Lawyers try to block release of terror suspect held for year

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The Independent Online

Government lawyers tried yesterday to block the release of a Libyan man who has been held without trial for more than a year under anti-terrorism legislation.

Government lawyers tried yesterday to block the release of a Libyan man who has been held without trial for more than a year under anti-terrorism legislation.

Counsel for David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, asked Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, to overturn a ruling by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission that found there was "no reasonable suspicion" justifying the continuing detention of the man. The commission ruled last week that the detention of the unnamed 37-year-old at Belmarsh maximum security prison without charge or trial was based on misleading evidence.

The detainee, known as M, is one of 13 people held under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act, and is the first to appeal successfully against his detention. Wyn Williams QC, representing the Home Secretary, told the High Court that the commission had admitted that M, who has been imprisoned for 16 months, was a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). He said: "It is clear from the open judgement that the commission accepted that that was an extremist Islamic organisation."

He said that, although this was admitted, the reason the certificates for M's detention were issued was based on M's links with terrorist organisations other than the LIFG. He said the commission judges accepted that M had fought with fellow mujahedin in Afghanistan in about 1992 and that, in Libya, he had been involved in procuring arms to attack the regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. He added that there was evidence, accepted by commission, that M had transferred money to a suspectlinked with al-Qa'ida.

Mr Williams said it was a central point of the appeal that the commission accepted that M, by his actions, had provided support and assistance to al-Qa'ida and its associated networks.

The Anti-terrorism Act, introduced after the 11 September attacks in the US, allows for the detention without charge or trial of foreign nationals suspected of involvement in international terrorism, but who the Government is unable to deport.

Ben Emmerson QC, representing M, said the commission had to decide whether there was reasonable suspicion after evaluating the evidence and individual assessments. The commission found, after cross-examination, that the assessments of M on which the Home Secretary relied were not supported by the evidence, said Mr Emmerson. He said the judges found that some of the assessments were "clearly misleading" and others only justified if the worst possible view was taken of them.

He said: "The Special Immigration Appeals Commission found that the assessments were inaccurate. What may appear to be reasonable suspicion to the Secretary of State is no longer justified when the statutory test is applied."

In last week's ruling, the judges said: "There can be no doubt that al-Qa'ida and those who support its aims do constitute a very real threat. However, although we pay the greatest respect to the views of the respondent [the Home Secretary] and those who advise him, we would be failing in our duty if we did not act on our own judgment. We believe that the assessments placed before us and the respondent are not reliable and that reasonable suspicion is not established."

Lord Woolf, heading a panel of three judges in the High Court, is expected to decide today whether to allow the Home Secretary's appeal.