Germany Defies EU Anti-Terror Plans

BERLIN -- Germany's high court on Monday blocked the extradition of an al-Qaida suspect to Spain after ruling that Europe's new wide-ranging arrest warrant in its current form was invalid under German law.

The ruling, a blow to Europe's post-Sept. 11 counterterrorism plans, upheld an appeal by al-Qaida suspect Mamoun Darkazanli, a German-Syrian dual national whom Spanish authorities accuse of providing the terror network with logistical and financial support.

"Thank God," said his wife, Brigitte Darkazanli, reached by telephone at the couple's Hamburg apartment after the verdict. "When one is sitting innocent in prison, it's a terrible thing. I'm going to be glad to see him home."

The Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe ruled that the European warrant in its current form violated the German Constitution and the suspect's basic rights, and was thus invalid here.

The ruling came even as some European countries moved to clamp down further on terrorism in the wake of the deadly July 7 attacks in London that killed at least 55 and injured 700 others.

Britain aims to quickly introduce new anti-terrorism legislation that includes a law making it an offense to receive terrorist training, while Italy on Friday discussed a package of measures but put passage on hold to allow more time for drafting the plan.

"He must be set free following this verdict, which is a blow for the government in its efforts and fight against terrorism," German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries said.

Darkazanli, 46, appears in a 1999 wedding video with two of the three Sept. 11, 2001, suicide pilots -- Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah -- who lived and studied in Hamburg along with lead hijacker Mohamed Atta.

Darkazanli has never been charged in Germany, whose constitution prohibits the extradition of its own citizens for trial. He was taken into custody in October at Spain's request, and his case was seen as a test of the new European arrest warrant -- a system meant to allow the swift cross-border handover of terror suspects -- which came into force in Germany last August.

An EU spokesman insisted the arrest warrant would survive the German court ruling. Spokesman Martin Selmayr said the ruling did not declare unconstitutional the warrant but merely the German national law that implements it.

"From a first reading, it's a judgment that declares null and void the German implementation law, not the European arrest warrant," Selmayr said in Brussels. He said the court's ruling was a blow to European anti-terror plans in the short term because the warrant would not apply in Germany until a new national law on implementing it was introduced.

However, Selmayr said, in the longer term, the ruling could strengthen the warrant by making clear the protection offered to suspects' rights.

Darkazanli is among 41 suspects, including Osama bin Laden, indicted by Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon, who has been investigating al-Qaida. He faces up to 12 years in a Spanish prison if convicted of membership in a terrorist organization.

The United States has labeled Darkazanli's Hamburg-based trading company a front for terrorism. He appeared on U.S. suspect lists after Sept. 11 but has denied any links to bin Laden or the attacks. German police questioned him shortly after Sept. 11, but he was freed due to lack of evidence and continued to live in Hamburg.