Gordon Brown shook hands yesterday with terror suspects who had been locked up in Guantanamo Bay because of their alleged links to al-Qa'ida. The surprise encounter came when the Prime Minister, who is on a four day tour of Gulf states, visited a "correctional centre" in Saudi Arabia for Islamist extremists who are being "deradicalised".
He spoke to five men accused of supporting terrorism, including two who were held in Guantanamo Bay for six years each before being turned over to the Saudi authorities.
One told Mr Brown he had been in the "wrong place at the wrong time" and fell in with extremists. He is now married, is about to become a father and hopes to pursue a career in computing. The PM wished him good luck.
Another man, who did not give his name, said the rehabilitation project on the outskirts of the Saudi capital, Riyadh, was the "best thing that ever happened to me". He said: "It changed my ideology."
The terror sympathisers are kept in secure halfway houses with facilities such as gyms and swimming pools while imams give them lessons on moderate Islam. When they are deemed safe, they are allowed to rejoin the community.
Before leaving Saudi Arabia for Qatar, Mr Brown claimed victory in his efforts to persuade the region's oil-rich states to pump money into the International Monetary Fund to help stabilise the global economy.
He said he thought the Gulf states would now hand over some of the $1trillion (£620bn) windfall they have reaped from soaring oil prices. "People want to invest both in helping the world get through this very difficult period of time but also ... to work with us so we are less dependent on oil and have more stability in oil prices. The Saudis will, I think, contribute, so we can have a bigger fund worldwide."
Mr Brown delivered another strong hint that the Bank of England could reduce interest rates further this week, saying the "trend around the world is to respond to falling oil prices and falling food prices" with cuts.
The PM again dodged questions over whether the Government's spending plans would be increased during the downturn – rather than borrowing merely rising to compensate for lower tax revenues and bigger unemployment benefit bills.
But he hit out at Tory concern over increased state debt, saying they were the "last vestige of that old right-wing view that you should not borrow so that you can invest in the future".
He won backing from Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim, the ruler of Qatar, for his calls for greater stability in the oil prices, which fell from a high of $147 a barrel in July to below $65 last week.
"We wish that we have a fixed price, but this is a market need (to have a variable oil price)," the Sheikh told a joint press conference with Mr Brown. "The price level that we think is fair is between $70 and $90."Reuse content