Sat, Jul 21, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Case against Haneef damaged

WILD CARD Inconsistent information about a cellphone SIM card may foul the case against Mohammed Haneef, who is charged with supporting a terrorist organization


Prosecutors may have given an Australian court wrong information about a suspect's links to the failed terrorist attacks in Britain, and badly damaged their chances of a conviction, laywers said yesterday.

Government prosecutor Clive Porritt told a magistrate last week that a cellphone SIM card registered to Mohammed Haneef was found in a gas canister-loaded Jeep driven into an airport entranceway in Glasgow last month.

The Australian Broadcasting Corp reported yesterday that unnamed officials in Britain and Australia say the card was seized from a suspect in the British city of Liverpool hours after the failed attack in Glasgow, not in the vehicle.

Haneef's lawyer, Peter Russo, said he had not yet been able to confirm the mistake, but that it could help in his client's defense of the charge of giving support to a terrorist organization.

"It's one piece, it's an inconsistency," Russo told reporters. "Court cases aren't won on one inconsistency. ... I wouldn't say with any certainty that this is the ace in the pack, so to speak, but it's definitely something we need to explore."

Other lawyers not involved in the case said the mistake, if true, could end the chances of a conviction, and that police had further compounded the error by not correcting the public record.

"It's a shocking mess up," senior lawyer Peter Faris told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. "A competent cross-examiner will cut the police to pieces. It may well be that the prosecution case will collapse."

"You can't get something that's so central so wrong," he said.

Australian Federal Police and government officials declined immediate comment on the report, which comes as a debate rages in Australia and India about whether authorities have been overzealous in prosecuting Haneef under counterterror and immigration laws.

Haneef, a 27-year-old doctor from India, moved to Australia from Britain last year to work. Authorities arrested him July 2 as he tried to leave Australia for India.

He was then charged two weeks later with supporting a terrorist organization for leaving the SIM card with Sabeel Ahmed last year.

Sabeel Ahmed has been charged in Britain with withholding information that could prevent an act of terrorism. His brother, Kafeel Ahmed, is believed to have set himself ablaze after crashing the Jeep into the Glasgow airport and remains in hospital with critical burns.

The charge against Haneef, who is a distant cousin of the Ahmed brothers, hinges on the SIM card, which Haneef told police he left with Sabeel Ahmed when he left Britain so his cousin could use its unused credit.

The ABC reported that the card was seized from Sabeel Ahmed in Liverpool eight hours after the Glasgow attack.

A magistrate granted Haneef bail on Monday, saying the evidence Porritt presented was not enough to keep him detained. However Haneef chose to stay in police custody after the federal government canceled his work visa and said he would be held by the immigration authorities if he posted bail.

Lex Lasry, a prominent rights lawyer, said the reported mistake about the location of the SIM card should prompt the government to review its decision to revoke Haneef's visa.

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