POLICE denied making an embarrassing mistake after releasing all 12 men seized in raids to foil a suspected al-Qaida plot that were brought forward due to a security breach.
The 11 Pakistanis and one Briton were arrested around north-west England on April 8 as part of an operation against what Prime Minister Gordon Brown called at the time a “very big terrorist plot”.
Police said all the suspects had been released, although 11 had been handed over to immigration officials and face deportation on national security grounds.
Prosecutors said there was insufficient evidence to justify holding them any longer or bringing charges, said Greater Manchester Police (GMP).
“This is not a mistake. I do not feel embarrassed or humiliated by what we have done because we have carried out our duty,” GMP Chief Constable Peter Fahy told reporters.
“We do not carry out this sort of operation or make these sorts of arrests on a wing or a prayer or a whim. We can only operate to one standard, and that standard is that people are innocent until they are proved guilty.”
The raids were mounted several hours ahead of schedule after a blunder by Britain’s top counter-terrorism officer Bob Quick.
A document on the operation was photographed by journalists as Quick carried it to a briefing for Brown. Quick resigned a day later but Fahy said the mistake had not compromised the operation.
Fahy said dozens have been convicted of plotting bombings since 2001 and 68 people are on trial or awaiting trial for terrorism offences.
But it is not the first time that suspects have been freed after claims that a major terrorism plot had been foiled.
In 2004, GMP arrested 10 people in raids involving 400 officers amid media speculation of a plot to blow up Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium during a high-profile game.
They were all freed without charge.
In 2006 officers, some wearing chemical, biological and radiological protection suits, stormed a house in east London looking for a suspected bomb, and shot one of the occupants.
No bomb was found and police later admitted their intelligence had been faulty.
“When we look at the record of the anti-terrorist police across the whole country but especially Scotland Yard, their record is actually very, very good,” said security consultant Peter Ryan, a former national director of British police training.
The Muslim Council of Britain said arrests were understandable but criticised Brown, who had also angered Pakistani officials by calling on Pakistan to do more to “root out the terrorist elements in its country”.
“We would hope that senior ministers and the prime minister will understand that it is completely unfair to make prejudicial and premature remarks in cases like this,” said spokesman Inayat Bunglawala.
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