Ten to be deported as crackdown starts
TEN foreign nationals were detained by police yesterday as the Home Office prepared to deport them as part of Prime Minister Tony Blair's crackdown on extremists following the London bombings.
The men - including Abu Qatada, the Jordanian cleric described as Osama Bin Laden's ambassador in Europe, who has been convicted in absentia for alleged bomb plots in Jordan - were seized in raids across London, the West Midlands, Leicestershire and Bedfordshire.
At least half of the men, whom the Home Office refused to name, were subject to control orders after being released from Belmarsh prison five months ago, following a three-year period of detention without trial. Many are Algerians.
Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, said that he believed all ten were a threat to national security.
He said that the deportations, previously deemed impossible under human rights legislation, could go ahead thanks to special assurances from the countries concerned.
"The circumstances of our national security have changed" said Mr Clarke "It is vital that we act against those who threaten it."
He added: "Following months of diplomatic work we now have got reason to believe that we can get the necessary assurances from the countries to which we will return the deportees, so that they will not be subject to torture or ill-treatment."
Yesterday, Britain signed a controversial deal with Jordan, designed to guarantee that deportees would not be killed or tortured on their return, which set the scene for the first test between ministers and judges over the government's new anti-terror powers.
The so-called "memorandum of understanding" has been widely condemned by human rights groups.
Similar agreements with Algeria and Lebanon were being discussed.
Yesterday, Gareth Peirce, lawyer for Abu Qatada and others among the ten, said the move to deport them had been prompted by "insane and dangerous government at its worst." She claimed that Mr Blair's assertion last week that "the rules of the game have changed" was "wrong" and said that what he was doing risked disenfranchising the country from the international community.
"The Home Office cannot suggest that either of the countries concerned, Algeria or Jordan, has undergone any internal revolution that does away with torture."
She also accused the government of deliberately putting the men out of reach of their lawyers.
The issue is far from straightforward. As a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, Britain is not allowed to deport people to countries where they may face torture or death, and human rights lawyers have warned that the special assurances obtained or sought by Britain have no weight in international law.
Also, the ten men have a right to appeal which could take years to resolve.
It is likely that the men will exercise that right of appeal or seek judicial reviews - which could amount to round two of the battle fought a year ago by many of the same men, who were then held in Belmarsh without trial under the 2001 Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act.
In December 2004, the Law Lords ruled the detention of more than a dozen detainees illegal and they were released in March, subject to the government's new control order regime.
They can apply for a judicial review or to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) in an effort to avoid deportation. They could then lodge further appeals to the Court of Appeal, then to the House of Lords and ultimately to the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg.
Yesterday, Muslim groups joined human rights experts in expressing their concern.
Musleh Faradhi, the president of Islamic Forum Europe said "These men have been in the UK for a long time, some of them are Belmarsh detainees and are subject to control orders.
"They have a right to go through the due processes of the law in this country. It does not make sense to send them back to countries that have horrific track records of human rights abuse. IFE is generally opposed to any form of deportation."
Human Rights Watch has reported that, between 1992 and 1998, Algerian security forces and their allies, arrested and made "disappear" more than 7,000 persons who remain unaccounted for.
Mr Faradhi said that he was concerned that "a climate of fear post 7/7 is being used to alter fundamental values of democracy".
He added: "Anyone suspected of breaking the law should be put to trial in Britain."
The Muslim Council of Britain also warned against turning a "blind eye" to torture.
Civil rights group Liberty remained sceptical about the agreements, which are being sought with ten countries.
Shami Chakrabarti, the director, said: "It is far better for public safety that a terrorist suspect be tried than shuffled around the world."
'I WON'T RETURN'
THE extremist cleric Omar Bakri Mohammad has declared that he will not return to Britain.
In an interview with Future News television, broadcast following his temporary detention by Lebanese security forces, he said that he would not return after being harassed by the British media.
"I will not return to Britain ... If the British government declares me persona non grata, then I'll give in my passport so that they revoke my residency," Bakri said.
He added: "I will only return to Britain as a tourist or a visitor."
The cleric, who had left the UK for Lebanon after it emerged that he could be subjected to charges of incitement, also denied any illegal activity in Britain.
He caused outrage last week when it was said that he had described the London bombers as the "fantastic four" and declared that he would not report any Muslims planning attacks to police.
He was detained by security forces in Lebanon yesterday after he left the news studios of Future Television in Beirut.
A statement issued by the General Security Directorate in Lebanon said he was held to "clarify his situation".
No other reason was given for Bakri's detention. An interior ministry source denied a report that he was questioned about how he had entered Lebanon.
And British authorities had not requested his detention, according to Lebanese interior ministry sources quoted by Arab newspapers.
His spokesman, Anjem Choudray, said Bakri was released after "an informal discussion about the fact that they don't really have a file on him in Lebanon".
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