David Leppard and Jon Ungoed-Thomas, London Times, July 15, 2007
THE government faces new embarrassment over Britain’s porous borders with the revelation that one in four terrorist suspects arrested in Britain is an asylum seeker.
Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, there have been more than 1,100 arrests under antiterrorism legislation. While some of the most serious threats come from Al-Qaeda supporters born in the UK, there is new evidence of many suspects exploiting loopholes in the country’s immigration laws.
It was confirmed last week that Muktar Said Ibrahim, one of the bombers involved in the failed suicide attacks of July 21, 2005, was given a passport even though he had convictions for indecent assault and robbery. Gordon Brown has said an applicant in similar circumstances would not now be granted citizenship.
A Home Office analysis of those arrested under antiterrorism laws from 2001 to 2005 found that almost a quarter—24%, or 232 out of 963—had previously applied for asylum.
This figure includes failed asylum seekers who should have been removed from the country.
Omar Altimimi, 37, who was jailed for nine years this month at Manchester Crown Court for hoarding computer files on jihadi terrors, illustrates the ease with which Al-Qaeda supporters have been able to remain in the country and fund their activities using Britain’s often chaotic asylum system.
Altimimi, a father of three who settled in Bolton, Greater Manchester, used the name Abou Hawas when he first arrived in the country, claiming he was an Iraqi fleeing persecution. In reality, he had come from the Nether-lands where he had shared a flat with other extremists.
When Altimimi’s asylum application was rejected, he should have been removed from the country. Instead he simply adopted another name. Over a six-year period he was given pay-outs from the National Asylum Support Service and other agencies of more than £100,000. This income helped support him as he spent hours at his computer, collating material on bomb making and identifying possible targets.
Susan Williams, the leader of Trafford council in Manchester and prospective Conservative candidate for Bolton West, said: “How many more terror sleepers are the British taxpayer funding? It is time we had a full, independent investigation into this appalling situation.”
The estimated backlog of 400,000 failed asylum seekers who have not been removed from the country is said by opposition MPs to be one in a series of systemic failings that undermine the security of Britain’s borders. They complain that while Tony Blair and now Gordon Brown have pledged tough action, not enough has been done. There is still no comprehensive system for checking the identities of people leaving the country. The lax regime was highlighted when Hussain Osman, one of the July 21 bombers, left the country undetected after the failed attacks.
The government has trumpeted the forthcoming introduction of a new electronic system—e-borders—to log all entries and exits. But the programme has been hampered by technical difficulties and it is unlikely to be fully running until 2014.
David Davis, the shadow home secretary, said that while he would welcome any “calm and effective” measures to improve border controls, the government should have acted more quickly to monitor and check people entering and leaving the country.
“Our porous borders have got worse under this government,” he said. “It is a straightforward matter for people with criminal or terrorist intent to cross our borders in both directions with almost no control on them.”