updated 10/16/2006 8:29:58 PM ET 2006-10-17T00:29:58

Two suspected terrorists who were being detained under strict conditions resembling house arrest have escaped and are now on the run, officials said Monday.

An unidentified British man accused of trying to travel to Iraq to fight alongside insurgents is thought to have fled through a window of London mental health unit two weeks ago.

Officials said a second suspect — an Iraqi — also was on the run and that he had escaped several months ago.

Policing minister Tony McNulty said the government had not publicly revealed details of the escapes — nor the fact that there had been any escapes — because anti-terrorism legislation prevents the suspects’ identities from being revealed.

He also rejected concerns that the two men posed a danger to the public, or could mount a terrorist attack against Britain.

“People who needed to know, in the context or public safety, did know,” McNulty told the British Broadcasting Corp.

Both were being detained under so-called “control orders,” which British authorities have used to restrict the activities of terror suspects who are not charged with any offenses but deemed a risk to national security.

No contact with outsiders
The contentious measures allows suspects to be electronically tagged, kept under curfew, denied the use of telephones or the Internet and barred from meeting outsiders.

A government official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the British man was being held at a mental health unit for an assessment, not as part of the control order.

The official also confirmed a second suspect was missing after breaching the terms of his control order.

London’s Metropolitan police said officers were investigating the reports.

Britain’s Home Office, responsible for the control order regime, said it could not discuss details of the cases, but confirmed 15 terrorism suspects — six of whom are British — are being held under control order powers.

Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government devised control orders after courts ruled that suspected terrorists could not be locked up indefinitely without being charged.

Senior opposition Conservative lawmaker David Davis said the escapes undermined a crucial plank of Britain’s anti-terrorism legislation.

“The government justified control orders on the basis of protecting the public from potentially dangerous terrorists. It is therefore hard to understand how this man was allowed to escape, especially while under going psychiatric assessment,” David said in a statement.

Opposition Liberal Democrat lawmaker Nick Clegg said: “Since control orders were the government’s flagship anti-terrorism measure, this is a huge embarrassment for them.”

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