After enduring up to three years of imprisonment and interrogation at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, four Britons returned to England on Tuesday and were immediately arrested by antiterrorist police.
Moazzam Begg, Feroz Abbasi, Martin Mubanga and Richard Belmar were arrested under a provision of the Terrorism Act dealing with “involvement in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism,” London’s Metropolitan Police said.
“What sort of homecoming is this? They are innocent people,” said Massoud Shadjareh, one of a group of protesters who assembled outside the high-security Paddington Green police station where the men were held.
The four were among some 550 prisoners from 42 countries swept up in the U.S.-led war on terrorism and detained without charge.
Abbasi, 24, was reportedly arrested by U.S. forces in northern Afghanistan in December 2001. Belmar, 25, and Begg, 37, were arrested in Pakistan in February 2002, and Mubanga, 32, was detained in Zambia.
Each would be allowed a phone call, access to a lawyer and a visit from a relative.
“Whether or not the U.K. authorities deem it necessary to hold any of these men on arrival in Britain, they should certainly release them as soon as practicable, not least in light of the fact that they have been detained for several years and intensively questioned during part of that time,” said Kate Allen, director of the British branch of Amnesty International.
Peter Clarke, head of the Anti-Terrorist Branch, said police had discussed the case with representatives of Britain’s Muslim community and recognized there were strong feelings about it.
“Our inquiries are being carried out strictly in accordance with U.K. law and procedures. These have built-in safeguards and are subject to independent scrutiny. We are totally committed to ensuring that the men are treated properly and fairly,” he said.
Some of the men claim they were tortured at Guantanamo, which holds detainees that U.S. authorities say are suspected of having links to al-Qaida or Afghanistan’s ousted Taliban regime.
The Pentagon said British authorities had given assurances “that the detainees will not pose a continuing security threat to the United States or its allies.”
The return of the last of the British detainees from Guantanamo was welcomed by a British Muslim group who called for immediate counseling and medical help for the men.
“These returnees have been through an appallingly lengthy and unjust ordeal in which they were deliberately held in a legal black hole by the U.S. authorities,” the Muslim Council of Britain said in a statement.
Moazzam Begg’s father, who has expressed concern about his son’s mental health because of his detention, said he was happy to see him coming home.
“He was kept in solitary confinement for about three years and sustained solitary confinement is not a joke, it is a big thing,” Azmat Begg told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.
His son suffered “mental torture for three years and I don’t know what that has done to him,” he said.