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Al-Qaeda backer is repatriated to Australia

David Hicks, who pleaded guilty to aiding the group, was jailed at Guantanamo Bay more than five years.

SYDNEY, Australia - David Hicks, the first inmate at the Guantanamo Bay detention center to face a U.S. military tribunal, was flown back to his hometown in Australia yesterday to serve out the remainder of his sentence in a maximum-security prison cell.

The former Outback cowboy and kangaroo skinner pleaded guilty in March to providing material support to al-Qaeda, including attending terrorist training camps in Afghanistan.

Under a plea deal, he was sentenced to nine months in prison - a fraction of the life term he could have received - and was allowed to return to Australia to serve out his term.

Accompanied by police and prison officials, Hicks, 31, was flown from the U.S. military camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in a jet chartered by the Australian government and landed early yesterday at the heavily fortified Edinburgh air force base on the outskirts of Adelaide.

Shackled and wearing an orange jumpsuit, Hicks was then taken to the Yatala Labor Prison, where he will serve the final seven months of his sentence in a high-security wing.

Nevertheless, lawyer David McLeod said Hicks was thrilled to be home after more than five years at Guantanamo.

"He is happy to be back on Australian soil," McLeod told reporters outside Yatala prison. "He visibly was elated when we touched down."

Prison officials have said Hicks will be kept in a 6-foot-wide, single-bed cell similar in size to the one he left in Cuba. He will be barred from having any personal items in his cell, and his visits with family will be strictly limited, with no physical contact allowed.

A high school dropout and Muslim convert, Hicks was captured in December 2001 in Afghanistan by the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance and became one of the first terrorist suspects to be transferred to the U.S. naval base in Cuba.

He was tried by a military tribunal under a system created by the U.S. military after the Supreme Court ruled last summer that the Pentagon's previous system was unconstitutional.

Hicks was accused of attending al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, and conducting surveillance on the British and American Embassies as part of his training. He had spent only two hours on the Taliban front line before it collapsed in November 2001 under attack by U.S. Special Forces and the Northern Alliance.

Hicks was captured as he tried to escape into Pakistan, according to the military's charge sheet.

As part of his plea deal, Hicks agreed to a 12-month order prohibiting him from talking to the media and stating that he had "never been treated illegally" since he was captured in Afghanistan and taken to Guantanamo.

He is due to be released at the end of December.