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UK blocks extradition of autism sufferer in hacking case

British Home Secretary Theresa May has announced that a man with a form of autism who hacked into US military computers will not be extradited. The risk he might harm himself, she said, was too great.

The Home Secretary, who is responsible for interior affairs, said on Tuesday that Gary McKinnon would not be sent to the United States because psychiatrists believed he might attempt suicide.

The decade-long case is one of the Britain's highest profile extradition decisions and has become a focus of attention on a controversial extradition treaty signed between the two countries.

USauthorities have been seeking the extradition of McKinnon - who suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome - ever since he went on an electronic hacking spree between 2001 and 2002, hacking into both Pentagon and NASA computers.

"Mr McKinnon is accused of serious crimes, but there is also no doubt that he is seriously ill," May told parliament.

"I have concluded that Mr. McKinnon's extradition would give rise to such a high risk of him ending his life that a decision to extradite would be incompatible with Mr. McKinnon's human rights. I have therefore withdrawn the extradition order."

McKinnon’s lawyer Karen Todner said it had been "a great day for British justice."

Search for alien life

Officials said the 46-year-old had caused $800,000 (615,000 euros) worth of damage in his hacking activities between 2001 and 2002, accessing 97 computers and leaving some 300 naval computers immobilized.

McKinnon - who faced the prospect of a 60-year jail sentence - has never denied that he hacked the computers, claiming that he was looking for evidence about the existence of extraterrestrial life, particularly UFO activity.

As well as suffering from Asperger’s, a relatively mild form of autism, McKinnon is said to be suffering from a depressive illness.

He was arrested in 2002 and again in 2005, and has subsequently found himself at the forefront of campaign to revamp Britain's extradition deal with the United States.

Critics of the 2003 deal, signed under British ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair, say it was biased in favor of the US and did not adequately protect the rights of British citizens.

rc/dr (dpa, AFP, Reuters)