Suspect held at 'mini-Guantanamo' for three years released by Blunkett

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The Independent Online

David Blunkett's emergency anti-terrorism laws came under fire last night after he ruled a suspect interned without trial for nearly three years no longer posed a national threat.

David Blunkett's emergency anti-terrorism laws came under fire last night after he ruled a suspect interned without trial for nearly three years no longer posed a national threat.

The Home Secretary was accused of running a "mini-Guantanamo" after the suspect, who was accused of being linked to al-Qa'ida and Algerian terrorists, was released without charge. The Algerian asylum-seeker, who is in his early 30s, is now free to live in Britain.

The man, known only as "D", is one of 12 foreign nationals being held without trial or charge at high-security jails in treatment that has been likened to the detention of suspects in Guantanamo Bay. There has also been growing evidence that the 12 detainees are suffering mental health problems - chiefly because they have no idea when they will be released.

D was among the first foreigners to be held under the emergency measures passed within weeks of the 11 September atrocities, and has been in prison since 17 December 2001. Just 11 weeks ago D was being described by an independent commission as a terrorist supporter and a threat to national security, yet the Home Office was unable to reveal why he was now a free man.

His solicitor said he was "speechless" when he was told yesterday morning that the Home Secretary had decided D should be released from Woodhill Prison, near Milton Keynes.

Natalia Garcia, a lawyer from the firm Tyndallwoods, said her client "was totally choked when I told him he was being released.

"He feels he's been locked up for three years just on a whim."

"He has been badly affected by his time in prison ... and has become depressed and anxious about his treatment."

She added: "There is no explanation for why they have released him, just as we were never given details of why he was detained in the first place."

D lost an appeal against his imprisonment in October last year when the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) backed the Home Secretary's decision to imprison him because of alleged links with the Algerian terror organisation, GIA, and al-Qa'ida. He had previously been arrested and prosecuted in France in 1994 for membership of the GIA.

His detention was upheld again by SIAC in July, when it concluded: "We accept D has a history of involvement in terrorist support activity and has the ability and commitment ... to resume those activities were he to be at liberty in the UK."

But Mr Blunkett issued a statement yesterday in which he said: "I have concluded ... that the weight of evidence in relation to 'D' at the current time does not justify the continuance of the certificate [that allows for his internment]." A Home Office spokeswoman said Mr Blunkett "has always been clear that if new information came to light or if there were changes in any circumstances, he would act upon those".

The Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 permits the indefinite internment of foreign nationals suspected of international terrorism provided they cannot be charged or removed from Britain.

But Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "Unless Belmarsh is to become our Guantanamo Bay, the Home Secre- tary must rethink it, so that people are either charged on the basis of evidence or released."

Robert Marshall-Andrews, the Labour MP and barrister, said: "It does our reputation terrible damage that we should operate our own mini-Guantan- amo in the middle of Britain."

Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights group Liberty, said: "The Home Secretary is acting as judge and jury in relation to [D] and all of those detainees still held."