WSWS : The “anti-terror” arrests in northwest England: what really lies behind them?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The “anti-terror” arrests in northwest England: what really lies behind them?

By Julie Hyland | April 15, 2009

One week after a series of high profile arrests, little evidence has come to light of plans for the mass terrorist atrocity that supposedly triggered the detentions.

Eleven of the 12 people rounded up on April 8—all males aged between 18 and 42 years of age—remain in custody. Under Britain’s draconian anti-terror laws terror suspects can be held for up to 28 days without charge. An 18-year-old youth, one of the 11 Pakistani nationals held, was released at the weekend, but handed over to immigration officials.

Security sources have stated that they expect few, if any, terror-related charges to result from the arrests. Raids on homes and premises in the northwest of England have so far failed to turn up any evidence of bombs, chemical explosives, weapons or ammunition. One senior security source was cited in the Guardian as stating that “nothing of huge significance” had been uncovered.

This is a far cry from the hysterical claims that originally attended the arrests. Then police sources claimed that they had thwarted a massive Al Qaeda-directed operation to launch large-scale suicide bomb attacks over the Easter holiday.

Citing information from MI6 operations targeted on Pakistan, anonymous security officials claimed there had been a high risk of an “imminent attack” that would cause “mass casualties.” Prime Minister Gordon Brown described the apparent terror plot as “very big.”

Such is the subsequent backpedalling over the alleged terrorist conspiracy that the Guardian stated, “A central mystery remains how counterterrorism officials could believe such a serious plot existed when they were unsure of seemingly basic elements of the alleged conspiracy, such as the targets.”

Indeed. The “evidence” now being presented for the existence of a terror threat appears to centre on reports that several of those detained—most of whom were in the UK on student visas—had been seen taking photographs near a Manchester shopping centre and other public venues. This behaviour, it is argued, is consistent with terrorist reconnaissance. A surveillance team also reportedly heard discussions about certain dates over the Easter holiday, prompting the arrests.

But relatives and neighbours have refuted such claims. The majority of those arrested were students living in some of the poorest areas of Merseyside. One neighbour described how several of those detained had recently staged an impromptu street celebration during heavy snowfall, playing Hindi music, dancing and encouraging others to join in. “I never had suspicions about them,” she said. “They were jolly guys, not aggressive and never any trouble.”

The father of one of those held, speaking to the media from his home in Peshawar, said his son was in his third year of computer studies in Manchester, on a visa valid until next September. “We have done nothing wrong. We have nothing to hide,” the father stated, calling offensive the lurid press accounts of his son’s alleged terror-related activities.

The uncle of another man told the Guardian that the family regularly made financial contributions to help his nephew fund his education. “He was too ambitious about his life and his studies. He was not up to any mischief. So I say to the UK government, please don’t spoil his future,” he pleaded.

Sweeping police powers

It is not the first time that warnings of an imminent terrorist catastrophe, accompanied by mass arrests, have failed to live up to their claims.

In the years since 9/11 more than 1,000 people have been arrested under anti-terrorism laws, of which less than 50 have been convicted.

So sweeping are the anti-terrorism powers that people have been detained on the flimsiest of pretexts. Earlier this month, five people in Plymouth were detained under the Terrorism Act after a young man was seen spraying graffiti. “Political literature” was reportedly found in one of the homes raided and it was claimed at the time that the five had been planning to join the G20 protests in London. Held for several days, they were all released without charge.

All the while, the hysterical atmosphere generated by such arrests has been used to further strengthen police powers and undermine democratic rights. The brutal shooting of innocent Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes in July 2005 by undercover anti-terrorist officers exposed that police had covertly adopted a shoot-to-kill policy. Less than one year later another innocent man, Mohammed Abdul Kahar, was shot by anti-terror police in a raid on his home.

In the latest sweep, Muhammad Adil, a 27-year-old Pakistani student, told how he had been eating lunch outside Liverpool John Moores University when he and a friend were surrounded by armed officers.

Special forces with telescopic machine guns instructed them to raise their hands, and forced them to the floor. Adil’s hands were tied behind his back as he lay on the ground for one hour, while police kept their guns trained on him. Taken to a police station, he was released after several hours without charge.

Simultaneously, police were carrying out similarly spectacular arrests in other locations, starting at the 5 p.m. rush-hour.

Two people were detained while working as security guards at a DIY store. A worker at the store told how 80 officers had swooped on the building, and armed police had rushed into the shop, emerging 10 minutes later with the two men.

In the Wavertree district of Liverpool, residents described how unmarked black cars had sped down the street, stopping outside a flat, and a number of men wearing black combat gear had stormed the building. Three men were brought out handcuffed from the building. In a residential area in Manchester, meanwhile, a woman told how she had heard a lot of noise and opened her door to see “four or five policemen were on top of a man. They were dragging him along the street and he had no shoes on. They shouted at me ‘get inside, get inside’. There was a policeman on each corner of the street, with machine guns.”

The G20 protests

It looks increasingly likely that the lack of evidence of terror-related activities in the latest arrests will be attributed to the fact that the police operation had to be moved forward at the last moment.

Police have already claimed that the arrests were scheduled for 2 a.m. Thursday morning, but this was hurriedly changed after Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick of the Metropolitan Police was photographed the previous day entering Downing Street.

In full view of the cameras, Quick carried a briefing paper—marked top secret—with details of the intended raids. The government had issued a “D” notice preventing publication of the photograph, but concerned that it would be published on the Internet, hundreds of police officers were quickly scrambled for the northwest raids. Quick resigned the following day.

Quick’s “gaffe” is now being blamed for compromising an otherwise promising operation.

Just why Britain’s senior anti-terror officer was seemingly unaware that he was broadcasting details of a major police operation to the media is just one of many unanswered questions.

The Times speculated April 14 that indications that no terror charges would ultimately be laid against those arrested posed “questions about how real this threat was and whether the police were trying to cover their embarrassment over Mr. Quick.”

More pertinently, it should be noted that warnings of imminent suicide bombings on a major city came just as the government and Metropolitan Police faced mounting condemnation of police actions during the G20 summit of world leaders in London, which ended April 3.

During the protests, more than 200 people were arrested, houses were raided, and thousands of people detained for hours by police in London side streets in a practice known as “kettling.”

On April 1, Ian Tomlinson—who was making his way home from work—died in one of the side streets. At the time, it was claimed that his death was from natural causes, and unrelated to police measures to contain the protestors. (See “Britain: Evidence of fatal police assault at G20 demonstration”)

But on the evening of April 7, the Guardian released video footage showing how Tomlinson had been brutally struck from behind by a riot officer, causing him to fall and hit his head on the ground. He died minutes later.

The footage exposed the degree to which police, in collusion with the Independent Police Complaints Commission, had sought to cover over allegations of police brutality during the demonstrations, and fuelled demands for an independent inquiry.

Less than 24 hours later, Britain was faced with another alleged terrorist plot and civil liberties were under further attack.

At the weekend, it was announced that plainclothes, armed police units are to be deployed on the streets of Scotland for the first time.

No official statement, let alone discussion, accompanied this unprecedented move. But the Scotsman newspaper editorialised in support of the deployment, citing the alleged northwest terror plot, which it said could have led to “blood and suffering” on the streets of Manchester.

“As we assess our readiness against a terror attack we must also decide what concessions we are willing to make in our day-to-day liberties. To say we will surrender none is unreasonable,” it claimed.

Times : Terror arrests: police granted more time for ‘al-Qaeda plot’ interviews

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Terror arrests: police granted more time for ‘al-Qaeda plot’ interviews

by Russell Jenkins and Andrew Norfolk | April 15, 2009

Detectives are still questioning 11 suspects in connection with an alleged al-Qaeda terror plot a week after they were arrested in a series of armed raids in the North West.

Forensic science officers are carrying out detailed searches of nine addresses in Manchester and Liverpool but have now completed their work at the Cyber Net Cafe in Cheetham Hill Road, Greater Manchester.

Investigators are sifting through evidence teased from computer software seized at the properties.

The hunt for an alleged bomb factory took a dramatic turn on Monday when army bomb disposal experts were called in by searchers to a student flat in Highgate Street in Liverpool, but they completed their work apparently without finding anything.

Officers concede that there is still a long way to go in the investigation. So far no charges have been brought against the men. The youngest man arrested last Wednesday, an 18-year-old, has been released into the custody of the UK Borders Agency.

Police have been granted a further week to detain the men, aged from 22 to 41, who are being held at undisclosed locations around the country.

The father of one man arrested at a house on Galsworthy Avenue, a red-brick terrace in Cheetham Hill, North Manchester, has insisted that his son was not involved in any kind of terror plot. He suggested that Abid Naseer, 22, has been mistaken for a terrorist because of his appearance.

Nasrullah Jan Khattak, his father, spoke from the family home in Peshawar, Pakistan, to describe how his son travelled to Britain on a student visa about 2½ years ago to study for a masters degree in information technology.

He and his flatmates had impressed neighbours in the largely Punjabi community around Cheetham for their religious devotion. They were said to attend the al-Falah mosque five times a day.

He said: “This is all his prayers and his beard. I am his father and I know him. He is not involved in any mysterious plot. We have done nothing wrong and we have nothing to hide.”

Mr Naseer’s family joined relatives of Abdul Wahab Khan and Muhammad Ramzan who suggested that they too were among the suspects still being held.

The families, who live in the town of Dera Ismail Khan in northwest Pakistan, said the two lived together and studied at John Moores University.

The relatives said they had been unable to reach the pair since the raids began, and claimed they had learnt of the young men’s arrests through their friends.

All three families said no government officials from either country had contacted them.

A spokesman for Greater Manchester Police, who have worked alongside the North West Counter Terrorism Unit, said: “Officers continue to thank the local authorities affected by this operation for their co-operation and support.”

Press Association : Extra time to quiz terror suspects

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Extra time to quiz terror suspects

April 15, 2009

Police have been given more time to question 11 men held for an alleged terror plot.

A total of 12 men were arrested on April 8 after officers raided 14 addresses in Greater Manchester, Liverpool and Lancashire.

An 18-year-old man was released without charge last week into the custody of the UK Borders Agency, which regulates immigration and can investigate the status of those entering the country.

The North West Counter Terrorism Unit was given a further seven days to question seven of the men, aged between 22 and 37, and two further days to question the other four arrested men, aged 23, 41 and two aged 26. They are being held in various locations across the country.

A spokesman for Greater Manchester Police, who are leading the operation, said the extensions were granted at magistrates' courts.

The spokesman said: "Officers continue to thank the local communities affected by this operation for their co-operation and support."

Six addresses are still being searched by police across Merseyside and Greater Manchester including one in Galsworthy Avenue, Cheetham Hill, Manchester, and two in Cedar Grove, Liverpool, the spokesman added.

Copyright © 2009 The Press Association. All rights reserved.

Times : Bogus foreign students free to flout new laws

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bogus foreign students free to flout new laws

Home Office fails to vet hundreds of colleges

April 15, 2009

Thousands of bogus students remain free to enter Britain despite new laws aimed at tightening controls on immigration. The Times has learnt that hundreds of colleges recently approved by the Home Office to accept non-EU students have not been inspected by its officers.

Weaknesses in the student visa system have emerged following the arrest of 12 terror suspects last week. Ten of the men entered this country from Pakistan on student visas.

It has also emerged that the vast majority of non-EU students will not be interviewed by the Home Office but admitted on the basis of written applications and evidence of sponsorship, educational qualifications and bank statements.

Chris Grayling, the Shadow Home Secretary, said: “The more we learn about the way the Government has managed our student visa system, the more question marks there are.”

John Tincey, the chairman of the Immigration Service Union, said that the failure to include interviews could be exploited by terrorists.

Under the system, universities, colleges and schools must register with the Home Office to accept students from outside the EU. They must agree to alert the Home Office if a student fails to register, stops attending classes or if a course is shortened and keep copies of the students’ passports as well as up-to-date contact addresses.

The new regime came in two weeks ago and is intended to end a scam in which thousands of foreigners enrolled at bogus colleges to work here. So far, 2,100 establishments have been registered and 400 rejected. There are 14,000 establishments on an earlier database that need to register.

Today The Times highlights the abuses under the old regime, described by the Immigration Minister as the Achilles’ heel of the system.

At one college in Manchester that claims to have more than 100 students — most of them from North West Frontier Province in Pakistan — only two turned up for classes yesterday.

An international college in London with links to Pakistani businessmen was raided by the police and the UK Border Agency in December. It was alleged that individuals attached to the college earned £5 million processing up to 2,500 fraudulent visa applications.

Liverpool Echo : Terror suspects in cricket team

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Terror suspects in cricket team

by Kevin Core, Liverpool Echo | April 15, 2009

TWO men arrested in the Mersey terror raids are talented cricketers who played regularly in a local team.

Students Abdul Wahab Khan, 25 and Shoaib Khan, 27, both played for Whitefield Cricket Club, based at Court Hey Park in Roby Road, Huyton.

Club official Shahbaz Ahmed said the team was shocked to hear the pair were seized in raids across the north-west last week.

It is believed they were arrested in the block of flats where they live separately near the Royal Liverpool hospital.

Mr Ahmed said: “They are both really nice lads, really friendly and excellent cricketers.

“No-one can believe what has happened. There is just no way they are terrorists.”

Both men are originally from Pakistan.

Wahab, who is from an area 100 miles outside Islamabad, studied computing and electronics while Shoaib, who is originally from Lahore City, studied engineering. Both are thought to be at Liverpool John Moores University.

It is believed Wahab worked as a security guard to support his studies.

Mr Ahmed said: “They travelled together and I would often pick them up from the ground and take them to away matches.

“I know a few of the other lads would often go to their flat for a meal or something.

“They were very popular members of the team. Everyone is saying that what happened is unbelievable.”

He said he feared both men – who would have paid up to £10,000 for their studies – would be deported even if no charges were brought.

Mr Ahmed said: “They were always broke because they spent all of their money on studying.

“They often struggled to pay match fees and I know Wahab only worked to pay for his studies.

“They are here on legitimate visas and if they get sent home all of their hard work and time spent studying will be wasted.”

He said he never heard either man express an extremist view.

“Shoaib is a practising Muslim – he has the beard and he doesn’t drink alcohol or eat pork.

“Wahab is a Muslim like me – we don’t eat pork but we can both be persuaded into having a glass of beer. It’s not that strict.

“If either of these men were found to be involved in terrorism then I believe they should face the death penalty, I have always believed that.

“But so many people have been arrested in these circumstances in the past few years and hardly anyone has been charged.”

The North West Counter Terrorism Unit has confirmed that although bomb disposal experts had completed their searches of addresses in Liverpool, police searches were continuing.

The addresses were two locations in Cedar Grove, two in Highgate Street and one in Earle Road.

They said 11 men arrested on Wednesday, April 8, remained in custody and an 18-year-old had been released into the custody of the UK Borders Agency.

Asian Image : 'We have nothing to hide'

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

'We have nothing to hide'

April 15, 2009

The father of a student arrested in terror raids in the North West has told reporters his son was not involved in any “mysterious plot”.

Abid Naseer, 22, was one of 12 men held after the North West Counter Terrorism Unit targeted alleged extremists in Manchester, Liverpool and Lancashire.

Speaking to reporters outside his home in Peshawar, Pakistan, the student’s father, Nasrullah Jan Khattak, said: “This is all about his prayers and his beard. I am his father and I know him.

”He is not involved in any mysterious plot. We have done nothing wrong.

”We have nothing to hide.”

Naseer came to Britain on a student visa around two-and-a-half years ago and to study a Masters Degree in information technology.

It is understood his visa is due to expire next September.

Armed police swooped on at least 14 addresses, including Liverpool’s John Moores University, during six hours of frantic activity last Wednesday.

Officers have been granted a further week to detain 11 men, who range in age from 22 to 41 and are being held in various locations across the country.

Times : Stockport Road, Manchester, where colleges for Pakistani students cluster

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Stockport Road, Manchester, where colleges for Pakistani students cluster

by Andrew Norfolk and Russell Jenkins | April 15, 2009

The bustling, shabby road of kebab shops and halal butchers does not immediately suggest a natural home for the dreaming spires of British academia.

Look above the cash and carry, however, and you will find the Oxford College of Management Sciences. Near the Hajj travel agency and the Lahore lunch house is the UK College of Arts and Technology.

Around the corner are the A6 Premier College and Lincolns College. Next to the Asian grocer’s is the UK Learning Academy.

All are clustered in or near Stockport Road, a mile south of Manchester city centre, and there is no evidence to suggest that any of them are less than shining pillars of learning.

Last week’s terror raids, however, lifted a stone beneath which some Manchester colleges catering for international students were revealed in a less than creditable light.

All but one of the 11 al-Qaeda suspects who are being held in detention were Pakistani nationals who came to Britain on student visas.

At least one, Abdul Wahab Khan, 26, was registered as an English language student at the Manchester College of Professional Studies, formerly in Stockport Road, which closed after a raid by the Home Office last year. The Times disclosed yesterday that the college sold hundreds of places on fake courses to young men in the North-West Frontier Province, who were seeking entry to Britain. The two 29-year-old Pakistanis who founded and ran the college, Fayaz Ali Khan and Asfandyar Bashir, are also closely linked to a new institution, the Bradford College of Professional Studies. Its head office is in Manningham Lane, Bradford, but it also operates a campus in Manchester, which reopened yesterday after the Easter break.

In recent weeks, it has been raided several times by the UK Border Agency and once by detectives seeking to question a Pakistani student.

Syed Naqvi, who described himself as an assistant to the college’s principal administrator, gave The Times a guided tour of the establishment, which runs along a corridor on the second floor of a business park that has known happier days. He claimed to have no knowledge of Mr Bashir or Mr Khan and appeared unaware of any links between the Manchester campus and its big sister in Bradford.

Mr Naqvi said the college had been in operation since January and had more than 100 students registered. Most, he said, were from Pakistan, the majority from North-West Frontier Province.

Of those 100, only two students had arrived for morning lessons. They sat in a bare classroom receiving instruction in management accounting from a nervous Ghanaian man, Thomas Ameyaw, who said he had been teaching there for the past three weeks.

Mr Naqvi explained that the other 98 students were probably not yet back from their Easter holiday.

He was keen to stress that it was a bona fide college, which would not dream of selling bogus course admission letters to foreign students who had no intention of studying when they arrived in Britain.

Those who failed to attend the college regularly were sent up to three warning letters before being thrown off their course and reported to the Home Office, he said.

That was not the way they used to run the business around the corner at Manchester College of Professional Studies, which sold admission letters from an office in Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province, for £50 a head. A former associate of Mr Bashir and Mr Khan has told The Times that the vast majority of its students came nowhere near the college because they were all working full-time to earn money.

When their fictional course came to an end and their student visa was about to expire, he claims they would pay up to £1,200 for a certificate confirming their impeccable attendance record and the successful completion of their academic work. That document enabled them to extend their stay in Britain for a further three years.

“They used to make £45,000 to £50,000 a month. It was like a fish market. People were coming in, buying papers and going out again all the time,” the former associate said.

After the college was shut down, Mr Khan became a director of the new Bradford College of Professional Studies Ltd. He was also director of another company with the same address as the college’s new Manchester campus, and both he and Mr Bashir are directors of a third company with the same address as its Bradford campus.

Further inquiries by The Times suggest the existence of a web of bogus or semi-bogus colleges operating in cities including Bradford, Manchester, Liverpool and London, all interconnected through a small group of Pakistani businessmen.

One of the colleges, the Cambridge College of Learning, lost its place on the Government’s approved list of education providers after it was raided by the police and the UK Border Agency in December. The two have confirmed that they are investigating a £5 million scam involving up to 2,500 fraudulent visa applications.

The Times has been unable to contact Mr Khan or Mr Bashir. Two of their former business partners are said to have fled to Nigeria and Pakistan. Another is said to be living in the North West of England as an asylum seeker, under an assumed name.

The Times has now visited several British colleges catering for international students. They have smart websites but are far less impressive in reality. Each features the same empty classrooms, the same bored secretaries and the same certificates pinned to the wall, boasting of their acceptance as tuition providers by obscure accreditation bodies. It is a small world.

In most cases, they face no allegations of impropriety. There is no suggestion that any were aware that the laxness of Britain’s student visa system would potentially prove attractive to suspected terrorists.

Yesterday two students studying at the Bradford College of Professional Studies Manchester campus insisted they were genuine students on proper courses. Abdul Kamal Khan, 28, said he came to Britain in 2006 on a student visa from his home near Peshawar. He claimed to be paying £3,500 a year to study for a diploma leading to a degree course in information technology. “It is a good college and I am trying to be a good student,” he said.

Many international students are as dutiful as Abdul Kamal Khan. Some exploit the student visa system to find full-time work in Britain. What no one knows is whether a few of them were planning to blow the system apart.