An Indian doctor who was jailed in Australia on terror charges said he was happy to be free, and in an emotional interview broadcast Sunday reiterated he had no knowledge of his relatives' alleged involvement in a failed British attack.
Mohamed Haneef flew from Brisbane, Australia, to Bangalore, in southern India, on Sunday, making a short stopover in Thailand.
He was mobbed by photographers and television cameraman when he arrived at Bangalore's airport, and was quickly shuffled by police into a car waiting to take him to his family's home, where a celebratory feast was being prepared.
Haneef, who looked relaxed and was smiling, offered no comment at the airport, apart from muttering "please, please" as he tried to make his way through the mob of reporters. But he was expected to address a news conference in Bangalore later Sunday.
"It's like a festival for us today," Haneef's brother Mohammed Shuaib told The Associated Press earlier Sunday.
Haneef was arrested at Brisbane airport on July 2 as he was about to fly to India to see his wife and newborn daughter — just days after his second cousins in Britain were arrested in a failed terror plot.
No evidence found
He was released Friday after Australia's chief prosecutor Damian Bugg said there was no evidence to support the charge that Haneef provided reckless support to a terrorist organization. The charge arose because Haneef gave his cell phone SIM card to one of his second cousins — accused in a bomb plot in June — when he left Britain for Australia a year earlier.
In a paid interview recorded Saturday and broadcast on Australia's Nine Network on Sunday, Haneef said supporting a terror organization was against his nature.
"I never imagined, even in the remotest corner of my brain, that I would be labeled with such a defaming thing," Haneef said
Appearing close to tears, Haneef said if he had suspected his relatives — Sabeel and Kafeel Ahmed — were planning bombings in Britain, he would not have kept it to himself.
"I would have let the parents know first, who are the main sufferers now," Haneef said. "I really feel for them."
Reporters at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport asked Haneef how he felt to be free.
"Fine, thank you," he replied, giving a thumbs up sign and expressing thanks to everyone who supported him in his legal battle in Australia.
Australian Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said Saturday the 27-year-old doctor was free to leave the country following his release from jail Friday, but his work visa remained canceled.
Before leaving Brisbane early Sunday, lawyer Peter Russo, who was traveling with Haneef, told reporters his client was leaving Australia voluntarily and had not been deported.
Haneef flew first class to Bangkok, along with his cousin Imran Siddiqui and Russo. It was not clear who paid for the flights.
Russo said Haneef would appeal Andrews' decision to revoke his work visa on character grounds at a court hearing in August.
Andrews said Sunday the withdrawal of the terrorism charge against Haneef did not change the evidence that led to the revocation of his Australian work visa.
"Nothing has changed in terms of the circumstances in which I had to make a decision concerning Dr. Haneef," Andrews told Australia's Seven Network television. He did not elaborate.
Support in Australia
There have been mounting calls in Australia for the doctor to be allowed back to work, and the Gold Coast Hospital where he was working has said Haneef's job is waiting for him if he regains the visa.
British police have charged Sabeel Ahmed, 26, with withholding information that could have prevented an act of terrorism. Sabeel Ahmed was the recipient of Haneef's SIM card.
Ahmed's brother, Kafeel Ahmed, is believed to have set himself ablaze after crashing an explosives-laden Jeep into Glasgow Airport in Scotland and remains in hospital with critical burns.
Haneef's family celebrated his release.
"What can give a mother more happiness — my child is free and he is coming home," Haneef's mother, Qurrath-Ul-Ain, said as she passed around sweets to cousins and neighbors gathering at her home before he arrived.
"We've always known that he was innocent and now everyone else knows it too," Haneef's sister, Sumayya said. "It's been a year since we've last seen him and this last month has been so traumatic for us. We're all waiting to finally meet him. My brother has suffered so much this past month."