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5 Britons at Guantanamo sent home; 4 are rearrested

NORTHOLT, England -- Five British men held in US military detention in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, returned yesterday to England, where four were immediately arrested on suspicion of involvement in terrorism and one was released.

Jamal al-Harith, 37, was released after he was questioned by immigration authorities.

"He's an innocent man and he wants to know why was he kept in custody for so long," said his lawyer, Robert Lizar. "He is looking forward to seeing his family again very much. However, he wants the US authorities to answer for what he has suffered."

A Metropolitan Police official said the four were arrested on suspicion of involvement in the commission, preparation, or instigation of acts of terrorism. He did not give further details.

The five men were among nine Britons whose captivity at the US military prison had caused friction between the two close allies.

The Royal Air Force C17 landed last night at Northolt Royal Air Force Base west of London. Armored police vans awaited the flight. The vans were driven aboard the giant cargo carrier, then sped away in a convoy believed to be heading to Paddington Green police station, where terrorist suspects are held.

Police said all the men would be allowed a telephone call and have access to a lawyer of their choosing.

"Everything that happens to these men from the moment they arrived on UK soil will be entirely in accordance with United Kingdom law and the normal procedures in these cases will be followed to the letter," said Peter Clarke, deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

The dispute over the captives had risen to the level of President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose ties throughout the Iraq War, despite intense international criticism of both leaders, were unshakable.

With the release of the five, negotiations will continue over the remaining four British detainees still at Guantanamo.

Britain had demanded that its nine nationals, some of whom had been held for more than two years without charge or access to lawyers, either be given fair trials or returned home.

Some legal specialists doubt there will be enough evidence to try the men because the conditions at Guantanamo could mean information gleaned there would be inadmissible in court. It is also unclear whether British courts have jurisdiction over alleged criminal acts in Afghanistan, unless crimes of terrorism or treason could be proved, the specialists said.

That could create an awkward situation for Blair, who has emphasized that those held at Guantanamo had to be handled carefully because they might pose a danger to Britain's national security.

He has had to balance such concerns with anger from some Britons over the men's long detention without the normal rights afforded to defendants. One British judge said at a 2002 court hearing that the Guantanamo camp was like a "legal black hole."

About 640 prisoners are held at Guantanamo on suspicion of links to Afghanistan's fallen Taliban regime or Al Qaeda.

The United States says the suspects are "enemy combatants" subject to different legal rules than prisoners of war. The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments over whether they should be allowed to challenge their detention in American courts.

Home Secretary David Blunkett said Monday that the five would "go through the normal process of being interviewed by the [police] counterterrorism branch in London. And the material that has been provided will be evaluated."

Greg Powell, a lawyer representing detainee Rhuhel Ahmed, said his client would be taken to the high-security Paddington Green police station in London for interrogation.

Families and lawyers of the five returned men have insisted they are innocent. The Terrorism Act allows prosecution for membership of a banned organization, fund-raising, recruiting of others, or terrorist acts committed in Britain or overseas.

The future of the four still at Guantanamo -- Moazzam Begg, 36; Feroz Abbasi, 23; Richard Belmar, 23; and Martin Mubanga, 29 -- remains uncertain.

Begg and Abbasi had been listed as some of the first detainees likely to face a military commission, a possibility Britain has criticized.

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