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Howard sticks by Haneef detention

Melbourne/London, July 15: Australian Prime Minister John Howard today defended the treatment of Mohammed Haneef against widespread protests, saying the anti-terror laws that allowed the Indian doctor to be detained for 12 days without charge were essential to protect citizens.

Howard said the tough laws, introduced in 2004, were necessary “to the very last letter” and opened the door to possibly strengthening them.

“I believe the present laws are all necessary; I have an open mind as to whether they might need to be strengthened,” he told ABC radio.

Haneef, 27, detained since July 2, was charged yesterday with recklessly providing support to those who carried out the failed London and Glasgow car-bomb attacks of June 29 and 30.

Attorney-general Philip Ruddock said the accused would not be extradited to Britain while he faced charges in Australia.

“Australia would not normally surrender a person for extradition where there were outstanding matters that had to be dealt with here,” he said.

The tough terror laws may also stand in the way of Haneef getting bail when the hearing of his plea resumes tomorrow. In Australia, bail can be granted in terror-related offences only in “exceptional circumstances”.

“He (Haneef) is a realist; he understands the difficulties he faces in getting bail,” defence lawyer Peter Russo said.

Earlier, Australia’s Law Council and rights groups had protested Haneef’s long detention without charge, and the country’s bloggers had flooded the Internet with messages supporting the Indian.

The charge against Haneef is that he — recklessly rather than by intention — handed his cellphone SIM card to the suspected UK plotters, which they later used. Many in India have seen the charge as weak and the maximum 15-year term it carries as too harsh.

Haneef’s other lawyer, Stephen Keim, has said his client had left the SIM card with Sabeel Ahmed, a distant cousin, so he could take advantage of a special deal on his cellphone plan. He has suggested Haneef was an unsuspecting “dupe”.

“He’s being dealt with as if he’s been charged with the most serious charge a person can be charged with under the legislation,” Russo said.

But Ruddock said the charge was serious: “They are very serious issues.”

A Perth house raided by the police yesterday has been revealed to be the home of four Indian doctors. Investigators are examining the evidence seized to see if any charges should be laid.

UK frees two

Scotland Yard has released two more of the seven persons originally detained in Britain in connection with the failed car bombs in London and Glasgow.

The pair, aged 25 and 28, who have not been named but reports said were Saudi nationals, were arrested at Royal Alexandra Hospital, Paisley, in the early hours of July 2.

They were moved to London’s high-security Paddington Green police station for questioning. Police had until today to charge or release them or apply to a magistrate for further time for questioning.

Their release means that the Indian connection comes under even greater scrutiny though all the evidence suggests that the process of fundamentalist grooming took place mainly in the UK.

Sabeel Ahmed, the Indian doctor arrested yesterday for not disclosing information that could have prevented an act of terrorism, will appear in a London court tomorrow.

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