By Adrian Croft
LONDON (Reuters) - An independent inquiry will investigate allegations that British security services were involved in illegally sending terror suspects to Libya where they risked being tortured by Muammar Gaddafi's government, officials said Monday.
An inquiry set up by the British government last year to look into whether its security services knew about the torture of terrorism suspects overseas will be expanded to include allegations about secret British dealings with Gaddafi's Libya.
Documents found in the abandoned Tripoli office of Gaddafi's intelligence chief indicate U.S. and British spy agencies helped Gaddafi persecute Libyan dissidents, Human Rights Watch said on Saturday.
The British inquiry, headed by retired appeals court judge Peter Gibson, said it would consider the allegations of British involvement in the transfer of terrorism suspects to Libya as part of its work.
"We will be seeking more information from (the) government and its agencies as soon as possible," it said in a statement.
Prime Minister David Cameron told parliament "significant accusations" had been made that relations between the British and Libyan security services became too close under the previous Labor government, in power for 13 years until 2010.
He said his coalition government had issued new guidance to security service personnel on how to deal with detainees held by other countries as well as launching the Gibson inquiry, which has until now focused on Guantanamo Bay detainees.
However, he said people should remember the circumstances at the time -- when the "war on terror" launched by U.S. President George W. Bush after the September 11 attacks on U.S. cities was at its height -- before reaching hasty conclusions.
"I do think it is important that nobody rushes to judgment. We have to remember in 2003, two years after 9/11, you had a situation where there was a Libyan terrorist group that was allied to al Qaeda," he said.
The documents were uncovered by the Human Rights Watch in the abandoned offices of Libya's former spy chief and foreign minister, Moussa Koussa, who fled to London during the war. He left soon afterwards and was reported to have gone to Qatar.
The current military commander for Tripoli of Libya's provisional government, Abdel Hakim Belhadj, was among those captured and sent to Libya by the CIA, the rights group said.
Belhadj has said that he was tortured by CIA agents before being transferred to Libya, where he says he was then tortured at Tripoli's notorious Abu Salim prison.
The Guardian newspaper reported Monday that a secret CIA document found in Tripoli showed the British and Libyans worked together to arrange for a terrorism suspect, Abu Munthir, to be moved from Hong Kong to Tripoli, with his wife and children, in 2004 despite the risk they would be tortured.
Although launched more than a year ago, the Gibson inquiry has not yet formally launched hearings. Criminal cases involving the allegations must be completed before it does so.
Jack Straw, Labour's foreign secretary for the period covered by some of the Libya documents, welcomed the inquiry's decision to look into the allegations.
The Labor government long denied having anything to with rendition -- the illegal movement of people to third countries without charge -- or any knowledge of torture, but said for the first time in 2008 that the United States had used British territory to transfer terrorism suspects.
(Reporting by Adrian Croft)