AFP : Police free nine terror suspects

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Police free nine terror suspects

April 21, 2009

LONDON (AFP) — Police have released nine men, most of them Pakistanis, who were arrested earlier this month during a major anti-terror operation, turning them over to immigration officials for deportation.

The suspects were among a group of 12 men, 11 Pakistanis and one Briton, who were arrested during a series of raids in the northwest on April 8 and held for questioning over an alleged Al-Qaeda-linked plot.

"The northwest counter-terrorism unit has released nine of those arrested as part of a national operation," a police spokeswoman said.

"Protecting the public is the main focus of the police. These arrests were carried out after a number of UK agencies gathered information that indicated a potential risk to public safety."

Most of the group was released into the custody of the UK Border Agency, which controls immigration and which said it would hold them until they could be deported.

"We are seeking to remove these individuals on grounds of national security," a border agency spokeswoman said.

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

Prime Minister Gordon Brown had said police were investigating a "major terrorist plot", and police defended the arrests on the grounds of public safety.

Two men remain in police custody, while the last suspect was turned over to the UK Border Agency on April 11.

Brown's government has come under pressure to strengthen its visa rules after it emerged that 10 of the suspects were in Britain on student visas.

Relatives of the suspects in Pakistan had pleaded their innocence, and in a statement issued late Tuesday, 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."

The anti-terror raids had to be brought forward after Britain's top counter-terrorism police officer was photographed holding clearly legible briefing notes on the operation. He resigned over the gaffe.

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