Tue, Jul 31, 2007 - Page 5 News List

No apology to Haneef: Howard

'BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY' The Australian prime minister said that the country's reputation had not been damaged by the recent bungled 'anti-terrorism' case

AFP , SYDNEY

Australian Prime Minister John Howard dismissed calls yesterday for an inquiry into the bungled case of an Indian doctor suspected of terrorism and said the Muslim medic should not expect an apology.

Mohamed Haneef was held for more than three weeks and charged with providing "reckless" support to a terror group in connection with last month's failed car bombings in London and Glasgow.

But the case against him collapsed on Friday due to lack of evidence, and he was cleared of the charge and allowed to fly home.

Upon his arrival in India on Sunday, the 27-year-old said he had been traumatized by the experience, which included having his work visa revoked.

"I have been victimized by Australian authorities," he told waiting media.

But Howard defended Australia's handling of the case, the first under tough new anti-terror laws, saying that when it came to preventing attacks, it was "better to be safe than sorry."

"Australia will not be apologizing to Dr Haneef," he told reporters. "Dr Haneef was not victimized and Australia's international reputation has not been harmed by this `mis-start' to its new anti-terrorism laws."

Australian Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews, who has drawn fierce criticism for withdrawing Haneef's working visa just hours after he was granted bail on the terror charge, also said he would not be apologizing to the doctor.

"There's nothing to apologize about because in my discretion, looking at the evidence that the Australian Federal Police provided to me, he failed the character grounds," he told reporters in Hobart.

Haneef was arrested at Brisbane airport on July 2 as he attempted to fly to his home city of Bangalore on a one-way ticket, just days after two of his cousins were linked to planned attacks in Britain.

The case hinged on a mobile phone SIM card which Haneef last year gave to his second cousin Sabeel Ahmed, who has been charged with withholding information over last month's failed bombings in London and Glasgow.

Sabeel's older brother Kafeel Ahmed remains under police guard in a British hospital with severe burns after allegedly ramming a blazing car into Glasgow Airport on June 30.

Australian police, who took 12 days to charge Haneef, have been strongly criticized for their handling of the case while government prosecutors have admitted mistakes, including giving false information to a court hearing.

The government has been accused of using the case to show its tough-on-terror credentials ahead of this year's election.

The government yesterday dismissed calls for a judicial inquiry into the matter, saying the case demonstrated the country's legal system worked.

"If we are going to adopt an attitude that says just because a human error has been made, then the whole edifice of our anti-terrorism laws are to be brought under some kind of scrutiny and review, then that would be a huge mistake," Howard said.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said it was quite common for suspects to be investigated by police and later released without charge.

"What do you expect them [police and prosecutors] to do -- fall on the ground and grovel? Eat dirt? I mean, get real," he told reporters in Sydney.

Critics said the doctor, who cannot work in Australia without a visa, should be entitled to compensation for his arrest and detention.

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