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David Cameron: Security services were working with Libya to keep us safe

By Nigel Morris and Portia Walker

David Cameron yesterday warned against a "rush to judgment" over the conduct of the security services following accusations they helped to return a Libyan dissident to Muammar Gaddafi's regime.

An inquiry already examining allegations of British complicity in the torture and rendition of terror suspects sent to Guantanamo Bay will now consider the new claims as a matter of urgency.

The inquiry team, led by Sir Peter Gibson, is expected to begin investigating the allegations within weeks.

Mr Cameron told the Commons the accusations were "significant" and promised fears the UK and Libyan security services became "too close" would be fully examined.

"It is important that nobody rushes to judgment. In 2003, two years after 9/11, you had the situation where there was a Libyan terrorist group that was allied to al-Qaida. At that time our security services were working to keep us safe," Mr Cameron said.

Documents discovered in Tripoli suggest the UK traded information with Colonel Gaddafi's government in return for intelligence extracted from terror suspects under interrogation in Libyan prisons.

The papers, discovered in the offices of the former head of Libyan intelligence, Moussa Koussa, imply that Britain was involved in the rendition of Abdelhakim Belhaj, who was at the time a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.

Now a commander in the rebel forces which overthrew Colonel Gaddafi with British support, he says he was held in isolation, and regularly tortured, during his three years in prison.

In a statement to MPs on Libya, Mr Cameron said: "My concern throughout has been to deal with these accusations of malpractice so as to enable the security services to get on with the vital work they do. And because they cannot speak for themselves, let me put on record once again our enormous gratitude for all they do to keep our country safe."

Jack Straw, who was the Foreign Secretary at the time of the events mentioned in the letter, said the previous Government strongly opposed the use of torture and denied turning a blind eye to it.

Meanwhile, rebels massed outside one of the last regime-held towns yesterday amid reports that two of Gaddafi's sons fled the area at the weekend.

Opposition spokesmen say they wish to avoid a bloodbath as they battle for control of the last pockets of loyalist support, and have extended a deadline for regime troops to surrender until Saturday.

Leading figures from the former regime are believed to be holed up inside the settlement of Bani Walid, 90 miles south-east of Tripoli.

However, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, head of the country's transitional leadership, told the BBC that two of Gaddafi's sons, Saif al-Islam and Mutassim, left on Saturday.

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