Terrorism suspect walks free from Irish court

Ali Charaf Damache
Ali Charaf Damache

An Algerian arrested following an international probe into an alleged plot to murder Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks has walked free from jail after his extradition to the United States on terror charges was refused.

Ali Charaf Damache was wanted by authorities in Pennsylvania for conspiracy to provide material to support terrorists.

The High Court in Dublin today refused to order the extradition of the Algerian-born Irish citizen who – after spending five years behind bars - was discharged and walked free from the Criminal Courts of Justice.

He faced up to 45 years in jail if he had been convicted in the US.

Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly said that the DPP had abdicated responsibility in considering the proper forum for prosecution (ie where a trial should have taken place).

"In all the circumstances, there are substantial grounds for believing that Mr Damache will be at real risk of being subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment if extradited to the USA,” the judge said.

Mr Damache was originally arrested at his Waterford home in March 2010 over an alleged Jihad Jane plot to murder Vilks, who controversially depicted the Prophet Mohammed with the body of a dog. The cartoons were printed in a newspaper in Sweden in 2007.

The now 50-year-old was charged with an unrelated offence of sending a message of a menacing character to an American Muslim activist and remanded in custody.

In February 2013 he pleaded guilty to the offence and was released from custody when his three year sentence was backdated to his arrest. But he was re-arrested on the spot in Waterford Circuit Court by gardai on behalf of the FBI.

US investigators accused Damache, who was also known by his online username "Theblackflag", of attempted identity theft to facilitate an act of international terrorism.

It was alleged he participated in a conspiracy to transfer a passport stolen from a US citizen to an individual in Pakistan whom the conspirators believed to be a member of Al Qaeda.

It was also contended that part of the alleged conspiracy was to recruit women whose appearance would allow them access to and the ability to travel around Europe.

In indictment papers filed in October 2011, the US authorities claimed Damache made contact through the internet with Colleen LaRose, a Pennsylvania woman who called herself Jihad Jane online.

She later pleaded guilty to conspiracy to murder the Swedish cartoonist under the codename and was jailed for 10 years.

American woman Jamie Paulin Ramirez, who married Damache the day she arrived in Ireland in September 2009 despute never meeting him before, also pleaded guilty to a terror charge and was sentenced in the US to eight years.

Mr Damache’s extradition case was heard last December, for a second time, and his grounds of objection related to the conditions of detention in which, it is alleged, Mr Damache would be held if he was extradited to the USA.

Other grounds cover the sentencing procedure under US Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the plea bargaining system, and the nature and length of the sentence he was bound to receive.

The High Court heard that the conviction of a person on a terrorism crime is a sufficient reason for transfer to the maximum security ADX Supermax Prison in Florence, Colorado, where prisoners can be held in solitary confinement for up to 22 hours a day and where conditions were described by a former warden as a “clean version of hell”.

In her judgement today, Ms Justice Donnelly said there was no meaningful judicial review available in the US of the conditions of detention.

Ali Charaf Damache

The judge decided that "the institutionalisation of solitary confinement with its routine isolation from meaningful contact and communication with staff and other inmates, for a prolonged pre-determined period of at least 18 months and continuing almost certainly for many years, amounts to a breach of the constitutional requirement to protect persons from inhuman and degrading treatment and to respect the dignity of the human being."

The judge also said arbitrary deprivations of outdoor recreations for the actions of what may be mentally disturbed persons added further to the breaches.

"Even if these matters were insufficient on their own to amount to a violation, the lack of meaningful judicial review creates a risk of arbitrariness in the detention of the person in solitary confinement and therefore confirms that the prolonged detention in solitary confinement amounts to a breach of constitutional rights," she added.

In separate proceedings, Mr Damache sought a judicial review of the decision of the DPP not to prosecute him in this jurisdiction.

In November 2014, he won a Supreme Court appeal against a High Court judge’s refusal for leave to seek judicial review.

On Mr Damache’s complaint regarding the refusal of the DPP to prosecute him here, the Judge stated that the DPP had abdicated her function to consider forum.

However the judge declined to make an order against the DPP.

"I have merely given my full reasons as to why he would be entitled to orders of judicial review of the DPP's decision not to reconsider the decision not to prosecute him. Should the extradition matter be appealed by the State and this decision overturned, it is only at that stage will he be an aggrieved party," she added.

Sarah Stack and Alison O'Riordan