Rachid Ramda, a suspect in the 1995 Paris Metro bombings, today lost a High Court appeal which could spell the beginning of the end for his extraordinary battle against extradition.
Mr Ramda, a 35-year-old Algerian national, was told that his latest challenge against being returned to France was entirely without grounds. His lawyers, however, have said that they will now argue for the matter to go before the House of Lords.
Mr Ramda was 25 when he was taken into custody in the UK after fleeing France after a series of attacks in which eight people died and 250 were injured.
He has since spent ten years in custody without trial - at least six in solitary confinement at HMP Belmarsh - a period which commentators say makes the Government's recent bid for 90-day detention orders look like a parlour game.
During this time he has fought off repeated attempts for transfer to Paris where he is wanted as a suspected member of the GIA (Groupe Islamique Armé) for allegedly helping to finance the worst bombing in France since the Second World War.
French police believe that a transfer of £5,000 and repeated telephone conversations link Mr Ramda to one of the bombers, Boualem Bensaid. Bensaid named Mr Ramda in a police interview but his testimony was questioned when he mysteriously developed bruising to his face and head while in custody.
The most recent order to extradite Mr Ramda was signed by Charles Clarke in April. The Home Secretary said that he had received fresh information from the French authorities which made him confident that a fair trial could be held.
Lawyers for Mr Ramda argued last month that the new information was sent in bad faith and insisted that there was a was "a real risk of a flagrant denial of justice". They have warned that their client could be deported back to Algeria where he faces execution.
In a High Court judgment released today, Lord Justice Keene said: "This court is not persuaded that the Secretary of State failed in his decision of April 5, 2005 to exercise properly his powers to order the claimant's return to France."
The judge said that Mr Clarke had sufficient information before him to exercise his statutory and general discretionary powers - "and the conclusions which he reached were not irrational."
"His decision was not ultra vires (beyond his powers) and this application for judicial review is, in consequence, dismissed." he said.
The judges also ruled that, if a fair trial in France required the exclusion of Bensaid's evidence, "the French courts would be bound to exclude it". They also said that there was "no real risk" that Ramda would be ill treated in French police custody.
Lawyers for Mr Ramda are now expected to put in an urgent request to the judges to certify the case has raised issues of general public importance which merit a hearing before the House of Lords.
If the judges grant a certificate, it will be for the Law Lords to decide whether to hear the case. If the High Court refuses to certify, Ramda faces removal to France.
Mr Ramda's protracted legal battle has drawn criticism from Paris, which has accused Britain of being soft on Islamist extremism to buy peace on home soil - giving London the nickname Beirut-on-Thames. It has been compared unfavourably with the swift extradition of Hamdi Issac, the fifth July 21 London bomb suspect, from Rome.
Today's judgement, however, is indicative of a new climate of co-operation between countries engaged in the 'war on terror'. Mr Clarke yesterday ordered the extradition of British computer expert Babar Ahmad, 31, to the US after the FBI said he was a key al-Qaeda fundraiser.
The exasperation of the French with the drawn-out bid was recently reflected by Francoise Rudetzki, who was crippled by terrorist bombings and is president of SOS Attentats, which helps terrorist victims.
She called the Ramda case "a malfunctioning of the British justice system", and, referring to the speedy response of Italy to a British request for the extradition of Hamdi Isaac, said: "What would the British think 10 years from now if he was still in Italy?"