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Spain18 September 2005

Al Jazeera journalist re-arrested 10 days before trial verdict

Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today at the re-arrest of ailing Al Jazeera journalist Tayseer Allouni, who has been free on bail for health reasons since last spring pending a verdict in his trial on charges of belonging to a Spanish cell of Al Qaeda. Detained at his home in the southern city of Granada on 16 September 2005, he is due to appear before a judge in Madrid tomorrow.

The press freedom organisation said it was puzzled by the decision to return Allouni to prison now, as he has never tried to escape from the Spanish judicial authorities since his first arrest two years ago.

The Spanish authorities reportedly suspected that he might be planning to flee because he requested permission on 15 September to go to Syria to attend his mother’s funeral. The verdict in his trial is due to be announced on 26 September.

However, a friend of Allouni’s stressed: “He never tried to flee although he had a thousand opportunities to do so.” And his wife, Fatima Allouni, voiced outrage in a phone conversation with Reporters Without Borders.

“I spoke to him by telephone yesterday,” she said. “He is sad, especially about his mother’s death, but he is not depressed.” She added: “We are shocked by police leaks to the press alleging that Tayseer did not adhere to the conditions on which he was given bail. In fact he went and reported to the police every day.”

A star reporter with the Arabic-language satellite TV station Al Jazeera, Allouni is famous for being the first journalist to see Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden after the 11 September attacks in the United States, interviewing him on 21 October 2001.

Allouni faces up to nine years in prison if found guilty of belonging to a Spanish Al Qaeda cell accused of complicity in the 11 September attacks. He was first arrested in Spain in September 2003 but was released on health grounds a month later. Re-arrested in November 2004 and placed in custody, he was re-released during the trial on condition that he reported regularly to the police.

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