Thu, Nov 29, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Victim of `war on terror' hopes to live in Sweden


It's been a harrowing journey: from repression in China to war in Afghanistan and four long years at Guantanamo Bay as a US captive in the war on terror.

Adel Abdu al-Hakim hopes it ends here, in his sister's apartment in a suburb of the Swedish capital.

"I was in prison for four-and-a-half years and during that time I thought to myself that maybe this is my life," al-Hakim, 33, said in an interview. "Now I just want to live the life of a normal person."

Last week he arrived in Sweden for a reunion with relatives he had thought he would never see again.

Al-Hakim was released last year from Guantanamo along with four other Uighurs, a minority group of Turkic-speaking Chinese Muslims, after the US admitted they were not terrorists. Authorities believed they might face persecution if returned to China, so they were sent instead to Albania, the only other country that would receive them.

But they found themselves isolated and jobless in a nation where no one spoke their language.

Al-Hakim accepted an invitation to attend a human rights conference in Sweden, where his sister sought shelter in 2002. He applied for asylum on Tuesday last week after arriving on a four-day visa.

The chances for approval were uncertain because the case is unique in Sweden. Al-Hakim will likely be allowed to stay in the country pending a decision, although authorities could deport him immediately if they determine his case has no merit.

"We have fought for a very long time and now we are very happy to be together," he said, surrounded by his sister Kavser and her daughters in the apartment just outside Stockholm.

Calmly, al-Hakim recalled the tumultuous decade that brought him here.

He left China in 1999, fed up with harassment and discrimination by Chinese authorities. Two years earlier, he said, he had been detained and beaten after attending a demonstration against the mistreatment of Uighurs in his hometown.

Critics accuse China of using claims of terrorism as an excuse to crack down on peaceful pro-independence sentiment among Uighurs.

After spending his first year as a refugee in Kyrgyzstan, al-Hakim and fellow Uighur Abu Bakker Qassim decided to move to Turkey.

Their trip took them through Pakistan and Afghanistan -- clearly an unsafe destination in the fall of 2001 as the US launched its campaign against the Taliban.

As bombs fell on a small Afghan mountain village where they had joined other Uighurs, they fled to Pakistan -- only to be detained and handed over to US authorities for US$5,000 each, he said.

"It was all about money," al-Hakim said.

Shackled and hooded, they were transferred to a prison camp in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where they spent six months before being moved to Guantanamo. At that point, the US already knew they were not terrorists, al-Hakim said.

"In the last interrogation in Afghanistan, the Americans acknowledged that they had arrested us by mistake, but said they could not let us go so easily," he said.

The formal acknowledgment of this mistake came only after a lengthy legal battle when a military tribunal ruled al-Hakim and other Uighurs were not enemy combatants.

"Of course I was angry. I tried to hide my emotions but I still cried a lot," al-Hakim said.

Beijing wanted the Uighur detainees sent back to China, saying they were part of a violent Muslim separatist movement fighting for an independent state of "East Turkistan."

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