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Life of house arrest awaits Guantanamo detainees on return to UK

FIVE British residents held in Guantanamo Bay could be placed under control orders when they are returned to the UK following a request for their release from Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister.

The Home Office plan has emerged after the United States government stepped up its warnings about the five men, claiming they posed a terrorist "risk" and accusing one of direct links to al-Qaeda's leader, Osama bin Laden.

Mr Brown last week formally requested that the US release the five men from its controversial Cuban detention camp.

The Pentagon accuses the five of terrorism, but has refused to make public the intelligence it says justifies their captivity.

The only UK nationals held in Guantanamo Bay were released last year, and campaigners have since focused on the five foreign nationals held there who were legally resident in the UK when they were taken into custody.

The five are: Shaker Aamer, a Saudi national; Jamil el-Banna, a Jordanian; Libyan-born Omar Deghayes; Ethiopian national Binyam Mohamed; and Abdennour Sameur, an Algerian.

To warn about "the risk these individuals pose," the Pentagon yesterday made public allegations that Mr Aamer was a trained terrorist with links to the highest levels of al-Qaeda.

"He has been involved in a lot of significant terrorist plots," Sandra Hodgkinson, the Pentagon's deputy assistant secretary of defence for detainee affairs, said yesterday.

Mr Aamer lived in south London before being detained in Afghanistan by US forces in 2001. Through his lawyer, he has denied any wrongdoing or involvement with extremism.

But according to Ms Hodgkinson, he once lived with a 9/11 conspirator and received regular payments from bin Laden.

She said Mr Aamer shared an apartment in London in the late 1990s with Zacarias Moussaoui, a confessed al-Qaeda conspirator and the only person in the US charged over the 11 September, 2001, World Trade Centre attack. He also met Richard Reid, imprisoned in the US for trying to blow up a US passenger jet with explosives hidden in his shoes.

The Pentagon chief said Mr Aamer had trained in the use of explosives and surface-to-air missiles and lived on stipends in Afghanistan paid by bin Laden.

In the Cuban camp, Mr Aamer, who once worked in a London solicitor's office, became an unofficial spokesman for many detainees, at one point organising a hunger strike.

His lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, yesterday described Ms Hodgkinson's claims as "nonsense" and said the US authorities were persecuting him because of his status among the other detainees.

Claims by the US that the UK nationals are dangerous could prove embarrassing for Mr Brown if British intelligence officials share that conclusion.

MI5, the Security Service, is to conduct a full assessment of the five on their return to the UK.

Sources last night said if they were deemed a threat to UK security, the Home Office was prepared to impose control orders to restrict their movement.

A Home Office spokeswoman said the five would be subject to the "same security considerations that would apply to any other foreign nationals arriving in Britain".

• THE Ministry of Defence has admitted facing "challenges" over military-intelligence staffing levels amid warnings anti-terror operations could be compromised by the shortfall.

Around 20 per cent of officers have quit the Intelligence Corps in the past three years, with many leaving for lucrative private-security jobs, it was reported yesterday. Shortages have meant some staff are doing jobs for which they do not have the proper training or experience.

The MoD declined to comment on staffing levels, or to confirm that the ministry is considering offering intelligence officers a 50,000 bonus for three further years' service in a bid to stem further losses.

But a spokesman said: "We face challenges in recruiting and retention in specific areas in all the services, not just the army and not just the Intelligence Corps.

"We are trying hard to resolve them. Exit levels in some important areas are still too high and require us to work hard at retaining people. These are being monitored closely to see if there is a need to take further action."

 
 
 

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