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US Praises Bosnia-Herzegovina for Turning Over Alleged Terror Suspects - 2002-01-18

The United States is commending officials in Bosnia-Herzegovina for turning over to U.S. forces six Algerian men believed to have links to the al-Qaeda terrorist network. The hand-over has drawn bitter criticism from Bosnian human rights advocates.

The transfer of the men to American military custody early Friday morning in Sarajevo reflected the expanding scope of the U.S. war on terrorism, but also injected a new element of controversy to the effort to smash the Osama bin Laden terror network.

The six Algerians had been held in Bosnia since October on suspicion of plotting attacks against U.S. military personnel and other American interests in the Balkans country.

The hand-over sparked controversy since it occurred after the high court of Bosnia's Muslim-Croat federation had ruled Thursday that the men should be released for lack of evidence.

But Bosnian government officials opposed the release and agreed to a U.S. request for the handover. In comments to reporters here, State Department spokeswoman Lynn Cassel insisted the men were dangerous and praised the Bosnian authorities. "These six persons posed a credible security threat to U.S. personnel and facilities, as well as to the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina," she said. "The U.S. appreciates the close cooperation of the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its law enforcement authorities in this matter."

Ms. Cassel said she had no information on the status of the detainees. But U.S. military officials in Europe are quoted as saying they will be transferred shortly to the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where dozens of Taleban and al-Queda prisoners captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan are being held.

In Sarajevo, Bosnian officials said legal procedures in the transfer had been respected. However, a United Nations human rights official and other advocates in Sarajevo condemned the transfer as a rights violation and said the government had caved in to U.S. pressure.

News reports from Sarajevo said at least 100 supporters and relatives protested outside Sarajevo's central prison as the men were driven away by police for the transfer to U.S. custody.

The six men had worked for various Islamic humanitarian agencies and had dual Bosnian citizenship, though that was revoked at the time of their arrest.

A U.S. embassy spokesman in Sarajevo said they would be treated humanely and in accordance with international law. Spokeswomen Cassel said here said the actions of Bosnian authorities "had made a significant contribution to the global war on terrorism."