The radical cleric Abu Hamza and a second Muslim leader based in Britain and identified only as "K" were focal points for Islamic extremists in the UK, lawyers representing David Blunkett argued yesterday.
The Home Secretary's legal team was beginning its defence of a controversial anti- terrorism law that has seen 15 foreign suspects locked up in Britain without charge or trial for up to 18 months. Ten of the detainees are appealing to a special commission of judges about their imprisonment.
Wyn Williams, QC, who is representing Mr Blunkett, argued that both Abu Hamza and K preached an extremist message and fostered an environment in which young Muslims could be recruited for extreme causes overseas.
Mr Williams said Abu Hamza, along with the 15 men who were arrested under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 which was introduced by Mr Blunkett after the 11 September attacks, helped support Islamic extremism.
Mr Williams told the Special Immigration Appeals Commission in central London: "K - and to a lesser extent Abu Hamza - has acted as a focal point for extreme Islamic groupings, networks and individuals in the UK drawing together individuals whose antecedents lie in different national agendas and directing attention on shared agendas such as Chechnya and Afghanistan."
All of the arrested suspects have links to extremist clerics, Mr Williams said as he outlined the Government's reasons for detaining the men. He said it was very clear that K shared Osama bin Laden's beliefs and had provided "ideological and religious justification" for the activities of numerous groups.
Under the new law those who are arrested can be held indefinitely if they are suspected of being a threat to national security and having links with international terrorism, but they cannot be deported.
It was alleged that those who have been arrested help the "overlapping and informal networks" of al-Qa'ida that have resulted in at least 28 executed or planned attacks over the past decade. The Government believes that since 11 September Britain is under a greater threat of attack by terrorists, according to papers presented to the commission.
Mr Williams said those arrested had provided "critical assistance" including logistical support ranging from equipment, technology and clothing, for the terrorists.
Ben Emmerson QC, representing three of the suspects, criticised some of the evidence linking the men with international terrorism as "extremely tenuous". He said his clients had been branded as terrorist suspects who threaten national security through a "wholesale misunderstanding" of their activities and their communities.
Under the new law, a detainee has an automatic right of appeal to the commission. If the option is not exercised the case goes to appeal automatically after six months and every three months thereafter.