Draconian UK terror law passes

Prime Minister Tony Blair has won the support of Parliament for a new anti-terrorism law, which will allow the government to move quickly against eight foreign terror suspects who have been granted bail. The House of Lords approved new powers to order house arrest, impose curfews and electronic tagging without trial, after the government made concessions to end a bitter parliamentary deadlock just three days before similar legislation was to have expired.

The Prevention of Terrorism Bill, which also allows the government to ban terror suspects from meeting certain people or traveling and to restrict their access to the Internet or telephone, has received the formality of royal assent to become law.

The new control orders are likely to be used first against the eight foreign nationals, including Muslim cleric Abu Qatada, who is alleged to have links to al-Qaeda.

The men have spent three years in a high security prison without charge but were granted bail last week. They had been moved to a detention center pending the results of the parliamentary debate.

Qatada, described by a Spanish judge as Osama bin Laden’s “spiritual ambassador in Europe,” is banned from preaching at mosques or leading prayers under the conditions of his bail.

But the law under which the men were detained and which allowed the judge to set such bail conditions, is set to expire. The government warned that without new legislation the men could have walked free. (AP, March 11)

Meanwhile, London’s The Sun reports that radical Islamic cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, charged with 16 offenses including incitement to murder Jews, has been attacked by a fellow detainee in the high-security Belmarsh prison. “CROOK SMACKS HOOK” was The Sun’s headline, a reference to Hamza’s missing hand. A spokesman for the cleric said he had received death threats in prison. (AFP, March 11)