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UK swoops on terror suspects

LONDON, England -- Britain has used its tough new anti-terror powers to detain eight foreign nationals on suspicion of involvement in terrorism.

"Following careful and detailed consideration... the Immigration Service detained eight foreign nationals whom I suspect to be international terrorists," Home Secretary David Blunkett told the UK parliament on Wednesday.

"They were detained earlier today and will be held in secure prison accommodation.

"I shall not disclose their names unless they themselves first do so.

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"A person detained is free to leave the United Kingdom at any time."

A Home Office spokesman said the arrests had been carried out in London, the West Midlands and Bedfordshire in central England.

"This is in accordance with the home secretary's powers to detain foreign nationals suspected of involvement in terrorism and who pose a threat to national security under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act," he said.

The nationalities of those detained were not given. The Home Office spokesman declined to comment on a report that those arrested were Muslims from North Africa, mainly Algerians, Reuters reported.

The detentions were made under tough new legislation rushed into law this week in response to the September 11 attacks on the United States.

The leader of the radical Islamic group al-Muhajiroun told Reuters he was not aware of his members being detained and said he doubted police would arrest high-profile Muslim leaders.

Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, who sparked outrage in Britain by urging followers to kill anyone involved in military action in Afghanistan, said any move against him would be interpreted by his supporters as a "war against Islam."

"Maybe they are arresting some people who are unknown to the Muslim community -- some illegal immigrants -- in the name of the new law," he told Reuters.

Britain sought to toughen its anti-terror laws in the wake of the September 11 attacks, giving police greater powers to detain and monitor suspects.

The bill stirred controversy during its passage through parliament, being rejected by the upper chamber, the House of Lords, on grounds of intrusion into personal liberty.

The Labour government was forced to dump certain parts of Home Secretary Blunkett's bill, including an attempt to introduce a new criminal offence of inciting religious hatred.

Officials say the detention without trial powers are aimed at a handful of people in Britain seen as a security threat but who cannot be sent back to their home countries because they could face the death penalty.

The law does provide powers to detain overseas terrorist suspects without trial.

• UK passes anti-terror law
December 14, 2001
• UK MPs vote for anti-terror bill
November 20, 2001
• Prodi calls for EU unity on terror
November 15, 2001
• Germany tightens security net
October 28, 2001
• France toughens antiterror laws
November 1, 2001

• UK Home Office

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