UK - Algerian Once Considered A Threat Set Free
Scoop Report: UK - Algerian “Threat To National Security” Released
By Yasmine Ryan
The United Kingdom government has released an Algerian who had been imprisoned on the basis of a security risk certificate issued against him. The secret information held allegedly linked him to an Algerian terrorist organisation.
The United Kingdom was unable to deport him to Algeria as it could not guarantee his safety. Therefore it had kept the man in detention without charge.
The Algerian concerned is not Ahmed Zaoui, and it was the British government, not our own, that admitted its evidence was lacking. The Algerian concerned is known only to the public as “D”.
UK Home Secretary David Blunkett announced on Monday 20 September: “I have concluded, on the basis of all the information available to me, that the weight of evidence in relation to D at the current time does not justify the continuance of the certificate.”
“D” was released from Woodhill high security prison the same day.
Blunkett’s decision shows a dramatic change in his stance over the Algerian. In October 2003, D lost a landmark appeal against his detention made to the Special Appeals Commission. Blunkett told the Commission that D was an “active supporter” of the Algerian terrorist organisation known as the GIA (Groupe Islamique Armée), and that he had been involved in procuring “terrorist-related equipment.” And as recently as eleven weeks ago an independent commission confirmed he was a terrorist supporter and a threat to national security.
A more detailed explanation for the release was not offered, and the Home Secretary has been able to hide behind the secrecy that shrouds issues related to terrorism. Although welcoming of the release, Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said: "The irony is that the Home Secretary's decision is, like the internment process itself, secretive, part of a shadow justice system rather than the rule of law."
Natalia Garcia, solicitor to the Algerian, said “He feels he’s been locked up for three years just on a whim… No reason has been given why he was arrested and detained in the first place. It’s mind-boggling.”
D received discretionary leave to remain in the UK. Ms Garcia confirmed she would be considering making a claim for compensation on his behalf, describing her client’s life as being “decimated.”
The Algerian was arrested in France in 1994 for allegedly being a member of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA). From France, he illegally entered the UK in 1998, and applied for asylum. He was refused in February 2001, and his appeal of that decision was pending when he was certified by Mr Blunkett under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act.
It seems likely, given this history, that the French were a major source of the intelligence that has kept D in detention for nearly three years. The other likely source is the Algerian government, which is notorious for labelling its political opponents as “terrorists”. The case is similar in this respect to that of Ahmed Zaoui, as the New Zealand Secret Intelligence Service appears to have received intelligence on him from their French, Belgian and Swiss counterparts. Given that Blunkett has finally admitted the shortcomings of that intelligence, what assurance can our own Government give that it also has not relied on dubious ‘intelligence’ from similar sources?
Harmit Atwal, author of a study of Britain’s anti-terrorism laws for the Institute of Race Relations, commented less than three weeks ago: “There are two criminal justice systems in Britain today. In the first, under the ordinary rule of law, there is a balance between the rights of the citizen and the rights of the state. But in the second, under the special provisions of anti-terror laws, you can be arrested, questioned and publicly accused of being a threat to civilisation on the thinnest of pretexts, detained without fair trial and go slowly mad in the cells of Belmarsh, Woodhill or the immigration detention centres. The first system applies to white Britons. The second system applies to foreign nationals and, increasingly, British Muslims too.”
Security and intelligence expert Dr Paul Buchanan cited the UK case stating: “the current standard operating procedure for Western security agencies is to round up Muslims suspected of nefarious activities, subject them to incarceration without charge and other forms of psychological pressure, hoping to find one bad guy or intelligence "nugget" amid all the hapless saps who have nothing to do with anything extremist except for the commonality of their faith or country of origin. That sucks, and ain’t no way to conduct a good intelligence gathering operation.”
Mr D had been in prison without charge or trial since 17 December 2001. He was held under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act, which was passed in the wake of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. The Act is extremely controversial, as it gave UK police power to imprison indefinitely foreigners suspected of links with terrorism.
Ahmed Zaoui has been in prison without charge or trial since December 2002. Although there is no law in New Zealand permitting indefinite detention, Zaoui has been imprisoned for the last 21 months, and looks set to remain there for many more months as he was denied habeas corpus by a Court of Appeals ruling on 17 September 2004. The Crown had argued that a period of 5 to 8 years of incarceration was acceptable. The judges criticised this argument, but the acceptable length of time to hold someone against whom a security certificate has been issued against remains undefined. Dr Buchanan told Scoop that he found the parallels between the two cases “very scary.”
The release of D in the UK came on the same day that New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark clarified a press release issued by her office that had associated Ahmed Zaoui’s political party the FIS with international terrorism and Al Queda.
Mark Oaten, home affairs spokesman for Britain’s Liberal Democrats, commented that: "This case makes the government's policy of detention without trial look even shakier than it did before." The same might be said of the misguided press release issued from the office of our Prime Minister, as whoever was behind that particular “faux pas” is likely to be one of the same people providing official advice on Ahmed Zaoui.