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Freed bombing convicts leave Saudi

Men freed from Saudi prison arrive at Heathrow Airport
Police escort the freed men on arrival at Heathrow Airport.

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Five Britons and a Canadian, jailed over bombings in Saudi Arabia, have arrived in London having been given a royal pardon and released.

They touched down at Heathrow Airport Friday afternoon and were taken away in a white van with a police escort, avoiding reporters.

The men had been jailed in connection with bombs in the Gulf state in 2000 and 2001. Two of them faced death by beheading, the others a long prison sentence.

Saudi officials said the bombs were part of a feud over illegal alcohol sales. The prisoners' families had always protested their innocence, saying local militants were responsible.

King Fahd granted the pardons after pleas by a lawyer for the men, Selah Hejailan.

"They have been granted royal clemency," Hejailan told CNN Friday from the Saudi capital Riyadh.

"The practice of clemency is well recognized. It's prudent for the Saudi authorities to agree to our request. We are all in one war against terrorism."

Hejailan said some of his clients had been involved in trading alcohol, but their offences were not significant.

Briton Christopher Rodway, 47, died in one of the bombs in November 2000. Other Western expatriates were injured in other attacks.

Sampson
Canadian Sampson -- who had faced beheading -- was shown on Saudi TV making a confession.

Rodway's widow Jane said she was stunned by the news of the pardons, adding: "Somebody killed my husband. I need to be given evidence from somewhere. I need to know the truth." (Reaction)

In February 2001, two of the accused -- Sandy Mitchell and Canadian William Sampson -- were shown on Saudi television in February 2001, confessing to attacks in the capital Riyadh. They were sentenced to death despite retracting the confessions.

Four others -- James Patrick Lee, Les Walker, James Cottle and Peter Brandon -- were jailed.

A seventh man, Briton Glenn Ballard, was also released on Friday after being detained for 10 months but not charged, Reuters reported.

Stephen Jakobi, director of UK-based pressure group Fair Trials Abroad, told the UK Press Association: "We are absolutely delighted to hear this news.

"It sounds like a clean sweep on the British people, but we are concerned for a Belgian, Raf Schyvens, about whom there is no news."

Schyvens' lawyer would not comment on whether he had been released, The Associated Press reported.


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