Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The European Arrest Warrant at work (not!)

This was going to be the great test of the European Arrest Warrant, which, we have been told ad nauseam, is a great success. One of the suspected would-be bombers of July 21, Hamdi Adus Issac, also known as Hussain Osman (the confusion with the names is caused by the fact that although born Ethiopian and living with his family in Italy, he falsified his papers to get asylum in Britain as a Somali refugee) has been arrested in Rome.

Hussain Osman is the Shepherd’s Bush would-be bomber, the one who, escaping from the station, ran through an elderly couple’s back garden, through the open back door into the kitchen, where the wife was washing up after lunch, through the house and out of the front door, shutting it behind him. Though the lady called to her husband, she seemed entirely unfazed by the encounter, telling journalists afterwards that she thought shutting the door was a polite sort of thing to do when you are in a hurry. Say what you like about Britain but we do breed a better class of terrorists.

Osman was arrested in Rome together with two of his brothers, one of whom seems to have forged documents of his own, after a bit of spectacular co-operation between British and Italian police of the kind that is more likely to produce results than any highly expensive EU structure that gets in the way of all operational activity.

According to an article in the Financial Times [subscription only]:

“Among the labyrinth of agencies is Europol, a pan-European police agency in The Hague, and the Brussels-based Situation Centre, a threat-analysis body. Elsewhere, a border-management agency in Warsaw, and the Hague-based Eurojust, which helps prosecutors, also tackle terrorism. Each depends on member states for information.

A counter-terrorism co-ordinator, Gijs de Vries, oversees the EU's work but officials say he has to work within a limited remit. In addition, groups of countries, such as the quarterly G5 meetings of the interior ministers of the UK, France, Italy, Spain and Germany,address terrorism, to the irritation of smaller members who fear they are pre-cooking policies.”

You can see how all that can get in the way. Needless to say, the answer to the problems according to the various EU spokespeople and, one must admit, the FT journalist, is better integration of the various agencies.

Whereas, it is quite clear to all with any sense at all that what works is the sort of collaboration so well displayed by the police forces of the two countries over the various phone calls from mobiles and the tracing of the suspect in Italy. (Though why the man thought that hiding with his brother was a good idea is anybody’s guess. If there is something the Italian police understand well it is the importance of la famiglia.)

But what of the European Arrest Warrant, that magical formula that is going to whisk terror suspects from one country to another in a matter of days? Ah well, that does not seem to be so effective. It seems that Hussain Osman may well not be sent over to Britain for at least 90 days and the paperwork presented by the British police is deemed to be insufficient.

The head of the Italian anti-terror police, Carlo di Stefano, has assured everyone that the extradition will be put through sooner rather than later but the British police is finding the process rather frustrating.

One could argue that the British authorities will now understand why other countries in Europe and beyond have found what one French lawyer recently called “the British obsession with human rights” that resulted in known terrorists and terror planners not being extradited, frustrating.

All a matter of political will, as we have said before, not of EU structures that seem to multiply to no useful effect beyond assuring us all that control of borders and immigration is no longer British competence. Oh, and as my colleague has pointed out, the spending of large amounts of taxpayers’ money.

In the meantime, Osman has been charged in Italy with participation in inernational terrorist activity, which may be a holding charge until the extradition procedure is completed or may, on the other hand, actually stall those procedures.

According to Antonietta Sonnessa, Hussain Osman’s lawyer, he wants to stay in Italy. Also according to her and examining magistrates, he is not connected with any organized terrorist groups and the July 21 of would-be bombers were not a cell but an ad hoc group.

This theory may be disproved by the hitherto unexplained call to Saudi Arabia that Osman made on his way to Rome and as more information is unearthed about his life in London. Who knows, he might even have had a job.

Osman himself seems to have come up with all sorts of interesting stories. First of all, he said, he did not mean to kill anyone merely make a show of protest. That would not explain the presence of explosives in his bag together with the acid that leaked, injuring his leg. Were he in Britain, he would now be whisked off to a hospital with human rights lawyers pleading that he was a victim himself. Perhaps, it is best that he stays in Italy.

Then there are the rather dubious explanations of why he did what it is he intended to do. First he said that it was because of Iraq but as he did not go into any details, one may assume that he simply read that in a newspaper.

Then he said that he knew nothing about Islamic groups but had joined a body building class and people were recruited there to go and avenge the dead of July 7. Since those dead had blown themselves up, intentionally or otherwise, it seems that revenge was a little out of order.

However, this does confirm a kind of a pattern, noticed in Spain as well. At a recent talk on terrorism in Spain I attended, we were told that many of the March 11 bombers in Madrid had been radicalized not by the war in Iraq but by widespread arrests of terrorist groups in Spain in 2001.

This is not an unfamiliar pattern historically speaking. The nearest parallel to the Islamic terrorist groups, most of whom are made up of middle class disaffected young men, is the radical/terrorist movement in Russia in the nineteenth century. There, too, each batch of arrests and each trial radicalized yet another group of young men and women. There is a kind of angry self-righteousness about the people who first declare war on the society they live in, then get affronted when society fights back.

Hussain Osman, we have also been told, is not a Muslim fundamentalist, although there are also stories about him forcing his Christian Ethiopian wife to convert to Islam and to wear a veil.

Then again, his lawyer seems to have meetings with him wearing the sort of unprofessional but very elegant looking strap-topped t-shirt that would surely send any decent Muslim into paroxysms of hatred and contempt. Clearly, the Italian legal system is not going to pay too much attention to his supposed sensibilities and that may be another reason why he does not want to return to Britain. Who wants a Cherie Blair look-alike human rights lawyer, who is covered from head to toe out of respect to his supposed views on the world and the female role in it?

So we are back to the problem we have always faced. While police forces co-operate willingly across borders without any need for Europol, Eurojust or Mr Gijs de Vries, the legal and political authorities continue squabbling. The European Arrest Warrant is proving to be another quagmire, while Europeans continue to display a foolishly light-headed attitude to the danger we are all facing from Islamic terrorism.

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