Algerian cleared of 'ricin plot' fears torture at home

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The Independent Online

Mouloud Sihali was cleared last year of involvement in the so-called "ricin plot" to release deadly poison in the streets. He was one of three defendants who walked free in the case only to be served with notice four months later that they were to be expelled from Britain on national security grounds.

The Government is trying to strike a deal with Algeria, which has long been accused of torturing prisoners, so that terrorist suspects returned there will not be harmed.

But lawyers for Algerians being held for deportation have warned any such memorandum of understanding(MOU) would be worthless and their clients' lives would be jeopardised if they were returned to their home country.

Mr Sihali, 29, said: I don't know what will happen to me if I go back to Algeria. Will I be prosecuted? Will I be persecuted? That's what I fear.

"I want to clear my name before I even try to go, or think of going, back to my country. I can't go back now; you are accusing me of suspicion of being involved in some kind of terrorism.

"Do you think my country will let me go? I don't think so."

Mr Sihali fled Algeria after refusing to do a spell of national service. He arrived in Britain in 1997.

He filed an application for asylum five years later, after being arrested by immigration officers.

The subsequent investigation led to accusations of providing a safe house for terrorists. Last year he was cleared of conspiracy to commit murder and conspiracy to cause a public nuisance. Mr Sihali was sentenced to 15 months' imprisonment on a charge of using false identities, but was released because of the amount of time he had already served in custody.

Mr Sihali told Radio 4's Today programme: "I am innocent, they showed the jury every single bit of information found in my home and they got the intelligence from the Algerian authorities. They dug into my life in its entirety and they cleared me in my trial.

"My entire life is ruined. I can never recover. My name is all over the internet, my entire life is published. Being targeted by the Government, by the police, secret services, the Home Office - what next?

"Nobody wants to speak to me. I lost [all my] friends, nobody wants to come to visit me because nobody wants to become a suspected terrorist."

Mr Sihali's solicitor, Natalia Garcia, said: "To seek to deport him to a country where he will be tortured if returned on the basis of the same material again is the height of injustice."

One juror who served in the "ricin case" said yesterday he was appalled by the treatment meted out to Mr Sihali and the other acquitted defendants.

The juror said: "From the police interviews, and the cross examination, there was very little to support that these people were terrorists or a threat to national security.

"I think it's outrageous that these people have been through the trial process, found not guilty and yet are still suspected of being terrorists and a threat to national security."

Next month, the Special Immigration Appeals Committee (SIAC), which examines evidence against those detained under anti-terrorist legislation, will hear the case for releasing Mr Sihali and other detainees. SIAC had given the Home Office until yesterday to update it on how close the Government had come to signing an MOU with Algeria. But there was no sign last night that such a deal was imminent.

A Home Office spokesman said: "Negotiations are ongoing with a number of countries to secure MOUs.

He added: "We do not believe that individuals who are not British nationals and who pose a threat to national security to the United Kingdom should be allowed to remain in this country."