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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 April 2005, 12:48 GMT 13:48 UK
Suspects shown 'al-Qaeda lists'
Barnie Choudhury
BBC News social affairs correspondent

The BBC has uncovered evidence that the police and security services have compiled lists - some containing names of innocent people - to show to suspected al-Qaeda terrorists when interrogating them. The BBC's Barnie Choudhury reports.

Jail door
Ghalem Belhadj says he was jailed for three months

I met Ghalem Belhadj at his solicitor's office in Glasgow. A big man, over 6ft, dressed in Islamic shalwar-kameez, and beard. There is no doubt he is a Muslim. And he says, with no irony in his voice, that means he must be a terrorist.

Well, that is what Strathclyde Police must have thought for, he says, they bashed down his door and arrested him. Despite his repeated denials he was jailed for three months and then released without charge.

"First time I think it was immigration and after that they gave me a sheet of paper in Arabic, it say they stop you and say you are for group terrorist," he says in broken English, "They stop me, I was surprised and put me in white suit and they took me to Glasgow, to Govan Police Station. "

'New insight'

Mr Belhadj's account gives us a new insight into how terrorist suspects are dealt with in custody. They are shown a list of names and photographs of people suspected of having links to al-Qaeda and questioned about them.

It seems to me that the security service are wasting their time chasing their own tail, trying to frame innocent people
Aamar Anwar
Solicitor

"When I see photos I started to smile, you know because these were innocent people. I meet these people in the Mosque sometimes, at prayer on a Friday. Every Friday they are together for special prayer," he said.

We have obtained one such list that contains the names of 82 people suspected of having links to al-Qaeda. We understand these people were part of what is now known as the Ricin Conspiracy.

They included the names of the nine men who were on trial at the Old Bailey earlier this month. That resulted in just one conviction - that of Kamel Bourgass.

Eight other men were freed. Bourgass was found guilty of conspiracy to commit a public nuisance by the use of poisons and/or explosives. No ricin was ever found.

Ghalem Belhadj was on that list - he was number six, incidentally - but was NOT one of the nine on trial.

Photo album

And here is an interesting thing. We know from the documents we have obtained that as late as December 2003 the police and security services were showing this list and photo album to those they had arrested.

But we also know that some of these people were released without charge as early as March 2003. That means nine months later this list - and their photographs - were still being used even though some of these people were innocent in the eyes of the law.

Strathclyde police did not want to comment. The Metropolitan police say it is standard practice in both terrorism and criminal investigations to use names or photographs to establish associations or connections and that it is both lawful and legitimate.

Ghalem Belhadj's solicitor, Aamar Anwar, says the police and security services are going after the wrong people.

"We have had people who have had charges against them dropped. The courts of law have cleared them," he said.

"Yet a year later they then turn up on another list for the security service. It seems to me that the security service are wasting their time chasing their own tail, trying to frame innocent people."

'Vulnerable people'

He believes the intelligence used is flawed because, he says, the police and security services are getting it by putting pressure on vulnerable people such as asylum seekers.

Among human rights campaigners there remains an uneasiness that innocent people are being added to lists and accused of crimes they have never committed
Barnie Choudhury

This claim is backed up by Mohammed Asif, a former asylum seeker from Afghanistan who now works in Glasgow.

He says he was approached to become an informant just after the collapse of the Taleban, while seeking asylum.

"A police officer, who was a very close friend of mine and is retired now, said that there are two possibilities that people are talking in the force. Either you get arrested or you work for them. But I am not interested in dirty work," he said.

With his contacts among the asylum seekers, Mr Asif is in no doubt it is still happening today, especially among the Algerian community. We wanted to take up this point with Strathclyde police but they declined to comment.

We tried to find out what had happened to the 82 on the list. We could not track down 52 of the names. Of the remaining 30, twenty-six were either never charged with or convicted of terrorism. That means almost a third on the list of 82 were innocent of terror charges in the eyes of the law.

In the war on terror the lack of openness by the police and security services about how they obtain their intelligence and its accuracy is understandable.

But among human rights campaigners there remains an uneasiness that innocent people are being added to lists and accused of crimes they have never committed.

VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Hear details of the lists used by police





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