MI5 'left al-Qa'ida informant to rot in Guantanamo Bay'

Severin Carrell
Sunday 05 June 2005 00:00
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The British security service has been accused of abandoning a former operative in Guantanamo Bay after they recruited him as a go- between with the Islamist radical Abu Qatada.

The British security service has been accused of abandoning a former operative in Guantanamo Bay after they recruited him as a go- between with the Islamist radical Abu Qatada.

In new revelations, Bisher al-Rawi, a British resident held at the American prison in Cuba, says that MI5 persuaded him to become their unpaid intermediary with the alleged al-Qa'ida leader by promising they would help him if he ran into trouble.

Yet Mr al-Rawi, whose family fled from Iraq to Britain when he was 16, was seized by the CIA in Gambia, West Africa, in November 2002 and secretly flown to Afghanistan and then Cuba as a suspected al-Qa'ida supporter.

His lawyers believe British intelligence tipped off the US about his trip to Gambia, and illegally "rendered" him into US custody. They claim the UK failed to help Mr al-Rawi once he was seized. Brent Mickum, his American lawyer, has written to Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, and Eliza Manningham-Buller, the head of MI5, making detailed allegations about the UK's role.

Whitehall sources admit Mr al-Rawi's claims will embarrass ministers, who are now pressing for his release, along with at least four other detainees with very close family ties to the UK. The Home Office, which oversees MI5, faces accusations from lawyers that it is blocking the Foreign Office's attempts to strike a deal with the US by refusing to give the men special leave to return to the UK. It has refused family requests to discuss the men's cases. Despite having had official residency in Britain, they face repatriation to their countries of origin where, it is feared, they face harassment and torture.

Mr al-Rawi's allegations shed light on MI5 operations to infiltrate radical Islamists and suspected terrorists in the UK after al-Qa'ida's attacks on New York and the Pentagon on 11 September 2001.

In the letter, seen by The Independent on Sunday, Mr al-Rawi alleges that:

* He was recruited by MI5 weeks after 11 September as a neutral intermediary with Abu Qatada, who allegedly had links with MI5 despite being accused of being al-Qa'ida's "spiritual leader" and Osama bin Laden's "ambassador" in Europe.

* MI5 always knew where Abu Qatada was hiding after he fled his home in west London hours before new powers to detain suspects without charge came into force in December 2001. He lived at Elephant & Castle, close to MI5's headquarters, for nine months before being arrested.

* Throughout this time, Mr al-Rawi had "numerous" meetings with three MI5 agents - "Alex", "Matthew" and "Martin" - in hotels and bars in London, passingmessages between them and Abu Qatada.

* After Mr al-Rawi expressed anxieties his safety was at risk from his contacts with MI5, a service lawyer "assured" him that it would "aid him in his defence [and] would appear as witnesses on his behalf".

Mr Mickum has told Mr Clarke and MI5 his client plans to name the MI5 agents who handled him and disclose details about his recruitment. Earlier this year, the IoS revealed that the US authorities had asked the Government to allow the three agents to give evidence at his hearing at Guantanamo. The UK refused.

Mr Mickum said his client is adamant he only became involved because he believed it would help Mr Qatada, who had been his family's friend.

Mr Qatada's lawyers insist his contacts with MI5 were part of the agency's routine, but in his case fruitless, attempts to gather intelligence on Islamist groups in the UK. They deny allegations from other radicals that he betrayed other Islamist groups.

Mr Mickum said: "He is completely innocent... The British government is responsible for his arrest by the Americans, who have tortured and abused him over a lengthy period of time."

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