Freed Algerian ex-Guantanamo detainee lands in France

16th May 2009, Comments 0 comments

Algerian detainee Lakhdar Boumediene, held for seven years at Guantanamo Bay prison camp, arrived in France late Friday after having been flown out of the US jail, the French foreign ministry announced.

PARIS - Algerian detainee Lakhdar Boumediene, held for seven years at Guantanamo Bay prison camp, arrived in France late Friday after having been flown out of the US jail, the French foreign ministry announced.

"Lakhdar Boumediene arrived today in France from the Guantanamo detention centre," spokesman Eric Chevallier said in a statement, without specifying where in France the former terror suspect had landed.

"Henceforth a free man, we hope that Lakhdar Boumediene can regain a normal life. The government has put in place a plan for his medical supervision if his state of health warrants it."

France becomes the first European Union country to take in a former Guantanamo inmate with neither residency nor citizenship.

It confirmed on May 6 that it had agreed to accept Boumediene, 42, who was cleared of any wrongdoing in November.

According to American lawyer Robert Kirsch, Boumediene, who arrived in a US military aircraft, was to be taken to a hospital for several days of medical tests after months on a hunger strike.

Thereafter, he will be placed in an apartment offered to him by the French state as he goes about adjusting to daily life.

The French government will also provide a living allowance plus training and other help as he looks to carve out a normal working life, a source close to the matter added.

He will be issued with a special visa which limits where he can travel within the 25-nation passport-free European Schengen area.

Algeria is a former French colony that secured its independence after a 1954-1962 war.

"France has consistently called for the closure of the Guantanamo detention centre and we have saluted President (Barack) Obama's decision (to do so)," Chevallier added.

Matthew Olsen, the executive director of the US government's interagency Guantanamo Review Task Force said in a statement in Washington that "the assistance of our international allies is critical to the closure of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

"We are extremely grateful to the French Government and the European Union for their assistance on the successful transfer of Lakhdar Boumediene and we commend the leadership they have demonstrated on this important issue."

Chevallier stressed that links with the reception country were a key part of any European state's decision to accept released detainees, with members of Boumediene's family already resident in France.

"He has been cleared of all charges relative to participation in eventual terrorist activities, by the decisions of the judiciaries of various countries including the US which ordered his release," he underlined.

Boumediene, who was detained in late 2001 when he was living in Bosnia, had been on hunger strike since December 2006 and was force-fed two times a day through a nose-drip.

One of Boumediene's civilian lawyers, Rob Kirsch, said he ate with his client late Wednesday, adding that the Algerian not only broke his self-imposed fast but even ate beyond the recommended medical intake to celebrate with fellow inmates.

"He spent seven-and-a-half years with someone checking him every 10 minutes," Kirsch said, adding that his client was "under the control of other people who thought he was dangerous.

"He has to be able to walk again, to decide when to eat, when to take a shower."

"His smile (on Thursday) was so very genuine and so happy."

Kirsch thanked the French government, saying its "integrity" throughout the processing of the case was "remarkable."

"Most of them were just at the wrong place at the wrong time, they are just innocent men," he added of the remaining Guantanamo detainees.

Boumediene's wife and two daughters, aged nine and 13, who went to Algeria after his arrest were also due to be taken in by France.

Boumediene was among six Guantanamo inmates arrested in Bosnia in 2001 and initially charged with plotting to attack the US embassy in Sarajevo.

Five of the six were cleared for release in November by a US judge who ruled they had been illegally detained.

Three of the men, who held dual Algerian-Bosnian nationalities, were transferred to their adopted homeland Bosnia in December -- the first Guantanamo inmates released by the administration of then president George W. Bush under a judge's orders.

Boumediene's departure leaves 240 detainees on the Cuban island prison whose futures have still to be resolved.

AFP/ Expatica

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