LONDON (Reuters) - A British man who was once held at Guantanamo Bay will be freed from prison, police said on Wednesday, after prosecutors dropped accusations that he had attended a terrorism training camp in Syria a week before he was due to go on trial.
Moazzam Begg, 46, who became a high-profile human rights campaigner after being released without charge from the U.S. military prison in Cuba in 2005, had been held for seven months in custody on charges of facilitating terrorism and possession of a document likely to be of use to a terrorist.
His case is likely to pose awkward questions for the police and the government which has vowed tough action against those who travel to Syria, including stripping Britons of their passports.
CAGE, a group set up by Begg which campaigns for the rights of people detained during counter-terrorism operations, had argued his arrest in March was politically motivated.
Begg has been a vocal critic of British foreign policy and said he had been in Syria as part of research into cases of illegal rendition and torture involving Britain’s security services.
“This has been a testing time for Moazzam, his family and the Muslim community,” said Asim Qureshi, Research Director of CAGE. “The criminalisation of virtually any Muslim that has been to Syria has only increased in intensity, while CAGE has been attacked from every angle by a host of government agencies.”
Police said the decision to drop the charges came because new material had come to light which meant police and prosecution lawyers had concluded there was no realistic chance of securing a conviction.
“I understand this is going to raise many questions,” Marcus Beale, Assistant Chief Constable of West Midlands Police, said in a statement.
“From the beginning this case has challenged the relationship between West Midlands Police and some of the communities we serve. I would like to reassure them and Mr Begg that at every stage of this investigation my officers acted in the best interests of the public and of justice.”
Begg’s release came as Prime Minister David Cameron vowed tough powers to target Britons suspected of wanting to go to Syria and Iraq to fight.
“If you try and travel to Syria or Iraq, we will use everything at our disposal to stop you - taking away your passport, prosecuting, convicting, imprisoning and even if you’re there already we may even prevent you from coming back,” he said at his Conservative party’s annual conference.
“You have declared your allegiance, you are an enemy of the UK and you should expect to be treated as such,” he added.
On Tuesday, Home Secretary Theresa May said she had already removed the passports of 25 people in relation to Syria while 103 had been arrested over offences related to terrorism there.
Britain has raised its international terrorism threat level to the second highest level as the authorities fear those who travel to the region could return radicalised and pose a risk at home.
editing by Stephen Addison