Blunkett snubs US over terror claim

Attempts by the United States to extradite a London bookseller, who it says has given money to the al-Qa'ida terror network, were rejected yesterday by Britain.

The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, ruled that the US judicial authorities did not have sufficient evidence to justify the extradition of Yasser al-Siri, 39, who was discharged on the orders of a district judge in London.

Mr Blunkett's decision represents another significant setback for foreign governments that try to have terror suspects living in Britain extradited to face trial, and will infuriate Washington, which was determined to pursue a case against Mr Siri as part of its ongoing "war against terrorism".

Since 11 September, America's efforts at prosecuting alleged members of al-Qa'ida have provided virtually no results. The only suspect facing charges in connection with the attacks on New York and Washington is the French citizen Zacarias Moussaoui, whose trial, scheduled for 30 September, looks likely to descend into farce.

A judgment is due today on whether nine suspected terrorists detained in Britain after the 11 September atrocities are being held lawfully.

Mr Justice Collins, sitting at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, will decide whether the internment, under powers created in the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, are a breach of the suspects' human rights not to be detained without charge or trial.

Last month, two High Court judges quashed an order that Mr Blunkett had signed for the extradition of the Algerian-born Rachid Ramda, who was wanted by French authorities for bombing attacks on the Paris Metro in 1995. And French, Spanish and Jordanian officials are dismayed by Britain's failure to take action against the Muslim cleric Abu Qatada, who has been living in Britain for nine years and has been described by a Spanish court as the spiritual leader of the al-Qa'ida network in Europe.

The US government also failed to extradite the Algerian-born Lotfi Raissi, who it claims helped train the hijackers responsible for the 11 September attacks. A British magistrate said in May that there was "no evidence" that Mr Raissi was involved in terrorism.

Mr Blunkett had until yesterday to decide whether there was a case for extraditing Mr Siri, who has lived in Britain for eight years. The Egyptian had been remanded on bail at a hearing two weeks ago.

The US extradition warrant alleged that between 6 May and 14 May 2001, Mr Siri provided money for Ahmed Abdel Rahman for al-Qa'ida "knowing or having reasonable cause to suspect that the money would or may be used for the purpose of terrorism within the jurisdiction of the Government of the USA". Rahman, a blind Egyptian cleric, is serving a life sentence for the first bombing of the World Trade Centre in 1993 and a later plot to unleash a "day of terror" on New York.

A charge against Mr Siri of conspiring to murder the anti-Taliban Afghan leader General Shah Massoud was dropped at the Old Bailey earlier this year.

Mr Siri, who lives in Maida Vale, north-west London, and runs the Islamic Observation Centre bookshop in Paddington, central London, said the case would turn out to be "another American funny story".

He said: "The Americans want to silence everybody as they do not believe in freedom of speech. This is a system President Bush wants to implement because he does not want America's crimes against innocent people to be exposed ... MI5 and British Intelligence are just doing whatever they can to help the Americans."

The US Justice Department, which applied for Mr Siri's extradition, declined to comment last night, saying: "Any reaction would first be made to the [British] Government."

Roger Bingham, a spokesman for the human rights group Liberty, said the British protections against extradition were "there for a reason".