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Britain drops terror charges against former Guantanamo inmate

Britain drops terror charges against former Guantanamo inmate
Moazzam Begg leaves Belmarsh Prison in south London after his release Wednesday. British prosecutors dropped terrorism charges against the former Guantanamo Bay detainee. (Lefteris Pitarakis / Associated Press)

British prosecutors dropped terrorism-related charges against former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg on Wednesday, days before his trial was scheduled to begin.

Begg, a Briton of Pakistani descent, was arrested in February and charged with seven counts of providing terrorist training at a camp in Syria during a trip from 2012 to 2013 and with funding terrorism by supplying an electricity generator.

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He admitted attending training camps in Syria but said the visit was for humanitarian purposes.

At the pretrial hearing on Wednesday, the Crown Prosecution Service offered no evidence after prosecutors said they had received new information that compromised their case. They did not provide any details as to what that new material is.

In a written statement, the Crown Prosecution Service said: "We have been made aware of material previously not known to the police investigation that means that there is no longer a realistic prospect of conviction. If we had been made aware of all of this information at the time of charging, we would not have charged."

Begg was released from prison Wednesday afternoon after spending seven months in detention. Speaking to reporters, he accused the government of demonizing the country's Muslim community.

"Not once, but twice in my case, this government has been involved either in directly detaining me or indirectly detaining me," he said.

Begg spent nearly three years as a prisoner at U.S. military detention facilities in Bagram, Afghanistan, and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after his arrest in Pakistan in 2002. He was released in 2005 without charge.

A once-secret 2003 U.S. Department of Defense memorandum identified him "as being affiliated with three extremist organizations, including Al Qaeda." It also states that Begg admitted to attending terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and was an instructor at an Al Qaeda camp.

Begg has claimed his confession was forced and that he was abused and tortured during his detention by U.S. authorities. He and other former British detainees at Guantanamo sued the British government for its alleged complicity. Britain reached a financial settlement with Begg and others in 2010. U.S. investigations concluded there was no evidence to substantiate the accusation.

Since his release from Guantanamo, Begg has become an outspoken campaigner for other prisoners at Guantanamo and elsewhere. He has worked with Amnesty International and is the outreach director for the advocacy organization Cage, which as its website states, campaigns "against the War on Terror."

Cage welcomed the fact that the charges were dropped, saying the case against Begg was "politically motivated," and called for "those responsible for his needless incarceration to be held to account."

Werth is a special correspondent

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