New trial for Libyan arsonist in Netherlands

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A Libyan sentenced on appeal to 18 months in jail for starting a fire that killed 11 people at a Dutch immigration detention centre here in 2005 will be retried, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

It said it was quashing the ruling by an Amsterdam lower court of appeal and asking that Ahmed al-Jeballi, 28, be retried.

In the early hours of October 27, 2005, nine men and two women -- from Bulgaria, the Dominican Republic, Georgia, Libya, Romania, Surinam, Turkey and Ukraine -- died trapped in their cells when a fire broke out in a wing of the immigrant detention centre at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport.

Jeballi was found guilty of dropping a cigarette in his cell that likely started the fire. He was sentenced to three years in prison in June 2007.

But he was released from custody four months later pending the hearing of an appeal. By that time, he had been behind bars for two years.

In 2009, appeal judges cut his already-served arson sentence in half, to 18 months.

Appeal judges found that while he started the fire, he could not be held responsible for it spreading beyond his cell.

Dutch immigration authorities subsequently sent him back to Libya.

The Supreme Court deemed as "insufficient" reasons given by the lower court of appeal to reject a defense motion that an expert be appointed to look into "the probability that a cigarette triggered the fire."

An official Dutch report in 2006 criticized safety measures at the detention centre -- sparking the resignations of the justice and housing ministers.

© 2010 AFP

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