Deportation fight looms as police arrest 10 Islamic extremists

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The Independent Online

Human rights lawyers said the Government's actionscould result in innocent people being deported to Algeria and Jordan, where they could face torture and other inhumane treatment. Lawyers are preparing to challenge the Home Secretary in a renewed legal clash that could drag on for years.

Among those detained in a series of early morning raids was Abu Qatada, a Jordanian cleric previously described as "al-Qa'ida's ambassador to Europe". Mr Qatada is one of seven men detained yesterday who had been held at Belmarsh Prison in south-east London but freed after a landmark House of Lords ruling.

The cleric and the other six "Belmarsh" suspects - all Algerians - detained yesterday were being held under the controversial control orders. The seven, plus three other men, were detained after raids in London, Luton, West Midlands, and Leicestershire and taken to different prisons.

Meanwhile, Omar Bakri Mohammed, the Islamic extremist cleric who left Britain at the weekend, was arrested by Lebanese security forces in Beirut but is thought to have been released later. The Home Office is drawing up measures to prevent Mr Bakri from returning to the UK.

Yesterday's raids were prompted by the growing frustration within the Government at the apparent inability of the courts and police to tackle extremists thought to constitute a threat to national security but against whom there is no evidence of criminal activity.

The Home Office has agreed a deal with Jordan that deportees will not be mistreated. They are working on similar agreements with Algeria, Lebanon and other countries.

The Home Secretary already has the power under the 1971 Immigration Act to deport foreigners he believes pose a threat to national security. But under international law, Charles Clarke has been prevented from deporting people to countries where they face inhumane treatment.

"The circumstances of our national security has changed. It is vital that we act against those who threaten it," the Home Secretary said. "Following months of diplomatic work we now have got reason to believe that we can get the necessary assurances from the countries to which we will return the deportees, so that they will not be subject to torture or ill-treatment."

Mr Qatada, 44, faces being sent back to his homeland of Jordan, where he has been convicted of terrorism in his absence. He was granted asylum 10 years ago but arrested in 2002 and described by a British judge as "a truly dangerous individual".

Human rights groups yesterday expressed their distrust of the "memorandum of agreement" with Jordan, arguing that the Jordanian government has been accused of torture by the United Nations and Amnesty International.

Gareth Peirce, who represents a number of former Belmarsh detainees who have now been held, said yesterday's arrests were "insane and dangerous government at its worst".

Among the men detained is an Algerian, who cannot be named for legal reasons, who arrived in the UK in 1995,and is accused of fundraising for terrorist groups with loose links to Osama bin Laden.

Other Algerian detainees are believed to include a man who arrived from Spain in 1998 claiming asylum as a draft evader. He absconded from Yarlswood Detention Centre after a fire in February 2002 but was rearrested in September 2002.

Another man in his thirties is alleged to have provided satellite phones for extremists. A fourth arrived in Britain in 1993 and is accused of involvement with a group said to have links to Bin Laden and al-Qa'ida and to sponsor young Muslims to go to Afghanistan for jihad.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of the civil rights group Liberty, said: "What separates us from the terrorists is that we do not torture people or send them to be tortured. It should take more than self-serving assurances to demonstrate that countries with a human rights record such as Jordan's are safe."

An Amnesty spokesman, Mike Blakemore, said: "The assurances of known torturers, many of whom deny the use of torture even when it is widely documented - are not worth the paper they are written on."

The Belmarsh saga

DECEMBER 2001: Nine foreign nationals taken to Belmarsh under laws allowing the Home Secretary to detain without trial foreign nationals he suspects of terrorism but cannot deport because it would endanger their life.

16 DECEMBER 2004: Law lords rulepart of Government's anti-terror legislation incompatible with European Convention on Human Rights.

11 MARCH 2005: All foreign terror suspects detained without charge are released on bail, many on "control orders" in effect placing the men under house arrest. Three others are put in Broadmoor high security hospital. In total 11 people from Belmarsh are eventually placed on control orders.

13 MARCH 2005: Anti-terrorist laws introduced in the wake of 11 September attacks expire.

11 AUGUST: 10 suspected extremistsseized and imprisoned as Government announces attempt to have them deported.