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5 Suspected al-Qaida Members Handed Over to US in Malawi - 2003-06-25


Government officials in Malawi say the United States has taken five men suspected of links to al-Qaida out of Malawi.

Earlier this week, a judge in Malawi's High Court, Healy Potani, had ruled government attempts to deport the men without charge violated Malawi law. He ordered that the men must be charged or released by Wednesday. But when the deadline expired, the director of public prosecutions said that he could not comply with the order because the men had already been handed over to U.S. officials.

A lawyer for the five said the Malawi government violated the country's constitution by handing them over in defiance of the court order. A spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Lilongwe declined to comment to VOA and attempts to reach a spokesperson at the Department of State in Washington D.C. were not successful.

The five, a Sudanese, a Saudi Arabian, two Turks, and a Kenyan, were arrested during the weekend and are suspected by U.S. authorities of channeling funds to al-Qaida.

Malawi is a small landlocked country and has not previously been the focus of terrorism or known investigations into terrorism activities. It is bordered on the northeast by Tanzania, which was the scene of a bomb attack against the United States embassy in Dar Es Salaam in 1998.

The case is reminiscent of that of Khalfan Khamis Mohamed who was detained by U.S. and South African officials in October 1999 and then taken for trial in the Federal Court of New York. He was found guilty for his role in the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Dar es Salaam and is in jail.

Before being taken out of South Africa, Mohamed was kept incommunicado and was refused access to a lawyer by officials of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The case was subsequently brought before South Africa's Constitutional Court, which ruled that both the constitution and Mohamed's rights had been severely violated. Judge President Arthur Chaskalson said Mohamed's treatment was profoundly disturbing.