Germany's highest court ordered the release of a suspected top al Qaeda operative Monday citing objections to a new European Union arrest warrant that would have allowed his extradition to Spain.
No more extraditions of German citizens without a review process
The German Federal Constitutional Court in the western city of Karlsruhe upheld Syrian-German businessman Mamoun Darkazanli's argument that handing him over to Spanish authorities -- as permitted by the EU policy -- would violate Germany's basic law.
Spain accuses Darkazanli of being Osama bin Laden's "permanent interlocutor and assistant" in Europe who provided the al Qaeda terrorist network with logistical and financial support between 1997 and 2002.
Protecting German citizens
To be released from prison: Mamoun Darkazanli
But lawyers for Darkazanli, who was arrested in Germany in October 2004, argued that Germans may only be expelled and tried abroad when the crimes they are accused of are not subject to prosecution at home.
German authorities had investigated Darkazanli for several months after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States. No charges were pressed against him.
The court found that the EU arrest warrant offered insufficient legal protection for German citizens and must now be implemented in accordance with a new German law that allows review by German judges of all extradition orders.
Prison releases expected
The ruling will mean that all German citizens being held for extradition within the EU must be released until a new legislation is passed. Darkazanli is expected to be freed from a jail in the northern city of Hamburg later Monday.
The court said an EU extradition order could be rejected in the future when, for example, a domestic probe failed to produce criminal charges against the suspect.
Germany only introduced a law against aiding and abetting a foreign terrorist organization in August 2002, although supporting a domestic terror group has been illegal since 1976.
The European arrest warrant is out of synch with the German law
Since the EU arrest warrant was passed in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks and implemented in August 2004, at least 19 Germans have been extradited to other EU member states for offenses including drug dealing, child abuse and even Nazi war crimes.
Darkazanli is alleged to have had ties to the three Hamburg-based men who hijacked passenger planes for al Qaeda on Sept 11, 2001 and flew them into US targets.
He denies any terrorist activity, and said he knew the three hijackers "by sight." Darkazanli could face up to 12 years in prison in Spain if convicted.