” said his daughter, Nur Boudella, who was only weeks old when he was taken away.
The three men had Bosnian citizenship, Oleskey said. It was unclear when the other two under the court order, Lakhdar Boumediene and Saber Lahmar, might be released.
Boumediene was stripped of his Bosnian citizenship in 2006 and Lahmar never held Bosnian citizenship, although he is married to a Bosnian woman and has two Bosnian children, Oleskey said.
They were among six men picked up by Bosnian authorities in October 2001 and sent three months later to Guantanamo, where they were held for nearly seven years as “unlawful enemy combatants” without being charged with a crime.
U.S. President George W. Bush said in 2002 that they had been planning a bomb attack on the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo. But Justice Department attorneys dropped those accusations when the case went to court, arguing instead that the men had planned to go to Afghanistan to fight against U.S. forces.
U.S. District Judge Richard Leon, a Bush appointee, said that charge was based on only one unnamed source whose credibility could not be ascertained.
He ordered five of the men released “forthwith” but ruled that there was enough evidence to continue holding the sixth man, Belkacem Bensayah.
Oleskey, the men’s attorney, said the case against Bensayah was “quite thin as well” and that he hoped the government would promptly comply with the order to release the other two.
U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, who takes office on January 20, has said he would close the Guantanamo detention camp, widely viewed as a stain on the United States’ human rights record.
About 245 men are still held at the camp, which was set up in January 2002 to hold terrorism suspects captured after the September 11 attacks on the United States by al Qaeda militants.
Some 520 other prisoners previously had been released or transferred out of Guantanamo, but Tuesday’s release was the first resulting from a judicial order.
The Algerians were among more than 30 prisoners who won a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that those at Guantanamo were entitled to judicial review of their cases.
Additional reporting by David Morgan in Washington and Maja Zuvela in Sarajevo; Editing by Xavier Briand