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Last of French Prisoners Return to France from Guantanamo

The French foreign ministry confirmed the last three French prisoners held by the U.S. at Guantanamo Bay - Mustaq Ali Patel, Ridouane Khalid and Khaled Ben Mustafa - arrived in Paris Monday night. All three are suspected to be Islamist radicals, who were captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Their arrival in France follows months of discussions between Washington and Paris. The possibility of transferring them here was brought up in February as well, during the Paris visit of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Four other French prisoners were transferred from Guantanamo to France last July. All four were indicted and remain imprisoned as part of a French investigation into suspected terrorist networks.

Under French law, the last three Guantanamo prisoners transferred to France can remain detained without charge for no longer than 72 hours. They are scheduled to appear before a Paris-area antiterrorist judge as early as Tuesday.

Like the other four men, the newly extradited men could face the same charges of associating with a terrorist enterprise. But the lawyer and family of one of the suspects - Indian-born imam Mustaq Ali Patel - previously denied the cleric had any links to terrorism. They said he had been living in Afghanistan for years, and was a victim of bad circumstances.

Most of those at the Guantanamo base were captured in Afghanistan during a U.S.-led drive three years ago to topple the Taleban and capture al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

More than 200 prisoners have since been transferred out of Guantanamo, and many of them have been released. But approximately 540 prisoners remain at the U.S. base. Most have been held without charge, as unlawful combatants. The U.S. Defense Department has held Combatant Status Review Tribunals for many of the prisoners, but the tribunals have been challenged in U.S. courts, because most detainees have not had access to lawyers.