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Tuesday, 30 October, 2001, 17:24 GMT
UK Taleban fighters face treason charge
A Taleban fighter
Some UK Muslims want to fight for Taleban
British citizens who fight alongside the Taleban in Afghanistan could face charges of treason, Downing Street has said.

The comments come after a radical Islamic group claimed British Muslims had been killed after volunteering to fight with the Taleban.


Any British citizen who fights against British forces, in my view, has committed treason

Ann Widdecombe
A spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair was at pains to play down the likelihood of treason charges and said he doubted whether there were more than a handful of people involved.

The spokesman's comments were echoed in the House of Lords by Home Office Minister Lord Rooker who emphasised that there were a range of legal options available to the UK authorities.

The UK says that belonging to Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network- or supporting it - is an offence under theTerrorism Act as it is a proscribed organisation.

It was also an offence to recruit and train people for terrorist action and the use of explosives.

Earlier former Conservative home office minister Ann Widdecombe had urged the treason charge to be used.

Miss Widdecombe told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Any British citizen who fights against British forces, in my view, has committed treason and certainly, if they come back to this country, they shouldn't imagine that they can then just enjoy the democratic freedoms and rights of a free society, when they have fought against it."

Alienation

Miss Widdecombe said it was imperative it was made clear the conflict was not a war between Christanity and Islam and also that citizenship was taught more actively.

Former foreign secretary and current Leader of the Commons, Robin Cook, told the same programme: "If they have breached British law, of course they should be locked up.

"But we are a free country, people are free to leave this country. Stopping people from leaving the country would be a very serious step."

Oliver Letwin
Letwin: Muslims worried about incitement to arms
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said action was needed to tackle the conditions that led to British Muslims being keen to fight on the Taleban's behalf.

He said: "I have talked to very responsible young Asians whose families have come over from Pakistan, and I have to say there is a considerable degree of antagonism in these communities against what is being done by Britain and America."

"It is imperative that we understand the growing resentment and that we get into these communities and work to dissuade people from coming to a hard-line view."

But Abdul Haq, a spokesman for the radical Al-Mujahiroun group, said there was one Muslim nation "to the exclusion of all others".

'Divine obligations'

Saying Muslims only have one allegiance, he told BBC Radio 4's World At One: "We are not going to stop fulfilling our obligations just because the law stipulates we cannot do it."

Mr Haq called democracy the "civilised face of dictatorship".

"The government is bringing in laws now just to stop Muslims from fulfilling their divine obligations," he argued.

Arrests would only drive Islamic groups underground where intelligence agencies were unable to monitor their activities.

Mr Haq's comments were condemned as "very disturbing" by shadow Home Secretary Oliver Letwin, who said there was no doubt anyone returning from fighting with the Taleban should be prosecuted.

'Millions loyal'

"I believe there are millions of our fellow citizens who are completely loyal to this country, who are Muslims, who are desperately worried about their children being incited by people who have absolutely no business in engaging in this activity to go off and take up arms aganist this country."

Mr Letwin said he understood the sentiments voiced but it was essential every British citizen was on the side of the UK's armed forces and not against them.

He renewed Tory calls for a change in the law so leaders of such groups could be deported.

The government has already said the law will be changed if necessary and announced plans to accelerate extradition procedures.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Laura Trevelyan
"The government confirmed... that it could use the ancient law of treason"
Muslim lawyer and writer Rafiq Abdullah
"If you are a citizen of a country you don't go and fight for the other side"

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See also:

29 Oct 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Who is winning the war?
29 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Ground troops 'won't be rushed'
29 Oct 01 | England
British Muslim deaths 'a waste'
29 Oct 01 | UK
'My allegiance is to Allah'
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