Canadian Press : Britain to free 2 Pakistani students detained during April terror raids in northern England

Friday, July 17, 2009

Britain to free 2 Pakistani students detained during April terror raids in northern England

By David Stringer (CP) | July 17, 2009

LONDON — Two Pakistani men detained during a series of terrorism raids in northern England are no longer considered a threat and will be released, but they could still face deportation over immigration offences, British officials said Friday.

The two men were among 12 students arrested in high-profile April raids, and have been held for several months in immigration detention. They had been due to be deported to Pakistan after the U.K. ruled they posed a risk to British national security, but officials have concluded they are no longer a threat, Jennifer Wilkes, a spokeswoman for the British High Commission in Islamabad, said in a statement.

Judge John Mitting told a court hearing in May that Britain's Home Office alleged the arrested men were linked to al-Qaida and involved in planning terrorist attacks in Britain. The men have maintained their innocence.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the police operation had foiled a "very big terrorist plot," but law enforcement and security official have not disclosed any specifics of the alleged plans. Following the raids, police said there was insufficient evidence to charge any of the men with criminal offences. They have remained held for deportation since.

"Their case has been kept under constant review, and as soon as it became clear that these individuals did not meet the criteria for deportation, the decision was taken to drop deportation proceedings," Wilkes said.

"This has clearly been a difficult time for these individuals, which we regret. It was however necessary, given the reason for their arrest and detention, to carry out a rigorous investigation," she added.

The Home Office said the two men will be released on Friday, but that authorities will now attempt to deport the men on different grounds. One was refused a visa extension in March, and authorities will attempt to revoke the second man's student visa because they do not believe he is carrying out legitimate studies, the ministry said. Both will be fitted with electronic tags while their cases are considered.

Lawyer Mohammed Ayub, based in Bradford, northern England, said his client Sultan Sher is one of the two men being released. He said he represents two other men still detained.

"All our clients have maintained throughout their ordeal that they were here on lawful purposes as students. Our clients reiterate they are neither extremists nor terrorists," Ayub said.

In addition to the two students due to be released, eight other men are awaiting deportation - seven to Pakistan and one to Afghanistan. One other man has returned to Pakistan voluntarily and another is a British national who was freed following his arrest.

Families of the arrested students in Pakistan reacted with anger, and have demanded that the men either be charged with an offence, or freed and allowed to complete their studies in Britain.

The case rattled British-Pakistani relations, already under pressure after Brown said that at least three-quarters of all terrorist plots against the U.K. have links to Pakistan - and specifically the country's northwest, where al-Qaida and the Taliban have strongholds.

Ayub said Britain's government should consider holding an inquiry into the police operation, to review mistakes. "No other innocent person should have to suffer the ordeal that our clients have," he said.

"We appreciate that this case has caused concern to many people in Pakistan but want to make clear that the British government has at all times acted within U.K. law and in accordance with our duty to protect the safety of the public," Wilkes said.

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