|Mamoun Darkazanli is surrounded by press photographers as he leaves prison in Hamburg, northern Germany, on Monday, July 18, 2005|
Germany's highest court has blocked the extradition of a suspected al-Qaida operative to Spain. The court ruled that the German law used to carry out the European Union's arrest warrant under which the man was being held violated the suspect's rights under the German constitution. The court's ruling is a blow, at least in the short term, to EU efforts to fight terrorism.
The Federal Constitutional Court, sitting in the town of Karlsruhe, ordered the release from custody of Mamoun Darkazanli, a citizen of both Syria and Germany who was arrested last October after a Spanish judge charged him with giving logistical and financial support to al-Qaida.
The court said that the German law implementing the EU-wide arrest warrant offers insufficient legal protection for German citizens. Chief judge Winfried Hessemer, heard here through an interpreter, says that, until a new law is written, Germans cannot be handed over to other countries.
"Citizens should not be forcibly removed from the jurisdiction of the legal system that they are familiar with," he said.
The EU arrest warrant was drawn up shortly after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States, but was not implemented until a year ago.
EU officials say the court's ruling temporarily hampers the bloc's counter-terrorism plans, which were stepped up last week in the wake of the London bombings, because the arrest warrant will not apply in Germany until a new national law implementing it is introduced.
The ruling also means that Germans who have been extradited to other EU countries under the common arrest warrant will now have to be released until new legislation is passed.
German justice minister Brigitte Zypries says she intends to draw up a new law as soon as she can, possibly within six weeks.
Mr. Darkazanli was investigated by German authorities for links to the Hamburg cell that carried out the September 11 attacks, but he was never charged. He appears in a wedding video with two of the suicide pilots from the cell, but has always maintained that, though he knew them, he was unaware of their plans.
The United States says Mr. Darkazanli's Hamburg-based import-export business is a front for terrorist activities.