Friday, February 23, 2007

Algerian accused of 9/11 pilot training loses compensation claim

The Independent reports that Lotfi Rossi, an Algerian living in the UK who was accused of involvement in the flight training of the 9/11 attackers, has lost his case in the judicial review of the refusal of the UK Home Secretary to agree to compensation for a miscarriage of justice. Mr Rossi's case featured in Amnesty International's damning report in 2006 UNITED KINGDOM Human rights: a broken promise (see section 2.4).

"On 21 September 2001, Lotfi Raissi, an Algerian man then aged 27, was arrested in Slough, England, reportedly at gun-point at 3 am...on suspicion of involvement in "terrorist" activities... Lotfi Raissi was released after seven days’ questioning and immediately re-arrested on the basis of a warrant requesting his extradition to the USA. He was then detained for five months as a Category A (high security) prisoner in Belmarsh Prison, first in the High Security Unit (a prison within a prison) and then in the high-risk wing. The US authorities claimed that he was involved in the 11 September attacks in the USA as the flight instructor of some of the 11 September hijackers. At the time of his arrest, the US authorities claimed that they had sufficient evidence to show not only association with some of the 11 September pilots, but also evidence that he was actively involved in a conspiracy with members of the al-Qa’ida network. This evidence reportedly included correspondence, telecommunications and video footage. The extradition warrant, however, was not based on any such evidence; the US authorities brought instead so-called "holding charges" in connection with Lotfi Raissi’s failure to disclose, on an application for a US pilot’s licence, both a conviction for minor theft, for which he was fined ten years earlier, and a knee surgery to repair an old tennis injury. This minor offence, which provided the basis for the extradition warrant were, technically, extraditable offences, punishable by more than a year in prison.

Amnesty International was concerned that the US authorities’ reasons for seeking Lotfi Raissi’s extradition included the fact that his identity and professional occupation fitted a certain profile: an Algerian man and a Muslim, a pilot and a flight instructor in the USA...

In April 2002, the presiding judge brought the extradition proceedings against Lotfi Raissi to an end. The judge stated that there was no evidence whatsoever substantiating Lotfi Raissi’s involvement in "terrorism"...

The US authorities have failed to date to substantiate the serious allegations they made against Lotfi Raissi. Amnesty International considers that what happened to Lotfi Raissi is a powerful illustration that in the FBI’s wide sweep in its hunt for conspirators in the attacks in the USA or for members of the al-Qa’ida network, innocent people could get caught up, violating their rights and those of their relatives to liberty and livelihood.

In light of Lotfi Raissi’s case, the organization remains concerned, in particular, about procedures which can be used to target someone on the basis of identity profiling, and to then detain them for a prolonged period of time while evidence is sought to substantiate suspicions of their involvement in criminal acts. Amnesty International believes that Lotfi Raissi’s case also shows the dangers of how the extradition process could be used to label someone as a "suspected terrorist" and to detain someone for a prolonged period of time, in the absence of a prompt and thorough assessment of the evidence."

Mr Raissi has unsuccessfully sued the FBI and his case is also being reviewed by the UK Independent Police Complaints Commission. He lost the judicial review because Lord Justice Auld and Mr Justice Wilkie ruled that the compensation scheme applying to wrongful detention and accusation of a crime does not technically cover people held pending extradition.

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