The Government was facing serious questions over its anti-terror policies last night after a Somali-born extremist became the first person to abscond while the subject of new monitoring powers imposed by Theresa May, the Home Secretary.
Ibrahim Magag, 28, was last seen on Boxing Day in north London. Police have alerted all ports and airports amid fears that he is heading to Somalia to join the ranks of some 50 British jihadists operating in and around the country.
Mr Magag – who was said to have arranged finances for al-Qa'ida associates – had been barred from the capital to stop him mixing with a group of Britons who are believed to have backed extremist associates in East Africa. But he was allowed to return to his London home from "internal exile" in the West Country when the Government introduced new anti-terror orders at the start of 2012, after a long-running controversy over whether the previous rules breached human rights. At least two other men have breached the terms of their Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPims) in 2012. The orders can force the suspect to stay overnight at a specified address, report to a police station every day and prevent them travelling abroad. Mr Magag, who was last spotted wearing a khaki robe in Camden on Boxing Day evening, was one of just 10 men subject to the orders. Mrs May applied to the High Court yesterday to have an anonymity order lifted against him to aid the police hunt. However, speculation was growing last night that he had fled to Somalia. Mr Magag was named as part of a British cell of extremists with access to false passports, money and documents in a court hearing in July.
Scotland Yard said last night that he should not be approached but is "not considered at this time to represent a direct threat to the British public".
Court papers named Mr Magag as an associate of a man known only as "CC", who had fought on the front line in Somalia in support of al-Shabaab. The al-Qa'ida-linked group is blamed for thousands of deaths including of Western aid workers.
Mr Magag was said to have flown to Somalia in 2007 and was detained in Dubai on his return in possession of three mobile phones and thousands of dollars. While in custody, he tried to swallow a piece of paper containing telephone numbers.
After his return to Britain, he was ordered to move to the West Country in 2009 to disrupt his extremist activities. His return to London sparked a political row as counter-terrorism officials were gearing up for the huge security operation before the Olympics.
Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Parliamentary Home Affairs Select Committee, said the failure of the TPim regime in the Magag case was a cause for serious concern. "How was this able to happen, bearing in mind that assurances have been given by ministers that the procedures would protect the public?" he said. "I have asked for a full explanation."
New order: The UK's terror measures
Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPims) replaced control orders at the start of last year. The main differences are:
* Control orders had to be renewed annually but were otherwise indefinite. TPims last for two years but are renewed only if new evidence is presented.
* Forced relocation was allowed under control orders, but not now.
* Suspects subject to TPims can apply to spend a night at a different address to their residence. This wasn't possible under control orders.
* Rules relating to whom a suspect can communicate have been relaxed slightly by TPims.
* Control orders barred internet access. TPims allow it, but on the condition that passwords are passed to the security services.