Most Terror Suspects Freed Without Charge, British Gov’t Says

May 14, 2009 - 2:09 AM
More than half the people arrested in Britain on suspicion of terrorism since 2001 have been freed without being charged, the country's law and order ministry said Wednesday.~~

British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith with Prime Minister Gordon Brown. (Photo: 10 Downing Street)

London (AP) – More than half the people arrested in Britain on suspicion of terrorism since 2001 have been freed without being charged, the country's law and order ministry said Wednesday.

Britain's Home Office said 1,471 people were arrested as suspected terrorists between September 2001 and March 2008, the first time it has compiled data on the often controversial arrests.

Of those, fewer than 200 have been convicted as a terrorists – highlighting questions about police tactics, particularly following high-profile raids on Muslim communities that have failed to bring convictions.

The statistics show British Asians are at least twice as likely to be arrested by terror police than members of other ethnic groups, a trend that has fueled resentment in the Muslim community. Of those arrested by anti-terror police over the last four years, 303 – or 42 percent – were classified as Asian, more than double the number classified as white.

Last month, British police released all 12 suspects rounded up in a series of dramatic anti-terror raids in northern England, failing to charge any of the men with an offense. Most were Pakistani Muslims living in Britain.

Their release was an embarrassment for British authorities. Prime Minister Gordon Brown said at the time of the arrests that police had disrupted "a very big terrorist plot."

Figures released Wednesday showed that 819 people arrested under terror laws have been freed by police. The data shows that only seven percent – or 102 people – were convicted of an offense under Britain's terrorism laws and 94 others convicted of terrorist related offenses under other criminal laws, like conspiracy to murder.

About 450 others also arrested were mostly charged with offenses not considered to be related to terrorism, like overstaying immigration visa, theft or fraud. The Home Office report gave no information on how many of those were ultimately convicted.

Security officials and police say that since 2001, more than a dozen terrorist plots have been attempted in Britain – most of which have been thwarted by law enforcement.

Attacks on London's transit system on July 7, 2005 killed 52 people and four suicide bombers.

"The government is committed to investing in our counter-terrorist threat and wherever possible seeks to prosecute those involved with terrorism," said Vernon Coaker, a British policing and security minister. "Where we can't prosecute we seek to deport and where we can't deport we seek to disrupt."

Britain's Home Office could not immediately provide details of the number of people deported following terrorism investigations.