Blunkett wrong to talk about suspect, says Lord Falconer

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The Independent Online

Claims that David Blunkett jeopardised any possible trial of a terror suspect were fuelled yesterday when another Cabinet minister said it was "wrong" to talk in detail about the case.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, appeared to distance himself from the Home Secretary who provoked criticism from politicians and civil rights lawyers for his comments following the arrest of Sajid Badat, 24, a suspected Islamic extremist.

Within hours of police raiding Mr Badat's home in Gloucester on Thursday, Mr Blunkett made his comments on national television. A day later the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith QC, issued a warning to the media reminding of the dangers of pre-trial publicity in high-profile cases.

Yesterday Lord Falconer told Sky television: "It is a matter for him [Mr Blunkett] as to what he says. It is wrong to comment in detail in relation to the particular facts at this particular moment."

But Lord Falconer, asked if he meant that Mr Blunkett had been wrong to say what he did, replied: "I am not saying that. As far as I am concerned it is wrong at this stage to talk in detail about that particular case."

Police who arrested Mr Badat were continuing to question him at Paddington Green station in west London last night. Detectives have to decide whether to charge him, release him or apply for a further 36-hour extension to hold him, up to the seven-day deadline on Thursday morning.

Gloucestershire Police confirmed that a forensic search of Mr Badat's home in St James Street, where it is alleged that a "relatively small amount" of explosives had been found, was continuing. At the weekend, Sussex Police said they were detaining six men, bringing to nine the total number arrested in Britain under anti-terror laws in the past week.

The men, all of North African origin and in their mid-20s, were arrested last week in Eastbourne, East Sussex, by officers investigating a "large-scale" cheque and credit-card fraud. One man was held on Tuesday night and the others on Thursday and Friday. Two are from Eastbourne, two from Hastings and two from London.

Police said there was no connection to other arrests made under anti-terror laws last week. Two other men detained in anti-terror raids last week have been released. A 33-year-old man arrested under the Terrorism Act after raids by armed police in Birmingham on Thursday was released without charge. He had been arrested on the same day as Mr Badat and 39-year-old James McLintock, known as the "Tartan Taliban". He is an aid worker and Muslim convert known as Yaqub Mohammed, arrested on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in 2001. Mr McLintock was detained by police in Manchester and released the following day.

In the past week, scores of arrests have been made in a co-ordinated operations in four other countries. On Friday, Italian authorities claimed to have cracked a cell of Islamic terrorists that was recruiting suicide bombers to die in Iraq. Three North Africans, two men and a women, were arrested in Italy suspected of "subversive association for the purpose of international terrorism", an offence created after the 11 September attacks in America.

The man Italian authorities claim is the leader of the gang, an Algerian in his 30s called Mahjoub Abderrazak, was picked up in Hamburg. German authorities say they plan to extradite him to stand trial in Italy. A fifth suspect, Mullah Fouad, may have left the country.

Italy's efforts to frustrate the plans of Islamic terrorists were galvanised by the killing of 19 Italians in southern Iraq by a suicide bomber two weeks ago. Since then, it has expelled seven North Africans it accused of being connected to militant groups, and a Senegalese-born imam in Turin who publicly supported Osama bin Laden.

In Kenya, more than two dozen al-Qa'ida suspects, including some on the FBI most wanted list, have been held. They are accused of the 1998 car bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi and the attack on a coastal resort in Mombasa in November 2002.

And France is raising its terror alert level for the Christmas period although no specific threat has been noted. The alert means the possibility of a terror attack is considered plausible and increases police presence in public places such as railway stations, airports and maritime ports. Police are also making spot-checks of people in these places.