A Pakistani student arrested in a major police anti-terror swoop on Manchester used coded emails apparently about his relationship with his girlfriend to discuss a major terror plot, an immigration court heard yesterday.
The 23-year-old was days away from executing an attack against an "unspecified target" when he was arrested, it was claimed. The man, who can be named only as XC, was living in Cheetham Hill, Manchester, when he was detained by police in April as part of Operation Pathway.
No charges were brought against the student because of a lack of evidence, but the Home Office is seeking to deport him on the grounds that he poses a threat to national security. At a bail hearing before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, lawyers for XC argued that he should be released on bail pending the outcome of his case.
Richard Hermer QC, for XC, criticised the case against his client and said it contained "not one jot of evidence" linking him to bomb-making. The Government's evidence file was made up of eight emails sent or received between December last year and April, markings on an A-Z, and observations of XC meeting with friends, he said.
Analysis by the Security Service (MI5) of the emails suggested the words "weak and difficult to convince" referred to a low-concentration explosive liquid, and "crystal clear" to other chemicals – despite being used in the context of a normal conversation about women, Mr Hermer said.
In putting such an interpretation on "entirely innocuous" emails, the Government was guilty of imposing a hidden meaning where there was none, Mr Hermer said. "If you look for meaning and that's the purpose for which you do it, that's bias. What's missing is any consideration of the evidence as to whether there is a totally benign explanation for the messages."
He told Mr Justice Mitting, sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice in central London, that Greater Manchester Police had found the girl who was the subject of the messages and she confirmed she was in a relationship with XC. But he said that information had not been passed to the commission. He added: "The case against him is palpably weak and inherently flawed. It amounts to nothing and for this reason the appellant should be given his liberty."
Robin Tam QC, for the Home Secretary, said XC should be denied bail on the basis of the MI5 assessment that he was a risk to national security. There was also a danger XC would abscond, he said. Earlier this month it was revealed that two of the 11 men arrested in the raids across the North-west were no longer considered a security risk. Sultan Sher and Janus Khan, who have been bailed, now face deportation on the grounds of "visa irregularities".
Explaining the reasons for dropping the case against them, Mr Tam said it had not been possible to prove that the men were "directly complicit in the conspiracy", but he said both were part of the "Islamist extremist network".
Of the remaining men held during the raid, one has joint British and Pakistani citizenship and has been released. Another has returned to Pakistan voluntarily and an Afghan man is in custody pending deportation for being in the UK illegally. The rest face deportation on the grounds that like XC they pose a national security risk.
The case continues.