Wed, Oct 18, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Two terrorism suspects under control order system on the loose in Britain

BLAIR'S STRATEGY UNDERMINED The men escaped while under a new regimen designed to restrict the activities of terror suspects who haven't been charged

AP , LONDON

Two suspected terrorists being held under Britain's contentious control order powers have escaped and are on the run, including one accused of trying to join insurgents fighting in Iraq, officials acknowledged on Monday.

One man -- a Briton -- fled through a window of a mental health unit at a London hospital two weeks ago and another, an Iraqi, escaped from his control order regime several months ago.

Both men are suspected of links to international extremist terrorist groups and are being hunted by police, officials confirmed.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter, confirmed the men had escaped and remain missing.

Britain's Home Office declined to discuss the cases and refused to reveal details of the escapes or the identities of the men.

Opposition politicians said the incidents seriously undermined Prime Minister Tony Blair's counterterrorism strategy.

The British man had been accused by British authorities of attempting to travel to Iraq to fight alongside insurgents.

He was being held at a psychiatric unit at Middlesex University Hospital, in southwestern London, for an assessment and not as part of the control order regime, the official said.

Policing minister Tony McNulty said the government had not publicly revealed details of the escapes because anti-terrorism legislation prevents the suspects' identities from being revealed.

He also rejected concerns that both men posed a danger to the public, or could mount a terrorist attack against Britain.

"People who needed to know, in the context of public safety, did know," McNulty told the BBC's Newsnight program.

Control orders were created by Blair's government after Britain's highest court ruled in December 2004 that placing suspects in prison without first giving them a trial was illegal.

The measures are used to restrict activities of terror suspects who are not charged with any offenses, but deemed a risk to national security.

They allow suspects to be electronically tagged, kept under curfew, denied the use of telephones or the Internet and barred from meeting outsiders.

McNulty said control orders had "always been for us a second-best option" and confirmed the government is seeking to overturn the 2004 ruling.

A total of 15 terrorism suspects -- six of whom are British -- are being held under control order powers, Britain's Home Office said.

"This is extraordinary. The government justified control orders on the basis that they protected the public from potentially dangerous terrorists," senior opposition Conservative lawmaker David Davis said.

"Since control orders were the government's flagship anti-terrorism measure, this is a huge embarrassment for them," opposition Liberal Democrat lawmaker Nick Clegg said.

Civil liberty group Liberty said the incidents underlined long-held fears that the control order system was unworkable.

"This confirms our worst fears about the farce that is the control orders regime; they are both unsafe and fundamentally unfair," Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti said.

London's police force said it was seeking to track down the missing men.

"Every effort is being made by police to ensure no particular community is criminalized or victimized in any way," said a London police spokesman, on condition of anonymity in line with policy.

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