SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Three Guantanamo prisoners were flown to Bosnia Tuesday and released to their families in the first detainee transfer ordered by a U.S. federal judge, according to local police and an attorney for the men.
A judge in Washington ordered the release of Algerian-born Boudella al Hajj, Mustafa Ait Idr and Mohammed Nechle last month, saying the U.S. government's case was not strong enough to continue holding them. The order came in the first hearing on the Bush administration's evidence for keeping prisoners at the U.S. Navy base in eastern Cuba as "enemy combatants."
An unscheduled Tuesday night flight to the Sarajevo airport delivered a group of men to police who rushed them out of the building, put them in armored vehicles and took them to state police headquarters.
"This is a great victory. A great day for me and my family," said Nadja Dizdarevic, the wife of al Hajj.
Two hours after the plane landed, a uniformed officer standing outside police headquarters told media that the men were allowed to go home after going through an identification process. The officer did not provide his name.
"It has a very happy ending," said Stephen Oleskey, an attorney for the men. "We are absolutely thrilled."
Six Algerians were detained in Bosnia in 2001 on suspicion of plotting to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo and held at Guantanamo since January 2002.
U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon said last month that government evidence linking five of them to al-Qaida was not credible because it came from a single, unidentified source. He urged the Justice Department not to appeal because it could delay the men's release.
Leon said there was enough reason to believe the sixth, Belkacem Bensayah, was close to an al-Qaida operative and tried to help others travel to Afghanistan to fight the United States and its allies.
Defense attorneys said they suspected another two of the six men _ Saber Lahmar and Lakhdar Boumediene _ were not released because they do not have Bosnian citizenship.
Boumediene was the plaintiff in a Supreme Court case this year that gave Guantanamo detainees the right to challenge their imprisonment. He has been on a hunger strike to protest his continued detention, according to Oleskey.
The cases of more than 200 additional Guantanamo detainees are still pending, many in front of other judges in Washington's federal courts.
Dizdarevic pursued criminal charges against several Bosnian officials and sued the state of Bosnia in the European Court of Human Rights after the country's Supreme Court ruled that authorities there had violated the law by handing the men to the United States without offering evidence against them.
Amnesty International and other human rights groups have supported her.
"My fight for three men to return home is over but my fight for their human rights continues," she said.
Melia reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.