An Algerian suspected of links to Osama bin Laden and bomb plots in the United States and France has been freed on bail by Britain after more than seven years in prison, officials in London said on Thursday.
Although his name has been widely publicized in European trials, US extradition proceedings and past media reporting, the man can be identified only as "U" under legal restrictions covering deportation cases against foreign terrorism suspects.
He is the second alleged al-Qaeda figure to be freed by Britain in just over two weeks. While the government says they are dangerous, it lacks enough evidence to put them on trial in Britain and has so far failed in legal battles to deport them.
Now aged 45, U was arrested at Heathrow airport in February 2001 when attempting to fly to Saudi Arabia on a false passport.
In submissions to the special tribunal dealing with his case, the government said that since 1996 he had been a "leading organizer and facilitator of terrorist activity aimed mainly at overseas targets".
It said he had direct links to bin Laden and other senior al-Qaeda figures.
Ahmed Ressam, convicted of a plot to blow up Los Angeles International Airport on the eve of the millennium, was carrying U's phone number on him when he was arrested with 60 kg (130 lb) of explosives on the Canadian-US border on December 14, 1999.
'Government sought strictest bail conditions'
The United States sought U's extradition but withdrew the request in 2005 after Ressam ceased cooperating with prosecutors building a case against U.
Germany and France described U as the man who incited a December 2000 plot to bomb a Christmas market in the French city of Strasbourg. The two countries convicted four and 10 men, respectively, in connection with that conspiracy.
Authorities say U was a senior al Qaeda trainer in Afghanistan in the late 1990s.
The special tribunal last year said he posed a "significant risk to national security" and had "shown no sign of disavowing his former beliefs or associates".
It added: "There are credible grounds for believing that U has been, and could again become, a senior organizer and facilitator of Islamic international terrorism."
The terms for U's release from prison were not made public, but a spokesman for the Home Office said the government had sought the "strictest bail conditions". U's lawyers declined to comment.
The last major suspect to be freed, Jordanian preacher Abu Qatada, has been confined to his home for 22 hours a day and forbidden from using any mobile telephone or connecting to the Internet since being released on June 17.
The men were among a group of foreign nationals who were at one time imprisoned without charge under sweeping counter-terrorism powers. After these were ruled illegal and expired in 2005, U and Qatada remained in jail pending deportation until they were granted bail.
U's appeal against expulsion is due to be decided by the country's highest court, the House of Lords.