Algerian freed as Blunkett stops case
Crown evidence in extradition cases questioned
Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, February 16, 2002
David Blunkett yesterday stopped the extradition of an Algerian accused of terrorism in a case which raises serious questions about the credibility of evidence provided by crown prosecutors acting on behalf of foreign governments.
Abdelghani Ait Haddad, who had been incarcerated as a high security risk in Belmarsh prison, south-east London, for more than three months, was released after the home secretary decided there was no reliable evidence.
Mr Haddad is wanted by the Algerian authorites in connection with a bombing at Algiers airport in 1992 which killed nine people. He was sentenced to death in his absence the following year.
The evidence against him, only recently brought to Mr Blunkett’s attention, consisted solely of claims made by another Algerian, Hossein Abderrahim, who was tortured during interrogation before he was executed in 1993.
After a short hearing yesterday at Bow Street magistrates court in central London, Gareth Peirce, Mr Haddad’s lawyer, accused British officials involved in the case of « clear deceit ». They had failed to disclose that Abderrahim had been executed. « They were relying on the word of a man now dead, » she said.
The case raised fundamental questions about the role of crown prosecutors and about evidence against people interned in Britain on terrorist charges, she added.
Mr Haddad, 39, who quietly sobbed in the dock when he heard he was a free man, was an « entirely innocent man » and had « lost everything », said Ms Peirce.
« He has no place to go, no money, no accommodation, » she said. She described Mr Haddad as a victim of the mendacity of the Algerian regime who should now be granted asylum.
Mr Haddad, whose case was first reported in Thursday’s Guardian, was arrested in November, when he claimed asylum after he was asked to leave France. He had been allowed to stay in France for nine years.
Though there is no extradition treaty between Britain and Algeria, the countries are signatories to the Montreal convention on airport security. The crown prosecution service relied on this to pursue the case on behalf of the Algerians.
Ms Peirce said she hoped Mr Blunkett would now take the opportunity to review the government’s attitude towards Algeria, which had been guilty of abusing human rights for more than a decade.
Last week the Algerian justice minister, Ahmed Ouyahia – a member of the Algerian government in the mid-1990s denounced by human rights groups and the European parliament for sanctioning torture – visited Britain to press the government to take a tougher line towards Algerian refugees and asylum seekers.
Mr Haddad’s release follows the release on bail this week of another Algerian, Lotfi Raissi, after the district judge at Belmarsh magistrates court said crown prosecutors – acting on behalf of the FBI – provided no evidence that he was involved in the September 11 attacks on the US.
Three years ago, an Old Bailey trial of three Algerians accused of terrorism – Sofiane Kebilene, Farid Boukemiche, and Sofiane Souidi – collapsed after evidence that the British government wanted to suppress revealed that Algerian security forces were involved in atrocities against innocent civilians.