British terrorism suspect may face private trial

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 06, 2012 12:36 PM
British terrorism suspect may face private trial

By Peter Griffiths

LONDON (Reuters) - A British businessman has taken the unusual step of seeking a private prosecution against a computer expert wanted in the United States on terrorism charges, his law firm said on Thursday.

Karl Watkin, who made a fortune from bio-fuel and internet companies, said it was a "disgrace" that Babar Ahmad had not been brought to trial in his home country eight years after he was arrested.

Ahmad has been held in a British jail while his lawyers have been fighting his extradition. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg is currently reviewing whether sending Ahmad to the United States is lawful.

Watkin accused the British government, police and prosecutors of failure and said he hoped his private action would end a "saga which has become a stain on this country's long-held principles of fairness and justice".

U.S. officials accuse Ahmad of running a website that supported the Taliban and raised money for Islamist militants in Afghanistan and Chechnya. The website was run from London, but was hosted by a U.S.-based company.

"We do not need to outsource our criminal justice system to America," Watkin said in a statement. "If the tables were turned, the Americans would undoubtedly have tried their own citizens in America many years ago. I smell politics."

London and Washington signed an extradition treaty in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

Campaigners say the terms of the treaty are unfair to Britons and mean U.S. officials can request the extradition of a UK suspect without supplying proper evidence against them.

Opponents say the treaty, which became British law in 2003, reinforces their view that London was subservient to the U.S. government during its clamp down on suspected militants after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

But a judge-led review commissioned by the British government concluded in 2011 that the treaty was fair and "does not operate in an unbalanced manner".

Watkin, a longstanding critic of the treaty, said Ahmad should go on trial in Britain because he is a British national and the allegations relate to a website operated in London.

Watkin's lawyers said their client had applied to a London court to prosecute Ahmad under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and a judge was considering the request. Watkin has also asked Britain's chief prosecutor for permission to bring a case against Ahmad under the Terrorism Act 2000.

Ahmad denies any wrongdoing. His lawyer Gareth Peirce was not immediately available for comment. Britain's justice ministry had no comment. A Crown Prosecution Service spokesman said it had not yet received any documents on the private prosecution.

(Editing by Jon Hemming)