British man, woman detained in Afghanistan: ministry
Two British nationals, a man and a woman, have been detained in Afghanistan, officials in London said Thursday, reportedly as part of a counter-terrorism operation to stop a possible attack back home.
The pair were detained by British and Afghan forces last week and are being held in a secure facility at Kandahar, southern Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence said.
It refused to give any details, or confirm media reports that the pair were arrested in Herat, in the west of the country near the border with Iran, amid fears they were plotting a potential attack on British soil.
"We can confirm that two British passport-holders were detained in an ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) operation conducted jointly last week by UK forces with Afghans in support," the MoD said in a statement.
"The individuals, a male and a female, are currently being held in a secure facility in Kandahar for questioning."
It added: "Detention operations are a vital element of protecting UK, ISAF and Afghan forces and Afghan civilians from those who are assessed to pose a threat regardless of their nationality."
It insisted that all such operations were carried out in accordance to international law and strict rules.
Earlier, The Times newspaper and the BBC reported that the Britons had dual citizenship and had been picked up in Herat in recent days.
The Times said they were arrested at the International Trade Centre hotel in Herat, in what it called an unprecedented counter-terrorism raid on Afghan soil, although the manager of the hotel denied this.
"We strongly reject these reports and rumours. Nobody has been arrested from this hotel," Mohammad Daud Yarzada told AFP.
The newspaper said British forces were helped by members of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the Afghan intelligence service, in an operation sparked by a suspected threat to British security, it said.
A senior Afghan official, who declined to be named, told the paper the arrested men were "not Afghans", adding: "It was terrorism-related. It was a UK-led operation."
The official added: "The British asked for our help to arrest these two individuals. The NDS was providing logistical support."
The BBC said the Britons were believed to have travelled to Afghanistan from Britain, possibly to make contacts with a view to carrying out some kind of attack at home.
The Afghan interior ministry denied all knowledge of the arrests, and a spokesman for the NDS, Lutfullah Mashal, told AFP: "We are not aware (of the situation), we are not involved."
NATO forces in Afghanistan normally hold suspects for a maximum of four days before releasing them or handing them over to the Afghan authorities, but a Foreign Office spokeswoman said this could be extended.
"The UK has a national policy of detaining beyond 96 hours in exceptional circumstances, in particular where it could provide information that could help protect our forces or the local population," she said.
Prime Minister David Cameron announced earlier this month that Britain would withdraw 500 troops by the end of next year, reducing its forces to about 9,000, but would keep soldiers there in a training role until at least 2023.
His announcement came a fortnight after President Barack Obama announced a big drawdown of US forces in the war-torn country.
News of the arrests Thursday came as NATO troops handed over control of security in Herat, although there is no suggestion of a link between the events.
Herat is the fourth of seven areas to transition to Afghan control this week, but critics say the timetable is politically motivated and not reflective of Afghan abilities to ward off the Taliban with violence at a 10-year high.
© 2011 AFP