By Matthew Moore and Nick Squires
Last Updated: 2:12pm GMT 29/12/2007
David Hicks, the so-called “Aussie Taliban” who spent five years in detention in Guantanamo Bay, has walked free from prison in Australia.
David Hicks walks out of prison
Hicks, a Muslim convert, was flown back from Cuba to his homeland in May to complete his sentence for providing material support for terrorism.
The 32-year-old former kangaroo shooter and drifter was the first Guantanamo detainee to be tried by an American military tribunal.
Hicks, who looked plumper than in photographs taken before his capture, smiled at supporters as he was led out of the high security Yalata prison in Adelaide.
In a statement read out by his lawyer, Hicks said he owed a “debt of gratitude” to the Australian public for getting him home. His flight from Cuba alone was reported to have cost the Australian taxpayer £200,000.
“I would like to acknowledge the huge debt of gratitude that I owe the Australian public for getting me home, I will not forget or let you down,” the statement said.
“I had hoped to be able to speak to the media but I am just not strong enough at the moment, it’s as simple as that.”
Hicks also asked to be allowed to make a “slow and gentle” transition to freedom, adding: “I will need time to adjust to society and receive medical care for the consequences of five-and-a-half years in Guantanamo Bay.”
Hicks was arrested in Afghanistan following the Sept 11, 2001, attacks on the US and sent to Guantanamo early the following year, spending long periods in solitary confinement.
David Hicks was driven awayDavid Hicks was driven away to an undisclosed location
He was held for years without charge but in March agreed to a surprise plea bargain.
He admitted to attending al-Qa’eda terrorist training camps and fighting with the Taliban against American troops and their allies in 2001 during the US-led invasion of Afghanistan.
Under the deal, which included a ban on speaking to the media for 12 months, the Adelaide-born father-of-two was allowed to return home to serve out his sentence in an Australian prison.
An Australian court imposed strict conditions on his release, including a curfew, regular reports to a police station, a ban on leaving Australia and limits on him owning a mobile phone.