Britain Detains 10 as Security Threats

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British authorities detain 10 foreign nationals suspected of posing a threat to national security. The move follows July's London bombings and a threat to deport foreigners who advocate terrorism.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

British authorities say they have detained 10 foreign nationals accused of being a threat to national security. Ministers warned that there would be a crackdown on foreigners accused of promoting violence and intolerance. The move follows last month's deadly suicide bombings in London. It comes as 10 other suspects appeared in court, accused of links to the second wave of attempted bombings in July. NPR's Ivan Watson joins us from London.

Ivan, what is the government saying about these 10 foreign nationals?

IVAN WATSON reporting:

Linda, they're not naming any names, aside from calling these 10 individuals threats to national security, and they say they are in custody, awaiting deportation, and that they have five days to appeal this deportation process. A statement by Charles Clarke, the Home secretary here, says that Britain has recently gotten agreements with other countries guaranteeing that detainees would not be tortured or ill-treated when they leave Britain, and this has been one of the chief legal obstacles to Britain and the government's power to deport foreign nationals in the past. Yesterday Britain signed one of these agreements with Jordan.

Officials here still will not confirm or deny reports from the BBC that one of the detainees is Abu Qatada, a Jordanian-born cleric who's wanted in Jordan and has been granted asylum in the UK more than 10 years ago actually, but has been living under police surveillance for the past several years after being accused of having terrorist links.

WERTHEIMER: So do you think that these detentions and deportations are the start of the new tougher approach, the thing that Prime Minister Tony Blair was talking about last week?

WATSON: I think that Clarke signaled this in his short statement when he concluded by saying, quote, "The circumstances of our national security have changed, and it's vital that we act against those who threaten it." Last week, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, he said the rules of the game have changed here, that Britain would no longer tolerate Islamic radical clerics who preach violence, who promote terrorism. He said that he would try to expand powers to deport these individuals, and it's launched a debate here over freedom of speech and what exactly qualifies as incitement and grounds for deportation.

In an interesting twist here, one of Britain's most outspokenly anti-Western Muslim clerics, Omar Bakri Muhammad, he left Britain this week back to Lebanon where he is a citizen to the applause of the British tabloid press. Today he's been taken in for questioning in Lebanon, and it's not clear why since he's not really wanted in Lebanon, he's not really a known figure there.

WERTHEIMER: All this activity today comes as a number of suspects appeared in court. What can you tell us about that?

WATSON: Right. Ten people scheduled to go to court today in connection with the July 21st attempted bombings, which did not kill anyone. Most of these people are accused of withholding information that could have led to the arrest of the suspected bombers. All of them are in custody either here in Britain or there is one man who is custody in Italy and he is battling extradition attempts back to the UK.

WERTHEIMER: British writer Salman Rushdie is calling for an Islamic reformation. Can you tell us more about that?

WATSON: Well, this is sure to spark controversy in the Islamic world. This is something he is accustomed to, of course. He has said that there needs to be a Muslim reformation, to be a move beyond tradition, and to bring the core concepts of Islam into the modern age. He says the Koran should not be treated as infallible, but as a historical document, and that seventh-century Koranic laws need to be adapted to the 21st century.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Ivan Watson reporting from London.

Ivan, thank you very much.

WATSON: You're welcome, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News.

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