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Al-Qaeda Suspect Finally Faces U.S. Judge

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) -- An accused Al-Qaeda sleeper agent has appeared before a U.S. judge after nearly six years in isolated military custody, but deferred entering a plea on charges of supporting terrorism.

Ali al-Marri, a 43-year-old Qatari, smiled as he chatted with his lawyer during his first trip out of the Consolidated Naval Brig in Charleston, South Carolina, since 2003.

A stocky man with long dark hair and a long beard tinged with gray, al-Marri looked healthy and was dressed in a gray sweatshirt, gray sweatpants, and Nike tennis shoes.

He was the last person held in the United States as an "enemy combatant" under a Bush administration policy that allowed those the president considered to be terrorists to be held indefinitely without charge.

Following a review ordered by President Barack Obama, al-Marri was indicted in Illinois last month on charges of conspiring with Al-Qaeda and providing material support for terrorism.

He answered, "yes sir," when U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Carr asked, if he understood his rights and whether he wanted to keep his current attorney.

Al-Marri, who was transferred to civilian custody shortly before the hearing, was scheduled to return to the courtroom on March 18 for a bond hearing.