Abdelhakim Belhaj is now the military commander of Tripoli
Abdelhakim Belhaj, the military commander of Tripoli, attending a debate at Tripoli University in October. British police will investigate if the secret services were involved in transferring Belhaj and Kadhafi opponent Sami al Saadi to Libya where they were allegedly ill-treated by Moamer Kadhafi's regime. © Marco Longari - AFP
Abdelhakim Belhaj is now the military commander of Tripoli
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Alice Ritchie, AFP
Last updated: January 12, 2012

British police to probe Libya rendition claims

British police will investigate if the secret services were involved in transferring two men to Libya where they were allegedly ill-treated by Moamer Kadhafi's regime, officials said on Thursday.

The news came as prosecutors announced they would not bring criminal charges against British agents accused of complicity in the torture of other terror suspects, including former Guantanamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed.

Claims of British involvement in the ill-treatment of Libyans, including Abdelhakim Belhaj, now the military commander of Tripoli, are due to be investigated by a wide-ranging government-ordered inquiry into torture.

But London's Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) said on Thursday it believed two cases, identified by legal charity Reprieve as those of Belhaj and Kadhafi opponent Sami al Saadi, warranted criminal investigation.

"The allegations raised in the two specific cases concerning the alleged rendition of named individuals to Libya and the alleged ill-treatment of them in Libya are so serious that it is in the public interest for them to be investigated now rather than at the conclusion of the detainee inquiry," the MPS and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said in a joint statement.

Files unearthed from the archives of toppled leader Kadhafi said Belhaj was captured by the CIA in Bangkok in 2004 and forcibly returned to Libya.

They suggest Britain was also complicit in his return home, where he was imprisoned in the notorious Abu Salim prison until he was freed in 2010.

Saadi claims British agents helped detain him in Hong Kong in 2004 and return him to Libya, where he says he was subjected to years of torture.

Reprieve director Clive Stafford Smith welcomed the police investigation, saying the government inquiry into torture was unlikely to get to the truth.

The police decision "shows that evidence of British complicity in the torture of Libyans Sami al Saadi and Abdulhakim Belhaj by the Kadhafi regime is so blatant that a criminal inquiry must go ahead before the government's deeply flawed Gibson Inquiry can get started", he said.

Prime Minister David Cameron set up the Gibson inquiry in 2010 to probe allegations of British complicity in the torture of suspected extremists abroad after 2001, but it has been delayed pending the police investigations.

Prosecutors and police also announced Thursday that investigations into allegations of British complicity in the ill-treatment of two terror suspects held by US authorities had found insufficient evidence to bring charges.

One case involved Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born British resident who was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 by US authorities during a global sweep of terror suspects following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

He claims he was taken on a secret flight to Morocco by the CIA and subjected to appalling treatment for 18 months, before being transferred to Afghanistan and finally to the US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay in 2004.

The police probe found that an agent from Britain's domestic MI5 spy agency had interviewed Mohamed in Pakistan, and that MI5 officers gave the US authorities information about Mohamed and supplied questions to be put to him while he was subsequently detained in Morocco.

But prosecutors said there was "insufficient evidence" to prove this was done when agents "knew or ought to have known that there was a real or serious risk that Mr Mohamed would be exposed to ill treatment amounting to torture".

They added however that "nothing in this decision should be read as concluding that the ill-treatment alleged by Mr Mohamed did not take place, or that it was lawful".

Police also found insufficient evidence to prove that an agent of Britain's foreign spy agency MI6 was involved in wrongdoing when he interviewed a terror suspect held by the US authorities at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan in 2002.

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