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Row over terrorist non-prosecution

A row has erupted between police and prosecutors over the failure to bring charges in the British courts against an al Qaida terrorist who plotted to blow up a Manchester shopping centre.

Pakistani-born Abid Naseer, 28, was convicted by court in Brooklyn, New York, yesterday of being part of a transatlantic conspiracy, almost six years after he was arrested in Manchester in a major counter-terrorism operation.

Officers involved in the original investigation said they had all believed he should have been charged in the UK, but complained they were overruled by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which decided there was insufficient evidence.

Greater Manchester police and crime commissioner Tony Lloyd said it was "deeply worrying" that Nasser could still be walking the British streets if the Americans had not moved to extradite him.

He said he would be raising the case with Home Secretary Theresa May to ensure that "whatever went wrong here" could never happen again.

However the CPS said it had "nowhere near" the evidence available to the US authorities and complained that - contrary to normal practice - the police had not involved it in the case until after Naseer was arrested.

Naseer was originally detained in 2009 during the Operation Paveway raids carried out by counter-terrorism police, only to be released after the CPS decided there was insufficient evidence to prosecute and an attempt to deport him failed.

He was subsequently made the subject of a control order and then taken back into custody while the US authorities launched extradition proceedings.

Greater Manchester Chief Constable Sir Peter Fahy said there had been a "robust debate" as to whether charges could be brought in the UK.

"We did absolutely think he should have been prosecuted here. We put evidence in front of the Crown Prosecution Service, but at the end of the day we have an independent system in this country and that is their decision," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

"There was a robust debate at the time and we put in a lot of challenge."

Mr Lloyd said the case was "deeply worrying" and that Naseer's conviction showed there was a "strong and compelling case" he was a dangerous terrorist.

"The reality is that, had the Americans not acted, a dangerous man who was intent on causing death and destruction here in Greater Manchester could potentially still be walking our streets," he said.

"We should not have had to wait for the Americans to step in to extradite Abid Naseer. The public will want to know why he wasn't brought to trial here."

However Sue Hemming, the head of special crime and counter-terrorism at the CPS, said that at the time they had not had key evidence used by US prosecutors - including papers seized by US Navy Seals in the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in which the al Qaida leader was killed.

"I can say categorically that, at the time the decision was made, there was insufficient (evidence) while he was in custody and nowhere near any of the evidence that the United States relied on in their trial," she told BBC Radio 4's World At One.

She added that an email which featured heavily in the trial sent by Naseer to a person described by prosecutors as an al Qaida handler who was directing plots to attack civilians in Manchester, New York City and Copenhagen, had been insufficient to bring charges.

And she said there had not been the same level of co-operation between the police and prosecutors which normally occurred in such cases.

"In this particular case, the North West CTU (counter-terrorism unit) didn't involve us until the arrest," she said.

However Sir Peter said he had been driven by the need to protect the public.

"The difficulty we had was because we were very concerned about the nature of the threat that was being run and governed by a foreign terrorist organisation, and because we were unsure at the time about exactly what was going to happen, we had to intervene early to disrupt the plot," he said.

"That obviously meant we didn't have all the evidence we might have had later in the investigation."

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