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US releases Saudi held since 2001

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- A Saudi-American held in US solitary confinement for nearly three years without being charged returned to his family in Saudi Arabia yesterday after agreeing to trade in his US citizenship for his freedom.

Yaser Esam Hamdi, who was captured in Afghanistan in late 2001 during the US battle against the Taliban, landed in Saudi Arabia about noon yesterday, Interior Ministry spokesman Brigadier General Mansour al-Turki said.

''His parents were there to receive him. The minute he arrived, he said he had given up his US nationality," Turki said.

The deal with the US government freeing Hamdi required he give up his American citizenship and live in Saudi Arabia for five years. He also had to renounce terrorism and agree not to sue the United States over his imprisonment. Hamdi will never be allowed to travel to Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Pakistan, or Syria.

Hamdi's lawyer, Frank Dunham Jr., a federal public defender in Virginia, said he spoke to Hamdi by telephone after his military plane landed and he said he felt ''awesome."

''I think one thing I'm disappointed in is I just wish everybody in the US could know this young man. This is a really nice young man, someone Saudi Arabia can be proud of," Dunham said.

''He didn't fight anybody. He didn't shoot anybody. He didn't do anything that commentators assumed that he did. He's come through it with a greater appreciation for the wisdom of his father, who told him not to go to Afghanistan in the first place."

Hamdi was believed to have been taken to the family home in the eastern industrial town of al-Jubail. Hamdi's case led to a US Supreme Court decision limiting the president's powers to indefinitely hold enemy combatants.

The 550 prisoners held at the US military base at Guantanamo are classified as enemy combatants, a status that affords fewer legal protections than prisoners of war. About 60 of the men are contesting their detentions in federal courts but the majority have never seen a lawyer. Only four have been charged.

The Supreme Court ruled in June that Hamdi and other detainees classified as enemy combatants could not be held indefinitely without charge. That led to the negotiations for Hamdi's release.

Under an agreement with the US Justice Department, Hamdi will not be charged with any crime.

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