Int’l judges reject extraditing Kosovo terror suspect to US on legal grounds, then free him

By Nebi Qena, AP
Friday, July 16, 2010

Judges won’t extradite Kosovo terror suspect to US

PRISTINA, Kosovo — A panel of international judges on Friday decided not to extradite a Kosovo terror suspect to the United States on legal grounds and then set him free, a European Union official said.

Nicholas Hawton said the U.S. request to extradite 29-year-old ethnic Albanian Bajram Asllani did not demonstrate “well-grounded suspicions” that he plotted terrorist attacks. The panel also ruled Friday there was no valid extradition treaty between the two countries.

The extradition request was made on the basis of a 1901 treaty between the US and the former Kingdom of Serbia. In 2008, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, a move that Serbia is still fighting. The three-member panel of judges that ruled Friday was helping out a local Kosovo court under EU supervision.

The judges ruled that “providing material support to terrorists” is not listed in the treaty as a criminal offense, so there were no grounds for Asllani’s extradition, said Hawton, spokesman for the EU rule of law mission in Kosovo.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Raleigh, North Carolina, had accused Asllani, of Mitrovica, of plotting with men in North Carolina to engage in terrorism in Kosovo. The plot allegedly originated among eight people who planned attacks both at a U.S. military installation and abroad. Asllani allegedly had asked one of the U.S. suspects for money to fund a terrorist plot, prosecutors said.

In Raleigh, U.S. attorney George Holding said the decision would now be reviewed by the Supreme Court of Kosovo.

“I’m disappointed,” Holding said. “However, this is just one step in the process.”

Asllani can appeal a possible decision by the Supreme Court to extradite him to the U.S., where he faces a maximum of 40 years in prison if convicted.

Kosovo is mostly Muslim, but its estimated 2 million ethnic Albanians are strongly pro-American due to the U.S.’s leading role in NATO’s 1999 bombing of Serb forces that paved the way for Kosovo to secede.

Asllani was initially arrested by Kosovo police in 2007 on suspicion of terror but then released for lack of evidence. He was convicted in absentia by a Serbian court in Sept. 2009 for planning terrorist-related offenses and was sentenced to eight years.

Last month, he was arrested again in Kosovo in connection with the North Carolina case.

International agreements concluded when Kosovo was not an independent country are endorsed by Kosovo’s Constitutional Court. But Kosovo’s constitution forbids the extradition of its citizens to other countries without a prior bilateral agreement.

Associated Press writer Mike Baker contributed to this report from Raleigh, N.C.

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