July 13: Australian police today withdrew a court bid to extend the detention of UK car bomb suspect Mohammed Haneef but it was unclear if and when the Indian doctor might be freed.
The police have 12 more hours to interrogate the 27-year-old, already detained for 11 days without charge in Brisbane, and his lawyer Stephen Keim said he expected the questioning to be complete in around 24 hours.
Australian laws allow a suspect to be questioned for 24 hours after which he must be charged or freed. But after grilling Haneef for 12 hours, the police had won “dead time” — court permission to halt the interrogation while they sifted through evidence.
“We have withdrawn an application to extend dead time and have recommenced questioning,” a police spokesman said today.
The clock runs only when the police are actually interviewing Haneef, which means that with breaks the 12-hour deadline could be further off in real time. The police spokesman, though, said it was up to Haneef to decide whether to have breaks during the remaining questioning.
Peter Russo, another of Haneef’s lawyers, said that in a worst-case scenario, the doctor could be held for three more days.
Attorney-general Philip Ruddock, however, said the police could seek to detain the suspect again if new information was uncovered during the interrogation. Or, of course, they could charge him straightaway.
The Australian media, however, said the police have found no evidence against Haneef despite a massive investigation into vast amounts of computer data, phone records and other material seized as evidence.
Russo said his client had become “teary” and had broken down earlier today and told his interrogators he was “not a terrorist” but a “pawn”.
“He will be grateful that some progress has been made,” the lawyer said, adding that Haneef had agreed to give his fingerprints and take a DNA test.
The Australian newspaper said the suspect was “spending his spare time in prayer”. But it added that although the police’s “searches have come up with blanks… and calls for Haneef’s immediate release are growing louder”, they still suspect that the Indian supported those behind the failed June 29-30 attacks in London and Glasgow.
Haneef is a second cousin to prime suspects Kafeel and Sabeel Ahmed, and all three earlier lived in Bangalore. They had stayed in the same house in Britain for up to two years and stayed in touch after Haneef moved to Australia.
Rights groups have called for Haneef to be charged or set free, and Australia’s Law Council president, Tim Bugg, has said the law was “not operating fairly” in the case. He and other experts have said Haneef’s was a “test case” for the “dead time” provision, enacted in 2004.
Australians have swamped the Internet with protests against the prolonged detention. But Prime Minister John Howard said he was not uncomfortable with it. “We do need… the laws being applied at the present circumstance,” he said.
British police said they had released without charge the only woman among the eight suspects held — Marwa Dana Asha, 27, the wife of 26-year-old doctor Mohammed Asha.
The couple were arrested on June 30 from a motorway in northern England hours after the Glasgow airport attack.
UK police can hold terror suspects for up to 28 days without charge, with periodic extensions of remand from courts.