Fahad Ansari unravels the latest US extradition request of a terrorism suspect in light of the current English legal system which has already imprisoned several men over the past decade whilst they fight for justice.
Earlier this week, lawyers from the US Justice Department appeared before Westminster Magistrates’ Court seeking the extradition of Abid Naseer, a Pakistani national who had been studying in the UK before his arrest by British anti-terrorism officers in April 2009. The US accuses him of being at the centre of an international terrorist conspiracy to set off bombs in the US, Norway and the UK. The allegations against him and his co-conspirators include being an al-Qaeda operative, conducting reconnaissance at potential target locations in Manchester, transporting reconnaissance photographs back and forth from Pakistan, purchasing ingredients and components necessary for the preparation of explosive devices, and maintaining frequent contact with the al-Qaeda leadership.
If these allegations are true, Naseer is clearly a dangerous individual who should be prosecuted. The question arises though as to why he needs to be extradited half way across the world for any such trial, particularly when the allegations against him are specifically regarding his role in the alleged Manchester bomb plot. The allegations against Naseer are all criminal offences under British law as well. Under Section 11 of the Terrorism Act 2000, it is an offence to be a member of a proscribed organisation, such as al-Qaeda. Section 12 criminalises inviting support or arranging a meeting for a proscribed organisation. Section 16 outlaws using money and other property for the purposes of terrorism. Section 56 prohibits directing a terrorist organisation at any level and the often-used Sections 57 and 58 make possession of items for a purpose connected with the commission, preparation, and instigation of an act of terrorism an offence. The UK has a wide range of other legislation on its books to also choose from, if it so wishes.
So if there is evidence against Naseer in relation to the allegations that he took steps while in the UK, to carry out a terrorist attack against the British public in Britain, and it is an offence under British law to do that, then why is he not being tried in a British court? Why must Naseer be extradited to the US to face charges for a crime against the UK? A brief investigation into the history of Naseer’s case reveals the shocking reality of the procedural unfairness of British anti-terrorism policy today.
Naseer was one of 12 Pakistani nationals arrested in April 2009 in dramatic Hollywood style raids involving hundreds of armed police officers, with suspects being thrown down to the floor and arrested in full view of the public. Like previously thwarted plots, they involved sensational media coverage deliberately calculated to stoke panic and xenophobia among a population already terrified by the politics of fear callously being played by the government, whose premature and hyperbolic statements only served to legitimize such views. The then Prime Minister Gordon Brown praised the security services for having foiled a “very big”terrorist plot.
Although the officers had the ability under law to hold the men for questioning for up to 28 days before charge to complete their investigations, they chose not to and released all 12 men from custody within two weeks – without charge. It transpired that there was insufficient evidence to charge them with any offence. Rather than issue an apology to Naseer and the other men and the British public for casting terror in their hearts through their actions, the police immediately re-arrested the men and detained them under immigration powers. Naseer and the others were told that they were to be deported to Pakistan on the basis that the Secretary of State had unilaterally decided that their presence in the UK was not conducive to the public good. After spending several months in prison, all but two (Naseer and Ahmad Faraz Khan), decided to voluntarily return to Pakistan whilst still maintaining their innocence and vowing to clear their names.
Naseer was then forced to fight his deportation, not in a normal court of law, but in the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), a notorious system under which neither appellant nor their lawyers are permitted to see or challenge the evidence against them, a situation comparable to “fighting ghosts” as some detainees have described it. It was at the hands of this Kafkaesque body that in May 2010 Naseer was judged to be an al-Qaeda operative, forever maligning his reputation and putting him at high risk of detention, torture and even extrajudicial killing, by security forces around the world. The judge in the case, Mr. Justice Mitting, admitted that there was a “complete absence of any evidence of the handling or preparation of explosives by Naseer and his alleged associates” and that “despite extensive searches of buildings associated with them, nothing has been found, apart from an irrelevant trace of RDX in one of the properties.”
Nevertheless, due to secret evidence which the neither the defendants nor their lawyers were allowed see or challenge, Mitting concluded that an attack was “imminent”. Naseer could not be deported however ironically because of the threat to his human rights in Pakistan which now resulted from Mitting’s finding that he was an al-Qaeda operative, ultimately securing him the right to remain in the UK. He was released and penalized under a suffocating control order.
Amazingly, despite this finding, no charges were then brought against Naseer, nor have they since that time. But the UK was determined to remove Naseer from the UK. Enter the US government.
On 7 July, less than a month since his release, the US submitted a warrant for Naseer’s extradition under the US-UK Extradition Treaty 2003. Conveniently, under the terms of this Treaty, the US is not required to present a prima facie case against Naseer, i.e. sufficient evidence, which if not rebutted, would be enough to prove the case against him. Naseer was re-arrested and returned to prison, where he has remained ever since while fighting his extradition.
In summary, Naseer is accused of being a member of al-Qaeda. The judgment against him of being a member of al-Qaeda was made in a secret court where he was unable to see or challenge the evidence against him. He is alleged to pose a serious threat to Britain and to have played a key part in an international terrorist conspiracy to set off bombs in Manchester. Despite the wide range of anti-terror laws in the UK under which he can be prosecuted, there is insufficient evidence to charge him with even the most minor offence. Rather than release him, the British government is now trying to extradite him to the US for the same offence under a system whereby the US does not need to provide any evidence of his guilt.
Naseer is the latest victim of the US-UK Extradition Treaty whereby individuals who there is simply insufficient evidence to charge with a criminal offence are bundled off to the US to face trial on the same allegations. Others currently awaiting extradition to the US under the same Treaty include British citizens,Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan. Ahmad was arrested in December 2003 during a brutal police raid on his home. He was released without charge after less than a week. In July 2004, the CPS stated that there was no evidence to bring any criminal charges against him. Shortly afterwards, the US requested his extradition on the basis of information obtained as a result of the police raid on his home, information which the British authorities had deemed insufficient to bring charges. On 19 July 2006, Talha Ahsan was arrested on a US extradition warrant based on the same information.
Even prior to the 2003 Treaty, the UK has attempted to extradite to the US terror suspects accused of committing crimes while living in the UK. These include Khalid al-Fawwaz, Adel Abdel-Bary, and Ibrahim Eidrous, who were arrested on 22 September 1998 in connection with the embassy attacks in East Africa. All three were released after 7 days without charge. Fawwaz was arrested 9 hours later on a US extradition request under the Extradition Act 1989. Eidrous was re-arrested under immigration powers until July 1999. In June 1999, British anti-terrorist police wrote to their Italian counterparts that after extensive investigation over the preceding 9 months, there was no evidence to charge any of the men with any criminal offence anywhere in the world. In July 1999, Bary and Eidrous were re-arrested under a US extradition warrant. The evidence against them was that received a fax about the bombings in East Africa at a London shop before they took place. Despite evidence being produced that the fax was received after the bombings had taken place, a UK court ruled that the matter was for a US jury to decide. Twelve years on, Fawwaz and Bary remain in prison fighting extradition to the US. As for Eidrous, he developed cancer in prison and was released in 2006 on compassionate grounds. Following his release, the CPS wrote to his solicitor informing her that they now wished to prosecute him in the UK. The CPS never did prosecute Eidrous. He died on 16 July 2008. The evidence against Bary is the same as against Eidrous but the CPS has never offered to prosecute him in the UK.
These are only a handful of examples of the manner in which British courts have treated those accused of acts of terrorism but against whom there is no evidence to bring any charges. While these men remain innocent until proven guilty, their cases are a damning indictment of British justice today.
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)