Nine of the 11 men being held following a major anti-terror operation in the North-west of England were released last night but will face the prospect of deportation on the grounds of national security.
The men, all believed to be Pakistani nationals, were arrested earlier this month following a hastily brought forward operation in the wake of an extraordinary security blunder from Scotland Yard's most senior anti-terrorism officer. Two of the men who were arrested were still being questioned by detectives last night.
The failure to bring charges on the nine will leave further question marks hanging over the affair. It was claimed police had been acting to break up an alleged al-Qa'ida cell preparing a major bomb attack somewhere in the UK.
Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick was forced to resign after being photographed entering Downing Street openly carrying a file bearing details of the highly sensitive covert operation.
The operation followed a long and painstaking surveillance by officers in Manchester, Liverpool and Lancashire, and the decision to bring the raids forward raised immediate fears that the success of the swoops, carried out in broad daylight during rush-hour traffic, might be compromised. Hundreds of officers including armed members of the North-west Counter Terrorism Unit were deployed 13 days ago, detaining suspects at a series of addresses including the library of John Moores University in Liverpool and a guest house in Clitheroe.
One man who was arrested during the initial operation was later released. Searches are continuing at an address at Galsworthy Avenue in Cheetham Hill, Manchester. Police said they had been acting to protect the public.
Earlier this week, the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith insisted that the operation had not been jeopardised by Mr Quick, saying it "did not make any difference to the decision to carry out arrests – it simply changed the timing by a matter of hours".
Yesterday a statement by Greater Manchester Police said the men, aged between 22 and 38, had now been released into the custody of the UK Borders Agency.
A spokesman said: "These arrests were carried out after a number of UK agencies gathered information that indicated a potential risk to public safety. Officers are continuing to review a large amount of information gathered as part of this investigation. Investigations of this nature are extremely complex. We remain grateful for the support and co-operation of the communities affected."
A Home Office spokesman said: "We are seeking to remove these individuals on grounds of national security. Where a foreign national poses a threat to this country we will seek to exclude or to deport, where this is appropriate." The Home Office tightened rules surrounding student visas in the wake of the arrests following fears entry rules had been exploited.
The nine men have the right to contest deportation. Last night lawyer Mohammed Ayub, who is representing three of them, called for the deportation order to be "revoked" in place of an independent enquiry "so lessons can be learned as to how this investigation got it so terribly wrong".Reuse content