Britain Arrests 8 for 'Facilitating Terrorism Abroad'

By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, May 25, 2006

LONDON, May 24 -- British police and immigration authorities on Wednesday said they arrested eight people suspected of "facilitating terrorism abroad" in pre-dawn raids that involved 500 officers from London to Manchester.

Police and officials at the Home Office, which is responsible for domestic security, declined to identify those arrested or offer details of the allegations against them, except to say that the allegations did not involve potential attacks in Britain.

"We are not talking today about a direct threat to the U.K.," said Michael Todd, chief constable of the Greater Manchester Police, which led the operation. "We are talking about the facilitation of terrorism overseas. That could include funding, providing support and encouragement to terrorists."

The BBC and other British news organizations reported that one of the men arrested was Tahir Nasuf, 44, who works for the Sanabel Relief Agency, a group that the U.S. government has accused of financing terrorist operations. Home Office and police spokesmen declined to comment on those reports.

The Web site for Sanabel, based in Birmingham, says the organization's "task is to aid and relieve Muslims in the destitute parts of the world."

U.S. officials, however, have said the group is affiliated with al-Qaeda and has attempted to overthrow the Libyan leader, Moammar Gaddafi. In February, the U.S. Treasury Department formally designated Sanabel a group providing financial assistance to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and froze its assets.

The Sanabel office in Birmingham was one of 18 properties raided by police on Wednesday. Police also stood guard outside Nasuf's home in Manchester, where he lives with his wife and four children, British news outlets reported.

Speaking to reporters in February, Nasuf denied any ties to terrorism or al-Qaeda, saying: "It is wrong what they said. I am just a volunteer worker. There is no relationship, nothing at all. I have done nothing. Sanabel is nothing to do with the other group."

Another man accused by U.S. officials of involvement with Sanabel and funding extremists, Mohammed Benhammedi, 39, was arrested by British officials in February and charged with immigration offenses.

The Home Office has faced criticism on immigration and security issues. Home Secretary John Reid, brought in recently by Prime Minister Tony Blair to repair the department's tarnished image, said in Parliament this week that the organization he took over this month was "inadequate" and "indefensible."

His predecessor, Charles Clarke, was forced out after disclosures that more than 1,000 foreign nationals, many of them violent criminals, had been released rather than be subject to deportation after serving prison terms in Britain. Authorities have been attempting to round up the former detainees, but many remain unaccounted for.

It was unclear whether the arrests Wednesday were related to the case of the prisoners. But a Home Office spokesman said five of the eight being held were foreign nationals detained under the government's power to "deport individuals whose presence in the U.K. is not conducive to the public good for reasons of national security." The three others were held under Britain's anti-terror legislation, the spokesman said.

The arrests also came on the eve of a visit by Blair to Washington to meet with President Bush on Thursday.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company