“Terrorist suspect flees police in mosque. UK Home Secretary in further embarrassment
A British-born terror suspect was on the run last night after breaking his control order and evading police by taking shelter in a mosque.
The man, aged 26, is thought to have escaped abroad after claiming that he wanted to undertake terror training in Afghanistan. His disappearance is a further embarrassment for John Reid, the Home Secretary, as he is the third terror suspect under a control order to escape in less than six months.
It raises serious questions about the effectiveness of the orders, which were introduced by Government in 2005 and are designed to control and monitor terrorist suspects who can’t be prosected or deported from Britain.
Opposition MPs last night demanded that the suspect be identified. Currently there is an anonymity order in place and the Government has not applied to overturn it.
The man, who is of Pakistani origin and lives in Manchester, was only placed under the control order this month. But within four days he disappeared. Police sources say that the man failed to show up at a local police station to surrender his passport.
He was traced to a nearby mosque, where community leaders say he had sought sanctuary. Police rarely enter a mosque: they began discussions with both local community figures and leading officials connected to the mosque.
It is understood that while these talks were taking place, the young suspect was helped to escape through a back entrance while officers from Greater Manchester Police were stationed outside. Whitehall officials said it is not known whether the person inside the mosque who helped this suspect escape knew that he was under a control order.
This episode will raise questions about how police deal with suspects who take shelter in mosques as senior officers are aware of the sensitivity of entering religious buildings by force. The man is understood to have visited Afghanistan in the past, where he trained with an extremist Islamic group and had said that he wished to return for further training so he could take part in “jihadi operations”.
The suspect is understood to have expressed a desire to return to Britain after this further training. Intelligence sources believe the man has left the country and is thought to be already in Pakistan. Officials do not believe he used his own passport to escape but travelled under forged papers.
Tony McNulty, the Police Minister, disclosed the latest blow to the Home Office’s credibility in a written ministerial statement yesterday. MPs had been alerted hours earlier to expect a further disclosure from the Home Secretary who is facing criticism over other failings in his department including a 27,000 backlog of British prisoners sentenced abroad.
Mr McNulty said: “The control order was designed to address the risk posed by an individual who had recently been radicalised and wanted to travel abroad for terrorism-related purposes. Obligations included a requirement to report daily to a police station, to surrender travel documents and to reside at a specified address.”He added: “The individual is not believed to represent a direct threat to the public in the UK at this time.”
The suspect is one of 19 men subject to the control orders, which the Government was forced to adopt after the courts ruled that it was unlawful to hold terror suspects without trial.
The courts said that those subject to these orders could be tagged if the police thought it necessary.
It is understood that police had not had time to fit a tag to the 26-year-old.
This is the second case of a terror suspect going missing in the Greater Manchester Police area. A spokesman for the force said that because of the anonymity order imposed on the suspect police could not comment on his escape.
Last night Lord Carlile of Berriew, QC, the Government's independent reviewer of terrorism law, said: “It is obviously a matter of concern that a person who is subject to a control order has absconded.”
The Government’s anti-terror watchdog is understood to have seen the information upon which Mr Reid decided to impose the control order. Lord Carlile said: “My conclusion was that a control order in his case was made appropriately.”
Police are still searching for two other terror suspects who breached their control orders last year and are still on the run. The two, identified as LL and AD, are understood to have removed their electronic tags before absconding.
Last night opposition MPs condemned this latest failure. David Davis, Shadow Home Secretary, said: “Far from getting a grip since John Reid took over, the Home Office has been marked by murderers walking out of open prisons and suspected terrorists escaping from control orders. “This latest failure demonstrates what we said some time ago.
This legislation has achieved the remarkable double of being both repressive and ineffective at the same time.” He demanded that the Home Office name the terror suspect on the run.