British police release terror suspects
London — British police on Tuesday released nine of the 11 mostly Pakistani men arrested earlier this month in a major anti-terror operation into the custody of immigration authorities, a spokeswoman said.
The men, aged between 22 and 38, are now being held by the UK Border Agency, which controls immigration into Britain, and face deportation.
"We are seeking to remove these individuals on grounds of national security," said a spokeswoman for the agency.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown said at the time the operation involved a "major terrorist plot," which briefing documents said was linked to Al-Qaeda.
However, a spokeswoman for Manchester Police said Tuesday: "The north-west counter-terrorism unit has released nine of those arrested as part of a national operation."
The Border Agency spokeswoman added: "The government’s highest priority is to protect public safety. Where a foreign national poses a threat to this country we will seek to exclude or to deport, where this is appropriate."
Two men remained in police custody and the police spokeswoman said searches were still being carried out at an address in Manchester.
Twelve men were originally arrested in the raids on April 8, among them 11 Pakistani nationals and a Briton. One man was released into the custody of the UK Border Agency three days later.
The government has come under pressure to strengthen its visa rules after it emerged that 10 of the Pakistani men were in Britain on student visas.
Relatives of the suspects in Pakistan had pleaded their innocence and demanded access to them, saying neither the British nor the Pakistan government had provided them with information on their detention.
The raids had to be brought forward after Britain’s top counter-terrorism policeman was photographed holding clearly legible briefing notes on the operation.
He resigned over the gaffe, although Home Secretary Jacqui Smith told lawmakers this week the investigation had not been compromised.
"Protecting the public is the main focus of the police. These arrests were carried out after a number of UK agencies gathered information that indicated a potential risk to public safety," the police spokeswoman said Tuesday.
"Officers are continuing to review a large amount of information gathered as part of this investigation. Investigations of this nature are extremely complex."