: UK terror suspects 'in Al Qaida bomb plot'

Friday, August 14, 2009

UK terror suspects 'in Al Qaida bomb plot'

August 14, 2009

A group of Pakistani men arrested in a major anti-terrorist operation were denied bail because of a series of emails which could implicate them in an al Qaida bomb plot, a judge revealed today.

The five were among 12 men held by police in raids across the north west of England in April as part of Operation Pathway, but never charged with any criminal offences.

Along with two other Pakistani men who did not apply for bail, they are challenging attempts by the Government to deport them on the grounds that they pose a threat to national security.

At a hearing of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) at the end of last month the men were denied bail.

Giving the reasons for the decision for the first time today, Mr Justice Mitting said a series of emails exchanged between an address attributed to one of the men and another attributed to an al Qaida associate were "central to the open case against the appellants".

The emails from the man, identified only as XC, to "Sohaib" appear to refer to a "nikah", or wedding.

In a written statement, Mr Justice Mitting said: "They appear to refer to XC's interest in named girls and to a nikah (wedding) after 15th and before 20th April 2009 with one of them, Nadia.

"The assessment of the security service is that references to named girls could be to ingredients from which an explosive device could be made and that the reference to the nikah is 'most likely' reference to an intended attack."

Mr Justice Mitting continued: "The first, and ultimately determinative issue, is, therefore: is the assessment of the security service plainly wrong?"

Richard Hermer QC, for XC, told last month's hearing the security service's account of the emails was far-fetched and the emails were no more than innocent social discussions.

Mr Justice Mitting said the final interpretation of the emails would have to wait until a full SIAC hearing takes place next year.

He said: "On the information, open and closed, which we have now, we are not satisfied that the assessment by the security service of their likely meaning is clearly wrong."

Mr Justice Mitting added that the "undisputed fact" that no explosive materials have been recovered was "at least a significant gap" in the Government's case against the men.

"Ultimately, it may prove to be more than that," he said.

"On any view, it assists the appellants in their denial of participation in attack planning. But at present it does no more than that."

The Home Secretary's case also rests on evidence that the five men attended one or both of two meetings on March 23 and April 1 in which the "nikah" was also discussed.

Lawyers for the men have sought assurances that they will not be arrested and detained indefinitely if they are forced to go back to Pakistan.

Mr Justice Mitting said: "The Secretary of State's case on the issue of safety on return is far from complete. All we can say, for present purposes, is that is it not clear that the Secretary of State will not be able to demonstrate that it is safe to return the appellants to Pakistan."

He said there was no reason to doubt the men came from respectable families and that each of them were undertaking legitimate study.

Of the five men, students Abdul Khan, 26, and Shoaib Khan, 27, from Liverpool, have waived their right to anonymity.