An Australian state leader accused the federal government yesterday of incompetence in its handling of the case of Indian terror suspect Mohamed Haneef, and of undermining the country's counterterrorism laws.
Queensland Premier Peter Beattie said the case was now mired in confusion because of inconsistencies, and demanded the government provide an explanation to clear them up.
"I've never seen such an incompetent explanation of what's going on from the federal government. They should wake up to themselves," Beattie, a senior member of the Labor party, told Southern Cross Broadcasting. "The level of cynicism which is developing here is going to continue, and then that undermines public confidence in the anti-terrorism laws."
"For heaven's sake, this is starting to look like the Keystone Cops, to be frank," Beattie said.
"These sort of leaks to me are just crazy and unacceptable in a climate where everyone is working to defeat terrorism," he said.
Canberra was quick to strike back. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer accused Beattie of being politically motivated in criticizing the government and the Australian Federal Police.
"Mr. Beattie goes around and calls the federal police keystone cops, he is trying to undermine public support in the federal police for party political reasons," Downer told Nine Network television.
Haneef had been working at a Queensland hospital for almost a year when he was arrested July 2 as he tried to leave for India. He was charged two weeks later with supporting a terrorist organization for giving his mobile phone SIM card to a second cousin in Britain before coming to Australia.
The cousin has been charged in Britain with withholding information about a terrorist attack in connection to last month's failed plot to set off car bombs in London and at the Glasgow airport.
A magistrate granted Haneef bail, but the government canceled his visa before he could be released and says he will be taken into immigration custody if he posts bail. He has declined to do so, and is in jail awaiting trial and an appeal against the visa decision.
The case has been the subject of numerous media leaks, some of which have been attributed to the federal police. Haneef's lawyers claim police and authorities have tried to portray the evidence against him as stronger than it really is, and the government accuses the defense team of unethical behavior.
Among the contentious issues, police have refused to clarify reports that Haneef's SIM card was not found in the vehicle used to attack the Glasgow airport, as was claimed by a prosecutor during Haneef's bail hearing.
Police were also forced on Sunday to deny as inaccurate newspaper reports that had cited unnamed police and government sources saying Haneef was being investigated for a possible attack plot in Australia.