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U.S. Citizen Jailed By Ethiopians

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U.S. Citizen Jailed By Ethiopians

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He had been caught in Kenya fleeing the fighting in Somalia. U.S. officials allowed him to be returned

By Jonathan S. Landay and Shashank Bengali,

NAIROBI, KENYA, March 16, 2007 - A U.S. citizen who was caught fleeing the recent fighting in Somalia was questioned about links to Al-Qaida by the FBI in Kenya, then quietly sent back to the ravaged country, where he was turned over to Ethiopian forces.

Amir Mohamed Meshal, 24, is now imprisoned in Ethiopia, where the State Department's 2006 human rights report says "conditions in prisons and pre-trial detention centers remain very poor."

FBI agents began visiting him regularly last week, a U.S. official said.

A U.S. official who met Meshal in Kenya but wasn't authorized to discuss his case publicly said that the U.S. Embassy asked Kenya to release Meshal so he could return to the United States. There are no outstanding charges against Meshal, and U.S. law enforcement officials weren't planning to take him into custody, the official said.

"The Kenyan authorities decided otherwise. It's not something we have control over," the official said.

State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the United States has protested Meshal's deportation.

Human rights groups in Kenya and the United States, however, disputed the contention that U.S. officials were powerless to win Meshal's release from Kenyan custody before he was deported.

"Anyone who tells you that the United States doesn't have the clout to convince the Kenyans to return an American citizen is either misinformed or lying," said John Sifton of Human Rights Watch, in New York.

U.S. aid beneficiaries

Kenya and Ethiopia are key allies in the U.S. battle against Islamic extremism in Africa, and President Bush has requested more than $1 billion in aid for the two countries in fiscal 2008, making them among the largest recipients of U.S. aid in Africa.

A spokesman for the Kenyan government had no immediate comment.

Meshal's treatment contrasts sharply with that of four British citizens who were caught fleeing the fighting, and of Daniel Joseph Maldonado, another U.S. citizen who fled Somalia and was arrested for entering Kenya illegally.

The four Britons were turned over to British officials, sent home and freed after they were questioned. U.S. authorities obtained custody of Maldonado and his two children from Kenya, flew them back to the United States and charged him in Texas with undergoing military and bomb-making training with Al-Qaida in Somalia.

The difference, said two other U.S. officials who are familiar with the case but also weren't authorized to discuss it publicly, is that Maldonado quickly confessed to involvement with Al-Qaida and Meshal didn't. So while Maldonado could be brought home and imprisoned until his trial, one of the officials said, there wasn't sufficient evidence to charge Meshal and keep him in jail in the United States.

Two U.S. officials in Washington, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Meshal was turned over to Ethiopian forces in Somalia and is being held in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

Source: McClatchy News Service


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