UK won't send terrorists to their death

Click to follow

Wanted terrorists extradited to the United States under new "fast track" procedures will not face the death penalty for their role in the 11 September massacre.

David Blunkett and EU home affairs ministers are ready to meet European human rights legislation by seeking guarantees that members of the Osama bin Laden's terrorist network will not be executed if they are extradited.

The Home Secretary is rushing forward legislation to end the delays in extradition which can take years. However, under article 3 of the European Court of Human Rights, extradition can be blocked if the suspects could face capital punishment.

Sources close to Mr Blunkett have told The Independent on Sunday that the new fast track measures to be introduced as part of an emergency counter-terrorism package will include a provision specifically to ensure that there will be no threat of the death penalty in the US or other countries.

"Article 3 of the ECHR is inviolable. It says you cannot send people back to a country where they may face torture or other forms of per- secution. The death penalty would fit into that category," said the source.

"We have had ad hoc arrangements on a case by case basis with an explicit agreement the courts in the US do not exercise the death penalty if suspects are extradited. We will be introducing a protocol to put those agreements on a more sure footing."

The US has long been seeking the extradition of three alleged members of the al- Qa'ida organisation in connection with the African embassy bombings in 1998, one of them since September 1998 and two since July 1999.

At least two suspects on remand in Britain are on the FBI's most wanted list. Lofti Raissi is being held on minor charges of deception as the American authorities prepare a case for extradition on charges which could include conspiracy to murder. It is alleged he trained the suicide pilots.

And Algerian Amar Makhlulif, 36, also known by the surname Doha and as "the Doc- tor", has been named by US prosecutors as a key figure in Bin Laden's terror network.

Some American states still retain the death penalty and US public opinion is likely to be enraged by seeking to tie the hands of its courts to prevent terrorists being executed.

New measures will include changes to the Immigration and Asylum Act to stop terrorist suspects from proscribed groups claiming refugee status; the authorities will get full access to the passenger lists of airlines and shipping firms; and exit stamps at ports may be reintroduced. A third Bill, to introduce a "green card" system allowing skilled economic migrants to enter Britain legally, is also being prepared.

Laws against incitement to racial hatred and racial violence will be widened to cover religious hatred. Frank Dobson, the former health secretary, has called for the reforms to include the abolition of the offence of blasphemy. He told the IoS that Christianity should be treated on an equal footing with other religions, and blasphemy – which only protects the Christian religion – should be scrapped.