Tue, Sep 27, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Terror suspect seeks UK citizenship

TICKET OUT?An Australian detained at Guantanamo Bay is seeking to become a British citizen in a bid to secure his freedom, since his own country won't help him

AFP , SYDNEY

An Australian terror suspect held at the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay has applied for British citizenship in an attempt to win his freedom, lawyers and his father said yesterday.

The British government negotiated the release of all nine of its citizens held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, while the Australian government has refused to do the same for David Hicks who has been held for nearly four years.

The 30-year-old convert to Islam was captured in Afghanistan where he allegedly fought alongside the ruling Taliban against US-led forces who invaded after the attacks on the US on Sept. 11, 2001.

Hicks's father Terry told national radio his son made a passing comment about his mother's British citizenship when talking to his US lawyer Major Michael Mori about the recent Ashes cricket series between Australia and England during a recent meeting.

Hicks said his son remarked that he wished he was British like his mother so that he could have supported the winning Ashes team.

"He said his mother still retains a UK passport and of course Major Mori nearly fell over," he said.

"[He] didn't realize that David probably could have the means of being released through the Brits."

Press reports here said Mori lodged Hicks's formal request for British citizenship at the British embassy in Washington on Sept. 16.

Under legislation passed in 2002, children born to British mothers between 1961 and 1983 are now eligible for citizenship, a spokeswoman for the British embassy said.

Hicks's mother moved to Australia as a child and divorced when David Hicks was nine. According to the Australian newspaper, she does not want to be named.

Asked whether he was embarrassed by Hicks's move, Prime Minister John Howard refused to comment.

"That's a matter for him," Howard told ABC radio. "I don't have any comment on it."

Howard, a close ally US President George W. Bush, has been criticized by lawyers and human rights groups in Australia for refusing to follow Britain's lead by pushing for Hicks's release.

Hicks is due to be tried soon by a US military commission on a series of terrorism-related charges, including attempted murder and aiding the enemy, which he denies.

Britain refused to allow any of its citizens to face the widely-criticised US military commissions, saying they failed to uphold basic standards of justice.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer also shrugged off suggestions that Hicks's application was embarrassing for Australia.

"Our point about Mr. Hicks is that he should face justice," Downer told reporters.

"And charges have been brought against him and they're extremely serious charges -- charges which include conspiracy to commit war crimes, attempted murder by a belligerent and assisting the enemy."

Downer said he had met US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld during a visit to the US last week and "reminded him that we wanted this matter to be proceeded with as quickly as possible."

"If Mr. Hicks and his lawyers want to try to circumvent justice by going to some other country and they think that will help them, that's a matter between him and that country."

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