Five Guantanamo Bay Brits released

The alleged al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters were flown to RAF Northolt air base, northwest of London, in the early hours of Wednesday morning (AEDST).

It is thought they were taken to a high security police station in west London for questioning.

The UK repatriations came as the US Marine lawyer for Australian terrorist suspect David Hicks held meetings in Canberra to prepare his client’s defence case.

Hicks, 28, formerly of Adelaide, is scheduled to face one of the first military tribunals following the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Major Michael Mori has previously denounced the Australian Government for allowing the 28-year-old to be tried by the US instead of Australia.

However, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the US did “a good thing” in holding the five Britons as “enemy combatants”, although their release now was appropriate.

He said: “Our government made a considered judgement that it was appropriate to transfer these individuals to the government of the United Kingdom.

“The people who have analysed these individuals, and interrogated them and looked at them and processed them and considered this have come to the conclusion that this was the appropriate thing to do on the part of the United States.”

Asked why it took two years to reach that conclusion, Mr Rumsfeld said, “the goal was to keep these people off a battlefield and to keep them away from killing other people.”

“That’s a good thing, that’s not a bad thing,” he said.

He said another goal was to find out what they knew about the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

“So they were interrogated for a couple of years,” he said.

“Then at some point you say, we think we’ve gotten what we need out of this crowd of five people, and let’s move them along. We don’t want to keep everybody out at Guantanamo.”

The five Britons were flown to London after the British Government agreed to ensure that they not pose a security threat to the United States or its allies.

Britain announced on February 19 that, after months of negotiations with Washington, four British nationals would remain in Guantanamo Bay and five would be repatriated.

It left open the option of arresting them immediately upon their arrival, probably under the Terrorism Act 2000 which would let police grill them for up to 14 days without charges.

The four Britons still held in Cuba are suspected of links with the al-Qaeda network led by Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in 2001.

Of the four UK Home Secretary David Blunkett said evidence collected on them was “best used in the United States, not in Britain”.

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