A suspected al Qaeda financier was freed from jail in Germany on Monday after the country's highest court blocked his extradition to Spain, dealing a new blow to German anti-terror efforts.
Syrian-German Mamoun Darkazanli as he left prison on Monday
The federal constitutional court ruled that handing over Syrian-German businessman Mamoun Darkazanli to Spain on a new EU arrest warrant would violate Germany's basic law. Darkazanli, 46, was released from custody in Hamburg a few hours later and climbed into a taxi without commenting.
Spain accuses him of being Osama bin Laden's "permanent interlocutor and assistant" in Europe and having provided the al Qaeda network with logistical and financial support between 1997 and 2002.
German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries
German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries condemned the Karlsruhe-based court's decision as "another setback for the German government in the fight against international terrorism."
A spokesman for EU justice commissioner Franco Frattini said the decision was bad news for Europe's efforts to combat terrorism -- which have again come under the spotlight since the July 7 attacks in London -- but insisted it was up to Germany to make the arrest warrant work.
"The efficiency of the EU arrest warrant as such is not called into question, but it's a matter of the German implementation law," said Friso Roscam Abbing.
Darkazanli was pictured on a 1999 wedding video alongside Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah, two of the suicide pilots in the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. German authorities investigated Darkazanli for several months after the attacks but never charged him.
He was eventually detained in Germany in October last year on an arrest warrant issued by high-profile Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon. But Darkazanli's lawyers argued that Germans may be expelled and tried abroad only when the crimes they are accused of are not subject to prosecution at home.
The government's anger at the decision to free Darkazanli reflects tensions between the authorities and the justice system over the prosecution in Germany of suspects linked to the September 11, 2001 attacks.
A Moroccan man, Mounir el Motassadeq, who is accused of involvement in the attacks, is currently nearing the end of his retrial in Hamburg. Motassadeq was sentenced in February 2003 to the maximum 15 years in prison on charges of membership of a terrorist organization and more than 3,000 counts of accessory to murder for his alleged role in the so-called "Hamburg cell" run by the lead September 11 hijacker, Mohammed Atta.
Abdelghani Mzoudi, left, and Mounir el Motassadeq, right
But a federal tribunal overturned the conviction and ordered a new trial. A verdict is expected August 19. And another Moroccan national, Abdelghani Mzoudi, who was tried on the same charges as Motassadeq, was acquitted last October for lack of evidence.
The Karlsruhe-based federal court found that the new EU arrest warrant offered insufficient legal protection for German citizens and must now be implemented with a new German law that allows all extradition orders to be reviewed by German judges.
The ruling will mean that all German citizens being held for extradition within the EU must be released until the new legislation is passed. Since the EU arrest warrant was passed in the wake of the September 11 attacks and implemented in August 2004, at least 19 Germans have been extradited to other EU member states for offences including drug dealing, child abuse and even Nazi war crimes.
Investigators suspect Darkazanli befriended Al-Shehhi, Jarrah and Atta in Hamburg where they were studying. Darkazanli denies any terrorist activity and said he knew the three hijackers casually. He could have faced up to 12 years in prison in Spain if convicted.