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Al-Qaeda operative Adel Abdel Bary set for UK return after release from US jail

Abdel Bary had been sentenced to 25 years in jail for disseminating al-Qaeda's claim of responsibility for bombings targeting US embassies in east Africa
Site of bombing of US embassy in Nairobi, 8 August 1998 (AFP/File photo)

Adel Abdel Bary, a British Egyptian who served as a spokesman for al-Qaeda, is set to return to the UK after he was released early from a US jail last week on compassionate grounds amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The 60-year-old remains in the custody of US immigration as British authorities assess their options on how to keep tabs on him and prevent him from reengaging in militant activities. 

The Times reported on Monday that London and Washington have a "gentleman's agreement" that the US would hold on to Abdel Bary until "adequate arrangements" are made for him in the UK. 

Abdel Bary had helped al-Qaeda transmit claims of responsibility for the 1998 bombings that killed more than 220 people in Kenya and Tanzania. 

He was arrested the following year and extradited to the United States in 2012 where three years later he was sentenced to 25 years in jail after pleading guilty to terror-related charges.

His sentence included time served in both countries, and he was set to be released late in November. US federal prisons grant inmates who behave well 47 days of served time per year.

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Abdel Bary was released earlier than expected after his lawyers filed a court motion arguing that "he faces real danger should he contract Covid-19" because of his age and underlying medical conditions, including asthma. 

He first filed a petition for early release to the Federal Bureau of Prison in May, which was denied.

Judge Lewis Kaplan, who sentenced Abdel Bary in 2015 and ordered his release earlier this month, said the prisoner is the "subject of an immigration detainer that will result in his removal to the United Kingdom upon his release".

In an order issued on 7 October, Kaplan acknowledged that Abdel Bary's crimes are "terrible".

"Nevertheless, the government’s interest in keeping him incarcerated for a few more days by resisting this motion is very small," the judge wrote. "It is not sufficient to keep him away from his family in what could prove to be the final period of his life."

Kaplan concluded his decision by quoting a passage from William Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" that highlights the virtue of mercy.

The release has sparked a debate on how to handle the former al-Qaeda operative. The Times reported that officials are "urgently reviewing" the case, but several legal avenues, including restricting his movement, are off the table because he has served his sentence.

His son, Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, a London rapper who had joined the Islamic State (IS) group, was arrested in Spain earlier this year. 

The younger Abdel Bary, who went by the names L Jinny and Lyricist Jin, had posed for photos with severed heads in IS-controlled territories and issued threats against the West, but he disappeared and his social media accounts were suspended in 2015.

The rapper has been stripped of his UK citizenship like other prominent British IS suspects. Abdel Bary, the father, has retained his, however, making him eligible for a return to Britain.