Ten students arrested in anti-terror raids in April face continued immigration detention and deportation despite the lack of evidence against them.
In a pattern which is becoming increasingly familiar, a high-profile operation by anti-terrorism police amid rumours of imminent atrocities ended with no charges, but with the men turned over to immigration officials for deportation. On 8 April 2009, twelve men – eleven Pakistani and one British – were arrested in Liverpool, Manchester and Clitheroe, hours after Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism officer, Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick, was filmed holding documents in which details of the operation were clearly visible. The dramatic arrests, which included students being rugby-tackled on Liverpool John Moores University campus by police, were orchestrated with media coverage, and police claimed they had averted a major terrorist outrage. Most of those arrested were ‘foreign students’, and the arrests allowed various parties to climb their own hobbyhorses. There was a feast of restrictionist arguments about student visas, with Migrationwatch UK chairman Sir Andrew Green claiming that student visas were too easily obtained and continued to be a ‘gaping hole’ in Britain’s borders. This was despite immigration minister Phil Woolas’ reference to the rigorous checks, including biometrics, required for students to obtain visas for the UK. Others used the opportunity to remind universities that they were not doing enough to protect society from terrorists, and should take their new immigration policing obligations more seriously. Prime minister Gordon Brown used the arrests to berate the Pakistani government for a failure of cooperation in the war against terrorism.
The men’s continuing detention failed to lead to any charges, and, according to contemporaneous media reports, searches of their homes and related addresses yielded nothing except photographs of shopping complexes, nightclubs and other public places. But this lack of evidence did not prevent the Home Office from deciding to deport the men. Reports that they were ‘released without charge’ on 22 April did not mean the men were actually released; ten of the eleven Pakistanis remained in detention for deportation on national security grounds.
As Stephanie Harrison, counsel for one of the men, XC, pointed out during the men’s bail hearing on 12 May, ‘Not a single piece of actual physical evidence has been produced’ to justify the detention. Given the high profile of the arrests and the events before them, ‘one cannot exclude political expediency as a factor’ in the decision to deport, rather than release the men, she claimed. Sigbhat Kadri QC, representing Abdul Wahab Khan, said that his client was never told the substance of any allegations against him during extensive police questioning, and that his arrest by the UK Border Agency following the decision not to charge him was causing grave concern in the Muslim community in the UK and internationally.
But Robin Tam QC, representing the home secretary, insisted that the men included members of a British-based network ‘linked to al-Qa’eda attack planning’, and posed a risk to national security, and that they could not be released due to the ‘high risk that they would re-engage in their former activities’. He did not give any further clue as to what these activities were, and it is doubtful that we will ever know, even if the men are deported, because of the system of secret evidence on which national security deportations are based.
A campaign called ‘Justice for the North West 10’ has recently been established to assist the ten students, the group will be holding a protest on Sunday 17 May at 1pm at Strangeways Prison in Manchester, where some of the men are currently being held.