A high-profile counter-terrorism raid, in which 12 Pakistani students were arrested on Wednesday of last week, has raised key issues over civil liberties and the “war on terror”.
The 12 men could be held for 28 days without charge.
The arrests occurred after Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick, the head of Scotland Yard’s specialist operations wing, was photographed entering Downing Street with a document outlining a counter-terrorism operation. Quick later resigned.
Counter-terrorist police hurried forward raids in the north west of England. Police with guns arrested a student at Liverpool John Moores University.
Police also raided homes in Liverpool and Manchester, and arrested people at an internet café in Manchester and the Homebase store in Clitheroe, Lancashire.
Despite days of searches of at least ten properties and the huge resources thrown into the case, at the start of this week the police had still not found any clear evidence of a terrorist plot.
No evidence had been found of bombs, bomb-making parts, chemicals to make explosives, a bomb factory, weapons or ammunition.
Agents of Britain’s MI6 spy network in Pakistan had informed security officials that there was a large scale threat of a terrorist attack in Britain.
The students were suspected as they had been seen taking photographs of a Manchester nightclub, and the Trafford and Arndale shopping centres in the city.
One of the men, an 18-year old, was released at the weekend, but then handed over to the UK Border Agency. He now faces possible deportation.
Peter Fahy, the chief constable of Greater Manchester police, has admitted that it is possible nobody could be charged with terror offences.
A number of other high-profile raids, including Forest Gate in 2006, have created huge embarrassment for the authorities after innocent people have been arrested.
Fahy said, “There will always be a situation where either we can’t achieve the evidential threshold or as a result of the investigation we find that the threat was not how it appeared to us at the time.”
There is deep concern and anger that the last week’s events will lead to an increase in Islamophobia. The government has attacked Pakistan for its supposed inability to tackle terrorism, and the media has blamed “lax” student visas for the problem.
Assed Baig, a student at Staffordshire University, told Socialist Worker, “When I heard about the raids I thought, ‘Here we go again.’ The government wants to take attention away from its problems so it wants to turn the focus on international students and Pakistan.
“Over 1,000 people have been arrested under the Terrorism Act since 2001, but only a small percentage of them have been charged and convicted.
“It’s outrageous that police can go onto campuses and snatch students.
“I have recently been a victim of Islamophobia – which now seems to be an acceptable form of racism. I stood for president at Staffordshire University and during the campaign people spread the most vicious lies about me.
“Without a shred of evidence, they said I wanted to introduce sharia law in the university, separate men and women, and ban alcohol.
“The police have destroyed the lives of those who were arrested last week.
“If those arrested aren’t charged with any crime, then the people who ordered these arrests must be brought to account.”