Blair says deportation of terror suspects won't affect civil liberties
By Karima Rhanem | Morocco TIMES 9/18/2005 | 1:06 pm
British civil rights groups and legal experts said on Friday that Britain's planned anti-terror laws are draconian compared with other countries. However, Prime Minister Tony Blair has defended his government's attempts to deport terror suspects to countries with poor human rights records and denied that Britain's proposed anti-terror legislation would undermine civil liberties.
In an interview with the BBC before leaving New York for London on Thursday, Tony Blair said that other states in Europe were taking similar steps to crackdown on extremists. Blair, who won global support for the need to ban the incitement of terrorism at the UN summit in New York, also played down the failure of the UN to agree on a common definition of terrorism.
"Virtually every country in Europe following terrorist acts, has been toughening its legislation,” Blair said.
"And the fact that someone who comes into our country, and maybe seeks refuge here, the fact that we say if, when you are here, you want to stay here, play by the rules, play fair, don't start inciting people to go and kill other innocent people in Britain," he added.
Blair justified his government draconian anti-terror laws by explaining that "when people say this is an abrogation of our traditional civil liberties, I think it is possible to exaggerate that."
In August, Prime Minister Tony Blair's government announced plans to deport hardline Islamists who incite or glorify militant attacks. Britain has signed agreements with some countries, including Jordan, to return them.
The British government unveiled other plans on Sept. 15 to extend the time police can hold terrorism suspects without charge to three months from two weeks as part of a package of measures to crack down on extremists.
Police have long argued they need more than 14 days to cope with the volume of cases, the need to trawl through electronic evidence and to work with overseas intelligence agencies.
However, civil rights campaigners do not seem convinced nor satisfied with the new proposals. They say three months would be draconian compared to other countries and could backfire.
"These measures, coupled with faulty British intelligence, will increase the witchhunt against Muslims," said Massoud Shadjareh, chairman of the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC).
He added that the proposals "targeted the concept of Islam". The human rights organisation also condemned plans to deport foreign Muslims to countries known for human rights abuses.
As the British government also plans to outlaw the indirect incitement of terrorism and to ban organisations which glorify terrorism, critics say such measures could pose definition problems.
Nearly 40 organisations signed the IHRC statement, which condemned the government's proposed banning of pressure group Hizb al-Tahrir - one of the signatories to the six-point statement.
New arrests to protect Homeland Security
Earlier on Thursday, the British Immigration Service detained seven Algerians in raids in London and Manchester, in accordance with the Home Secretary's powers to deport the individuals whose presence in the UK is not conducive to the public good for reasons of national security.
The Immigration Act 1971 gives powers to deport individuals and to detain them pending deportation. The seven foreign nationals will be held in secure prison service accommodation and their names will not be disclosed.
Official sources said the Algerians were all former defendants accused of involvement in a 2002 plot to manufacture the deadly ricin poison.
Anti-terror proposals and arrests followed the July 7 suicide bombings in London which killed 52 commuters and wounded 700. Britain has since detained 10 foreigners for deportation on the grounds they are threats to security and barred a Muslim cleric. These include British cleric of Jordanian descent, Abu Qatada, previously described by Spanish officials as Osama Ben Laden's “spiritual ambassador in Europe.”
Like Abu Qatada, some of the foreigners detained on Thursday had spent up to three years in jail without trial under sweeping anti-terror legislation until their release in March after Britain's highest court ruled it unlawful. Since then, they have been supervised under so-called control orders, such as curfew or house arrest, and banned from using the telephone or Internet.
Londonstan, a haven for radicals
London has long been a centre for 'Islamist politics'. A framework of lenient asylum laws has allowed the development of the largest and most overt concentration of Islamist political activists since Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. The city's tolerance of exiled dissidents and terrorist sympathizers has attracted a polyglot group of intellectuals, preachers, financiers, arms traders, technology specialists, and forgers.
Radical Islamic exiles value London as a base in part because according to them "the legal system is quite stable and it cannot be influenced by politicians or by public opinion”.
Britain's reputation for providing a safe haven for Islamist terrorists made al-Qaida leader, Ousama Ben Laden, establish his "media office" in London in 1994 under the control of his associate Khalid al Fawwaz.
That office operated freely until 1998 when Fawwaz and two Egyptians who were running it were arrested under US extradition warrants in connection with the bombing of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. All three are staging lengthy and legally-aided battles against extradition. British intelligence officials concede that about 1,000 people have been recruited in Britain over recent years to fight for the Taliban in Afghanistan. Some of those graduated to al-Qaida training camps.
Other leading British Islamist extremists included Sheikh Abu Hamza al Masri and Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed.
Bakri is the leader of al-Muhajiroun, a highly vocal group which apes fringe Left-wing groups in trying to recruit impressionable young members at universities and mosques.
Abu Hamza al Masri, another cleric, received asylum in Britain from Egypt in the late '70s and British citizenship in 1981. He volunteered to fight in Afghanistan in the 1990s, then returned to Britain to preach justifications for violence against those he perceived to be Islam's enemies.
Throughout, Masri met periodically with Britain's intelligence services and anti-terrorism police, who were investigating his activities. The government moved to strip him of citizenship, but only in late 2004 did the Crown Prosecution Service conclude it had enough evidence to bring criminal charges, even though some of the speeches it relied on had taken place years before.
Others included the famous cleric Abu Qatada, who is said to be Ben Laden's “spiritual ambassador in Europe”. He is among the 10 foreign nationals Britain has decided to deport to their countries of origin.
Yasser Tawfiq Sirri, who ran a group called the Islamic Observation Center, was also arrested after 2001. He was mostly known for press releases critical of the Egyptian government.
It wasn't that big surprise that British nationals implemented the 7/7 blasts on London underground system and a double-decker bus. In 2001, Richard Reid, a British convert to Islam, tried to blow up an American Airlines flight with shoes packed with explosives. In 2003, two British Muslims blew themselves up in a Tel Aviv, Israel, bar, killing three people. Meanwhile, British-born "mujahedeen" were found fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan.
A recent report by MI-5, a British domestic intelligence agency, warned that some British Muslim men were travelling to Iraq to fight against the US-led forces there, and may be returning home with radical ideas.
British Islamists criticize Blair's anti-terror plan
Several Islamists in Britain said that anti-terrorism measures have done little to ensure Britain is safe and secure from terrorist attack, but much to infringe the civil liberties of those living in the UK.
In an interview with the Arab weekly magazine Al Watane Al Arabi, Yasser Tawfiq al- Sirri, head of the Islamic Observation Centre in London, said that Blair's proposals follow Bush's path. He added that “Blair wants to turn Britain into a human rights cemetery.”
He said that the British government cannot deport Abu Qatada and others, because the decision was not approved by the parliament and remains just a draft.
The head of a London-based Islamic Centre has been charged with complicity in the suicide bombing that killed Afghan opposition leader Ahmed Shah Massood. Al-Sirri, 38, was detained on 23 October 2001, under Britain's new Terrorism Act.
Al-Sirri's Centre has for years served as a conduit for the messages of Ousama Ben Laden and his al-Qaida network. Besides raising money for Islamist causes, the centre publishes communiqués and articles by Islamist ideologues. Since the start of the US-led war on Afghanistan, al-Sirri's Islamic Observation Centre has also been issuing regular reports on the Jihad in Afghanistan.
On the other hand, the Egyptian Islamic scholar Zaki Badawi, disagree with al-Sirri's ideologies and backed Blair's proposals stating they are as necessary measures for the country's protection. Badawi also urged Britain to have direct dialogue with extremists.
“We do not fight their bodies, we fight their thoughts. If they are expelled, they are going to spread their radical thoughts elsewhere as their followers will see them as victims. Victimization is often their tool to have an impact on the public.”
Badawi was appointed director of the Islamic Cultural Centre (ICC) and Chief Imam of London Central Mosque in Regents Park in 1978. He served in these capacities until the end of 1981. During his time at the ICC, Badawi was instrumental in establishing the Sharia (Islamic Law) Council as a facility to reconcile conflicts between Islamic law and the British civil code. The Sharia Council now operates under the auspices of the Imams and Mosques Council. Badawi was elected chairman of the Imams and Mosques Council by the National Conference of Imams and Mosque Officials of the UK in 1984. He still holds this position.
Badawi has recently been criticized by extremists for having allowed women to take off their veil. He argued that women should be allowed to take off the Hijab, if wearing it threatens their lives.”
Badawi said that those, who think that Islam is reflected in wearing the Hijab, are narrow-minded. “They misuse the freedom offered by Britain to its citizens for a 'fake cause,” he stressed.
“People like Yasser al-Serri have little knowledge of religion, that's why they incite violence in Britain, a country which gave them shelter and refuge,” said Badawi.
When asked whether the legislators would approve Blair's 12-point plan, Badawi said “I think they will agree, because People in Britain are still scared to take the underground. The bombing have generated a great level of fear among Britons, that's why they insist that the government should take severe measures against those people, including Omar Bakri who is banned from returning back to Britain.”
Omar Bakri, a Syrian-born radical Islamist, is the founder of the London branch of Hizb al- Tahrir (the Islamic Liberation Party), and the organisation “Jama'at Al-Muhajirun”. He presents himself as the spokesperson of Ousama Ben Laden's International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders.
He was reported to have left the UK after rumours that the British Government was planning to investigate him (as well as other clerics) under little-used treason laws.
Mohammed Al-Massaari, another radical to be deported from Britain, told Al Watane Al Arabi in August that Blair is a war criminal who wants to hide his crimes by pointing fingers at others.
Al-Massaari thinks that even if the parliament approved Blair's proposals, the Prime Minister will not succeed in expelling radicals out of Britain. The radical Islamist argued that Londonstan will not collapse despite draconian anti-terror measures.
Today, Britain is accused by Ben Laden's followers as backing the Jews and Bush in their war against Islam, while the Jews accuse the UK of harbouring preachers of hate. Does this mean the end of Londonstan? Does this mean a suicide of civil liberties? Britain is in a real dilemma, but the country's Homeland Security remains the government's top priority.