SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Bosnia handed six Algerians suspected of having terrorist links over to U.S. military authorities early today, despite a ruling by the country's highest court that they be released.
The men, who were arrested by the Bosnians based on U.S. intelligence information after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, are now in the custody of U.S. forces, said Naval Cmdr. Rex Totty, a spokesman for the U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany.
A senior U.S. official in Europe, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press they would be taken within days to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where dozens of al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners are detained.
"We don't want them to stay in the theater very long," the official said.
Most of the men worked for various Islamic humanitarian agencies in Bosnia, and all had Bosnian citizenship until it was revoked when they were jailed. One also had a Yemeni passport, officials said. They are suspected on involvement with Islamic militant groups — either Algeria's Armed Islamic Group or Egypt's al-Gamaa al-Islamiya.
Bosnia is home for up to 200 Islamic fighters, or Mujahedin, who came to the country mostly from the Middle East to fight on the Muslim side in the 1990s war against Serbs and Croats. The men remained, married local women and were given citizenship.
Bosnia's highest court on Thursday ordered the Algerians released for lack of evidence, prompting the United States to request that they be handed over to its custody. U.S. and Bosnian authorities believe the six "still pose a significant threat," a U.S. military statement said.
Other suspected al-Qaida members were detained in Britain, Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines, with Britain accusing two suspects of plotting to blow up the U.S. Embassy in Paris.
Britain charged the two Algerians on Thursday with belonging to al-Qaida, the first time such charges have been pressed, the Home Office in London said. Al-Qaida was outlawed by the Terrorism Act that took force last year.
Eight other men in Leicester, 100 miles north of London, were arrested for suspected terrorist activities.
In Afghanistan today, U.S. Marines started climbing out of foxholes on the perimeter of the Kandahar base where they had lived for weeks, turning them over to Army troops taking control of the largest U.S. base in Afghanistan.
As the transfer moved ahead at Kandahar, Afghan Prime Minister Hamid Karzai departed on his first trip abroad since his December inauguration, aiming to drum up money to help rebuild his nation, torn by three decades of war.
After a stop in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, to perform a Muslim pilgrimage, Karzai heads to Tokyo for a conference of donor nations aimed at raising an initial $5 billion in aid. Karzai will return home, then head off again to Washington for a Jan. 28 meeting with President Bush, said an aide.
Bosnian prosecutors had asked the United States to provide evidence against the suspects. But U.S. officials refused, saying the intelligence information was too sensitive, and asked the Bosnians to find evidence themselves, a senior U.S. official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
"We do have a good cooperation with the authorities here, but we can't share everything we have," the official said.
The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights had criticized the men's detention without charges or evidence against them.
It was not immediately clear where the men were or if they had left the country. U.S. Maj. Mike Odom, spokesman for the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Bosnia, would only say the six were taken to a "secure location."
The U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo said Friday the six suspects "will be treated humanely and in accordance with international law."
The handover early Friday came after an all-night standoff outside the jail in Sarajevo where the men had been held since October.
Hours after the court's late night order, crowds formed outside the holding facility. Some 300 family members, friends and other supporters of the six men expressed alarm about rumors that they were to be extradited out of the country.
Police using batons dispersed the crowd at about 5 a.m. and the men were driven away.
One of the Algerians, Bensayah Belkacem, was arrested based on intelligence reports that he allegedly made telephone calls to an aide of Osama bin Laden.
The others, Mustafa Adir, Sabir Lamar, Muhamed Nehle, Lakdar Bumedien and Budelah Hadz were arrested after British and U.S. officials in Bosnia briefly closed their embassies here, citing credible security threats.