Four French nationals being held at the US prison complex at Guantanamo Bay have been handed over to French authorities, the foreign ministry in Paris said Tuesday.
About 600 prisoners remain at Guantanamo
The move comes after the US government already handed over some prisoners to Britain and Denmark and US Supreme Court justices ruled that those imprisoned at Guantanamo could challenge their detention in US courts.
"Following discussions between France and the United States concerning the French prisoners at Guantanamo, the American authorities have decided to hand over to France, at the Guantanamo military base, four of the prisoners who are being repatriatated to France today," the ministry said in a statement.
"We are continuing our discussions with the American authorities with a view to obtaining as quickly as possible the release of the other French prisoners at Guantanamo," it said.
Altogether seven French nationals have been among the estimated 600 held at Guantanamo. Like most of the others they were seized by US forces in Afghanistan between the end of 2001 and early in 2002, when the United States went after al Qaeda and their Taliban hosts following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The handover of the detainees had been requested by the French anti-terrorism prosecutor Jean-Louis Bruguiere, who has been investigating the men since November 2002 on possible terrorism charges, a report on state-owned France-Info radio said.
French officials said that after a stopover in the Azores the four would arrive in France on Tuesday afternoon at a military airbase, where they would be formally taken into custody by police officers working for the domestic intelligence agency, the Directorate for Territorial Surveillance (DST).
They would then be transferred for questioning at the DST headquarters in Paris and pülaced under investigation for criminal association with a terrorist enterprise, unnamed officials told the Associate Press news agency. Human rights groups have criticized the US decision to keep prisoners in Guantanamo without charges for an unlimited time.