New laws 'risk criminalising all Muslim groups'

Terror in America: Legal Response
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The Independent Online

European plans to crack down on suspected terrorist groups provoked fears yesterday that the move would be used to "criminalise" Britain's Muslim communities.

The proposed new laws, which were already in train before last week's attacks in the US, are being rushed into force by EU member states to try to combat further Islamist terrorist threats.

As well as cross-border arrest warrants and the relaxation of extradition laws, the European Commission is proposing much wider definitions of what is a terrorist group and what constitutes a terrorist act.

The civil rights group Liberty warned that the proposals could lead to unfair targeting of Muslim groups.

Liberty's campaigns director, Mark Littlewood, said: "The worry is that with one stroke of the Home Secretary's pen all Islamic groups will become proscribed groups under Britain's Terrorism Act. The danger is this could lead to criminalising of these communities."

The human rights charity Fair Trials Abroad added to this concern by warning of "witch-hunts" in the coming weeks as suspects from extremist Islamic organisations were taken in for questioning.

Stephen Jakobi, director of Fair Trials, said: "Fast-track extradition will not only expose increasing numbers of innocent citizens from EU countries to injustice and abuse of their fundamental rights, it will also mean they will be uprooted from their own countries to spend weeks if not months in foreign prisons whilst the investigation goes on.

"If you are dragged from your home and then sent to a country where you don't know the law, it should be a matter for the courts to decide whether you should go."

He said that leaving that decision to a government minister was more than just "cutting corners", it was a direct assault on an individual's human rights.

Similar concerns have been raised over US moves to bring in stricter laws to help combat suspected terrorist groups.

This week John Ashcroft, the US Attorney General, proposed a package of legislation which would greatly expand the use of wire taps and internet monitoring, as well as tighten immigration laws and make money-laundering inquiries easier to complete.

He justified the new laws saying that the FBI needed the powers because of "our belief that associates of the hijackers may be a continuing presence in the US".

The EU plans require the endorsement of member governments.