AFP : Police defend 'terror raids' after suspects freed

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Police defend 'terror raids' after suspects freed

April 22, 2009

LONDON (AFP) — Police on Wednesday defended a series of anti-terror raids which saw the arrest of 12 men, most of them Pakistani students, who have all been released without charge.

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

One of the suspects was released on April 11, followed by another nine on Tuesday and the remaining two on Wednesday morning.

"All of the suspects arrested by the northwest 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".

Eleven of the 12 men arrested were Pakistani nationals, most of whom were staying in Britain on student visas. The last suspect was a British national.

All the Pakistani nationals were handed over to immigration officials, who said they will be deported to Pakistan.

Brown's spokesman told reporters on 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 the country'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," Peter Fahy, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester police told reporters.

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

The revelation that 10 of the men were in Britain on student visas has put Brown's government under pressure to tighten its visa rules.

Relatives of the men in Pakistan had pleaded their innocence, and a 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.

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