UK 'complicit in al-Qa'ida man's torture'

The UK was complicit in the torture of a man who became the first person to be convicted in the UK of directing terrorism, it was alleged at the Court of Appeal.

Rangzieb Ahmed, from Manchester, was unlawfully detained while in Pakistan, beaten and had finger nails removed with pliers during torture sessions, a QC told three judges.

"We say the UK was complicit in these acts," said Joel Bennathan QC, for the 34-year-old.

While being tortured in 2006, his client was asked "many, many questions about events in Manchester" which formed a direct link with his arrest, over a year later, in that city.

When it came to his trial on terrorism charges, "the trial judge should have stayed the proceedings as an abuse of process", argued Mr Bennathan.

He told appeal judges Lord Justice Hughes, Mr Justice Owen and Mrs Justice Thirlwall that they should now allow Rangzieb Ahmed's appeal "on the same basis".

Ahmed, 34, who was jailed for life with a minimum term of 10 years in December 2008, watched today's appeal proceedings in London via video link from prison.

Manchester Crown Court heard during his trial that he headed a three-man al Qaida service cell which was preparing to commit mass murder.

The Rochdale-born Muslim was also found guilty of al Qaida membership, with his associate, Manchester taxi driver Habib Ahmed.

Habib Ahmed, who was sentenced to a total of 10 years in prison - nine for being a member of the terror group and an additional one year for possessing a document for terror-related purposes - is also appealing and watched the hearing via video link.

Today's appeal comes in the wake of statements by Tory MP David Davis in Parliament in which he claimed that British intelligence services allowed Rangzieb Ahmed to go to Pakistan, where they alerted the authorities who arrested and tortured him.

At the appeal court, Mr Bennathan argued that, to tell the Pakistani authorities that there was someone in Pakistan they might like to arrest "is complicity" in torture.

The QC said his client was seized by officers of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in the company of a white woman. It was Ahmed's case that the CIA was involved.

He was taken to an ISI base, manacled hand and foot and a hood placed over his head.

"He was asked questions and told: 'You must speak. Everybody who comes here speaks," Mr Bennathan told the court.

He was asked many questions, and later stripped and beaten with a piece of wood with rubber attached.

It was his case that he was lodged in a cell without furniture and not allowed to sleep for six days or so.

"In the days that followed he was asked many, many questions about events and people in Manchester, and he was beaten with some cable."

According to Ahmed's account, pliers were produced and he was held down by a number of officers.

One of his finger nails "was first twisted and peeled back and ultimately torn out altogether.

"That happened on three days to three finger nails," said Mr Bennathan.

The physical abuse was carried out by Pakistani ISI officers, but Ahmed said others came to visit and question him.

"He was visited, he said, by officers from the UK's security services on one occasion.

"Officers from the security services of the US questioned him from time to time over a six-month period."

At his trial, there was a pre-trial review hearing to consider Ahmed's application alleging abuse of process.

The trial judge heard a number of witnesses and rejected some parts of Rangzieb's account, said Mr Bennathan.

Principally, he rejected the timing of when the physical abuse had taken place, but he had also "accepted a number of parts of Rangzieb's evidence".

After saying that he chose his words "carefully", the trial judge concluded that he was "not satisfied the British authorities assisted or encouraged the Pakistanis to unlawfully detain and ill-treat Rangzieb Ahmed in such a way as to amount to an abuse of process of the court."

Mr Bennathan told the appeal judges: "We say, with great respect to the learned judge, that he was wrong in arriving at that ruling." - PA