Thursday, April 23, 2009

UK Police Defend Terror Raids After Suspects Freed

Via Yahoo! News -

Police on Wednesday defended anti-terror raids this month that led to the arrests of 12 mostly Pakistani men who were then all released without charge.

The pre-dawn swoops across northwest England on April 8 had been described by Prime Minister Gordon Brown as part of a probe into a "major terrorist plot".

After the two remaining suspects were freed Wednesday, police defended the arrests on the grounds of public safety.

"All of the suspects arrested by the North West Counter Terrorism Unit during the recent operation have now been released," Greater Manchester Police said in a statement.

The statement said prosecutors had advised that there was "insufficient evidence gathered within the permitted timescales which would have allowed a warrant of further detention to be gathered or charges to be pursued."

The suspects were 11 Pakistani nationals, 10 of whom were in Britain on student visas, and a lone Briton.

All the Pakistanis have been handed over to British immigration officials, who have said they will be deported to Pakistan.

Brown's spokesman told reporters Wednesday that the government was "seeking to remove these individuals on grounds of national security.

"The government's highest priority is to protect public safety. Where a foreign national poses a threat to the country, we will seek to exclude or deport them where appropriate."

The raids had to be hastily brought forward after Britain's top counter-terrorism policeman Bob Quick was photographed holding clearly legible briefing notes on the operation. He resigned over the gaffe.

The notes he was carrying into a meeting at Brown's Downing Street offices stated police were investigating a plot that was "AQ-driven", meaning Al-Qaeda.

But a senior police officer defended the arrests, insisting that no mistakes had been made in the operation.

"I don't feel embarrassed or humiliated about what we have done because we have carried out our duty," Greater Manchester Police's Chief Constable Peter Fahy told reporters on Wednesday.

"I don't think a mistake has been made, no. I do not believe a mistake has been made."

A Muslim community leader in Manchester, however, criticised the police, saying detectives could "not keep getting it wrong" because such instances were "sapping" community confidence in the police.

Of the dozen arrested, one 18-year-old student was released just three days after the anti-terror operation, while nine were freed from police custody Tuesday, with the final two being let go on Wednesday.

The arrests, and the revelations that 10 of the men held were on student visas, have put Brown's government under pressure to tighten its visa rules.

Relatives of the men in Pakistan had pleaded their innocence, and in a statement issued late Tuesday, a British-based lawyer for three of the men said he would challenge any attempt to deport them.

"Our clients have no criminal history, they were here lawfully on student visas and all were pursuing their studies and working part-time," said Mohammed Ayub, who is based in Bradford.

"Our clients are neither extremists nor terrorists. Their arrest and detention has been a very serious breach of their human rights."

Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights group Liberty, described deportation on the grounds of national security as "an extremely shadowy process" and called for assurances from the government that the powers would not be abused.

The BBC reported Wednesday that the case would be independently reviewed by Lord Alexander Carlisle, Britain's independent reviewer of anti-terror laws.

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