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Former Guantanamo detainee reunited with family in Britain

    LONDON — A British resident released from the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay was reunited with his family Thursday for the first time in five years after a judge rejected a Spanish request to jail him on suspicion of belonging to an al-Qaida cell.
    Jamil el-Banna, a Palestinian-Jordanian, met his wife, Sabah, and his five children for the first time since 2002, when he was arrested in Africa and handed to U.S. authorities.
    El-Banna, 45, was among three British residents who were flown back from the U.S. prison camp late Wednesday under a deal struck between London and Washington. All three were held without charge or trial at Guantanamo for more than four years.
    El-Banna was arrested hours after returning from Cuba and appeared in a London court Thursday after Spanish police demanded his extradition on charges of belonging to an al-Qaida terrorist cell.
    Another of the three, Libyan-born Omar Deghayes, 38, was also arrested at the request of Spain and released on bail Thursday. The third man, Abdennour Sameur, 34, of Algeria, had been released earlier without charge.
    With a long, matted gray beard and haggard expression, el-Banna spoke through a translator as he refused to go to Spain voluntarily. He was released on bail and ordered to appear at an extradition hearing set for Jan. 9.
    ‘‘I am tired, I want to go to home and see my children,’’ el-Banna told reporters as he left the court and climbed into a waiting taxi with his wife. British Broadcasting Corp. TV video later showed him greeting his family outside his home, hugging and kissing his infant daughter.
    Spanish authorities accuse el-Banna of being an overseas member of the Madrid-based Islamic Alliance, an al-Qaida cell, which sent volunteers to fight in Afghanistan, according to prosecutor Melanie Cumberland.
    Cumberland said the Madrid cell was led by Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, who is serving a 12-year jail term in Spain on terrorism charges. El-Banna was allegedly a member between 1996 and 2001.
    El-Banna’s defense lawyer Ed Fitzgerald said he would fight the extradition.
    ‘‘U.S. authorities, after extensive interrogation and intensive investigation, have concluded he provided no risk to the U.S. or to its allies,’’ he said. Britain’s secret intelligence service, MI6, had also decided el-Banna was no threat, Fitzgerald added.
    According to documents released in Guantanamo during several hearings on his detention, a British MI5 intelligence officer visited el-Banna at his home near London in October 2002 to try to get him to become a paid informant.
    British intelligence agents were interested in boosting their informant network after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. El-Banna repaired cars for sale at auction and performed faith healings while raising his family.
    Abu Qatada, a Muslim cleric described by a Spanish judge as Osama bin Laden’s ‘‘spiritual ambassador in Europe,’’ was a neighbor of el-Banna in Pakistan, when el-Banna worked in the early 1990s for a Saudi charity helping Afghan refugees.
    In Britain, he was among hundreds of Muslims who regularly attended sermons in Abu Qatada’s London-area mosque.
    El-Banna’s friend Bisher al-Rawi, an Iraqi living in Britain, was helping MI5 keep tabs on London’s Muslim community.
    At the time, Abu Qatada was in hiding to avoid arrest under Britain’s anti-terrorism laws, and al-Rawi relayed messages between MI5 and the cleric.
    El-Banna sometimes drove Abu Qatada’s wife and children to the imam’s hideout as a favor to al-Rawi, el-Banna’s lawyers said.
    Al-Rawi also recruited el-Banna on the trip that ended with their arrest in Africa. El-Banna planned to manage a Gambian peanut oil plant, and the MI5 officer assured him he could travel.
    But El-Banna and al-Rawi were detained at Gatwick Airport the next day. According to an MI5 memo written that day — Nov. 1, 2002 — ‘‘some form of homemade electronic device’’ found in al-Rawi’s bag could have been used in a car bomb. It was later discovered to be a battery charger.
    Al-Rawi was released from Guantanamo in April.

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