Friday, February 8, 2008
THIRD EYE: British 'regret' after airport arrests
The informant who appears to have helped police bust a plot targeting the public transportation network in Barcelona is also reported to have told investigators that the alleged cell planned other attacks elsewhere in Europe. Among the countries reportedly named was Britain. That piece of information appears to have led to an incident at London’s Gatwick airport on the evening of January 22. Four days after the original swoop in Spain, and following a tip-off from Spanish authorities, a group of six Pakistani men were detained after arriving on a flight from Barcelona.

The men were met at the airport by officers from the Met’s Counterterrorism Command, who took them to Paddington Green police station in central London where they were formally arrested and questioned. A source told Third Eye the men were unable to persuade police they had a legitimate reason for visiting Britain; police were also apparently uneasy about the fact the men were planning to stay only one day in Britain and did not appear to have any accommodation booked. Even so, at just after half past four the following afternoon all six were “de-arrested” and put on a plane to Pakistan.

Fast forward five days to a meeting at 10 Downing Street between Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf. Occupying an unscheduled place on the agenda was how the brother and the son of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, along with four of their friends, came to be arrested under Britain’s anti-terror laws. The Web site of the British High Commission in Islamabad makes no attempt to hide the FCO's embarrassment. The British Government “deeply regrets the incident,” it says, adding that the men are free to return to the UK “at any time.”

According to Pakistani news reports, the former premier’s brother, Wajahat Hussain, had travelled to Europe as part of President Musharraf’s entourage. His role, according to reports, was to arrange receptions in Musharraf’s honour in the cities the President was visiting. While Barcelona was not a stop on the Musharraf tour it was selected, apparently, by Wajahat Hussain and his colleagues as a good place for a spot of shopping.

Amid accusations in Pakistan of British “Islamophobia” and suggestions of possible legal action, the obvious question, of course, is how did this whole incident come to pass? A senior British official quoted on the High Commission Web site says simply that police “acted on the basis of information that proved subsequently to be inaccurate.” There are, no doubt, theories around that offer more detail. But it seems safe at least to offer one thought: the incident hasn't exactly helped the relationship between Britain and one of its most important counterterrorism partners, Pakistan.
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• February 2008
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