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Last Updated: Friday, 4 July, 2003, 19:52 GMT 20:52 UK
Britons to go on US terror trial
Moazzam Begg was arrested in Pakistan last February
Moazzam Begg was arrested in Pakistan last February
Two Britons are among six al-Qaeda suspects due to face a military tribunal in the US, the BBC has learned.

The two are Moazzam Begg, 35, from Sparkbrook, Birmingham, and Feroz Abbasi, 23, from Croydon, south London.

They have been held for many months by the US, along with 680 other detainees, in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, without being sent for trial.

But US President George W Bush has now ruled they and four other unnamed Guantanamo inmates can be tried by military tribunal.

The tribunals have come under heavy criticism from human rights organisations. If they go ahead, they would probably be held in secret and could order the death penalty.

Mr Begg's father Azmat said he feared his son, a father-of-four, would not get a fair hearing.

"The trial will be military, the judge will be military and yet my son is a civilian. This is just not right," he said.

"If the government or military are appointing people in the court, that is absolutely wrong. It should be an independent person."
Azmat Bagg
My son was never involved in al-Qaeda, he is a proper, family man
Moazzam Begg's father Azmat

Foreign Office minister Baroness Symons said that the government was concerned about the use of a military commission to try the men, as well as about the way the commission would operate.

The Government will press America hard to satisfy concerns over access to lawyers, standards of evidence and appeals in the case of a guilty verdict, she said.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's The World At One, she said: "It is far preferable, if they are British citizens, for them to come to the UK to face justice here."

But she said that the US decision appeared to have made this impossible.

Mr Begg repeated his claims that his son was innocent and the victim of mistaken identity.

"My son was never involved in al-Qaeda. He is a proper, family man."

Fair trial concerns

Stephen Jakobi, director of the British pressure group Fair Trials Abroad, also raised concerns about the hearings, which he said were being "fixed" to secure convictions.

"The US Department of Defence will appoint the judges and prosecutors, control the defence and make up the rules of the trial.

"It appears to have only one objective - to secure a conviction.
The US Department of Defence will appoint the judges and prosecutors, control the defence and make up the rules of the trial
Stephen Jakobi, Fair Trials Abroad

"If they were prepared to take these people to American soil and try them under normal US prosecution, the evidence wouldn't stand up," he said.

Amnesty International too expressed alarm at the "second-class form of justice" which "falls short of international standards".

BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner said some aspects of such a tribunal would be "extremely worrying".

"It will almost certainly be held in secret, probably at Guantanamo Bay, and the really worrying thing is that there are reports... that an execution chamber is being built alongside it."

However, any execution order would have to be upheld by Mr Bush, he said, and the UK - which is against the death penalty - would protest strongly.

Draft charges

Mr Begg was arrested by the CIA in Pakistan in February 2002, before being flown to Afghanistan and then Guantanamo Bay.

Feroz Abbasi

Mr Abbasi was said to have been captured in Kunduz, Afghanistan, in late 2001.

Pentagon officials say all six suspects are believed to be either members of the al-Qaeda terrorist network or have other terrorist involvement such as training or fund-raising.

The next step is for the US authorities to draft charges against any or all of the six, and then make a decision on whether they will actually be tried.

    There are seven other Britons in Guantanamo Bay, according to a recent Foreign Office statement. They are:

  • Shafiq Rasul, 24, of Tipton, West Midlands
  • Asif Iqbal, 20, also of Tipton
  • Ruhal Ahmed, 20, also of Tipton
  • Martin Mubanga, 29, from north London
  • Jamal Udeen, 35, from Manchester
  • Richard Belmar, 23, from London
  • Tarek Dergoul, 24, from east London.

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