Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Briton kidnapped in Somalia was trying to free yacht couple

By Barbara Jones In Cape Town And Jason Lewis In London
Happy Birthday Fergie, I've paid to fix your Bentley... even though it was a gift from another man
Uncertain fate: The kidnapped Briton before he was seized - we have obscured his face at Save The Children's request
The British man kidnapped at gunpoint in Somalia has been involved in trying to negotiate the release of Paul and Rachel Chandler, the retired couple snatched from their yacht in the Indian Ocean nearly a year ago, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
It is feared that the experienced foreign aid worker may have been taken at gunpoint by the same group holding the Chandlers.
The Briton’s name is known to The Mail on Sunday but we have agreed not to identify him at the request of Save The Children.
Today the charity confirmed he is 'well', 'being looked after and is in good spirits'
He had been conducting a feasibility study for the charity in the war-torn country, where they hoped to set up a feeding and medical base for children.
He and a Somali national were abducted from a guesthouse compound in Adado in the early hours of Friday morning.
The Somalian was released hours later.
The Briton’s abduction comes weeks after he warned that the Chandlers were at the centre of a dispute between the pirates who had kidnapped them and, Al-Shabaab, the Islamic militants attempting to take over the country.
In his report, obtained by The Mail on Sunday, he says: ‘The dynamics of finance are also elements within the equation. The conflict in South Central Somalia has essentially been stalemated for months.
‘A significant element in this is based on the severe cash-flow crisis experienced by all actors . . . probable in light of the latest moves by some western country’s actions geared towards freezing Al-Shabaab funds and blocking any sources deemed to support the organisation.
‘With their military advantage, Al- Shabaab could tax pirates and share in profits...Al-Shabaab may also have decided to attempt a “hostile takeover” of the two hostages.’
After writing the report the Briton travelled to Somalia from his base in Kenya to conduct the study for Save the Children. No international humanitarian organisations have been able to operate in the area for several years due to its volatility and the lack of a stable government.
But sources say that while in Adado, the Briton intended to make contact with the land-based pirates holding the Chandlers and break the deadlock in negotiations for their release.
The Briton, who is married to a Canadian vet and has dual British and Zimbabwean citizenship, is well-connected in the NGO (Non-Governmental Organisation) community in Kenya and has written extensively about humanitarian operations in Somalia. He has also worked in Chad, Indonesia and Cameroon.
He recently wrote of the ‘extreme/variable risk’ in the Adado area, putting it in the red-alert category. He described the operation of aid agencies in Somalia as ‘a dysfunctional continuum of mutually-acceptable paralysis’ with locals working unsupervised and foreign staff working out of Nairobi.
Captives: Rachel and Paul Chandler are still being held by pirates who kidnapped them on their yacht a year ago off the coast of Somalia
Captives: Rachel and Paul Chandler are still being held by pirates who kidnapped them on their yacht a year ago off the coast of Somalia
A former adviser to the Danish Refugee Council in the Horn of Africa, the Briton is familiar with the complexities of the mainly clan-based conflicts in Somalia, including groups like Al-Shabaab, the Islamic hardliners, their closest rivals Hizbul Islamiya and others such as the Ahlu Sunna Waljama militia which supports the country’s transitional government.
He arrived in Somalia about a month ago and has been using Twitter and his personal website to update friends and colleagues on his progress.
He posted a series of pictures of gun-toting locals, armed with machine guns and rocket launchers, he had met in the streets of the capital and on his trips into the interior alongside his last blog.
He wrote: ‘So “they” say 65 per cent of Al-Shabaab have left Mogadishu.
As British Embassy officials and his own colleagues try to establish who kidnapped the man, two theories are emerging.
One is that Al-Shabaab, bringing its fighting force ever closer to Adado from the North, could have taken him in revenge for recent clashes with its rivals.
The other is that land-based pirates who use Adado town as the home base for their wives and families snatched him to boost their chances of ransom payments for Paul and Rachel Chandler.
Map of the pirates' kidnap
Map of the pirates' kidnap
The Chandlers, both in their 50s, took early retirement to leave their home in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, and sail around the world.
Their yacht the Lynn Rival was waylaid by armed pirates about 50 nautical miles west of the Seychelles on October 23 last year as they were heading for Dar-es-Salaam on the Tanzanian coast.
Among those trying to secure their release is the self-styled President of Adado, Mohamed Aden, who until recently had transformed the area into a safe haven with a functioning police force, active businesses and new schools.
A member of the dominant group there, the Salebaan sub-clan, his militia has kept the peace by virtue of its private supply of rocket-propelled grenades, small arms and tanks.
He told The Mail on Sunday recently: ‘I am doing everything I can to negotiate with the pirate group so that there will be no bloodshed and no further delay.’
But the president has clearly been marginalised by recent outbreaks of violence between Al-Shabaab and the pro-government militia of Ahlu Sunna Waljama.
Conflicting reports last night said that the kidnapped aid workers had been forced into vehicles owned by Al-Shabaab and heading for the Galguduud area they control, and conversely that Adado had been taken over by the Sufi moderates, Ahlu Sunna Waljama and that they may be holding the men.
A local source commented: ‘The worst scenario is that it is the pirates who seized them as part of a plan to make further demands for the Chandlers.’
Last night the Foreign Office refused to comment and referred all calls to Save the Children.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Binyam Mohamed can stay in Britain - but he wants it kept secret: Former detainee argues reporting story amounts to 'torture'

By Jason Lewis
Binyam Mohamed
Imprisoned: Binyam Mohamed spent more than four years at Guantanamo Bay
Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed last night lost a legal bid to prevent The Mail on Sunday from revealing that he has been granted permanent residency in Britain.
The controversial move by the former UK asylum seeker came despite his continued involvement in a series of high-profile legal battles with the Government, claiming that Labour Ministers, MI5 and MI6 were complicit in his illegal detention and alleged torture.
Last night lawyers acting for Ethiopian-born Mr Mohamed,
32, failed to win a High Court injunction preventing the public from knowing that he had been granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK.
The extraordinary case was brought under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which covers torture.
Mr Mohamed’s lawyers claimed that publicising his right to remain in Britain would amount to inhumane and degrading treatment.
The case comes amid increasing disquiet about the growing practice of allowing asylum seekers to remain anonymous when they argue that they should be allowed to make the UK their permanent home.
Earlier this year the Supreme Court warned against the now ‘widespread phenomenon’ that had allowed many foreign applicants anonymity in immigration cases, including those involving alleged terrorist activities.
It said: ‘At present, the courts are denying the public information which is relevant to that debate, even though the whole system has been created and operated in their name.’
But yesterday, in an emergency hearing lasting 90 minutes, lawyers for Mr Mohamed, headed by QC Hugh Southey, attempted to argue that the torture victim was a special case.
The Mail on Sunday cannot report the evidence presented by Mr Mohamed’s legal team other than to say they argued that allowing it to be revealed would be a breach of his privacy and would amount to ‘inhumane and degrading treatment’.
Binyam Mohamed
Free: Binyam Mohamed shields his face following his release from Guantanamo Bay
But after arguments by Mail on Sunday barrister Desmond Browne QC, the former chairman of the Bar Council and one of the country’s most distinguished libel and privacy lawyers, High Court judge Mr Justice Cooke turned down Mr Mohamed’s application and ordered him to pay costs.
Explaining his ruling, Mr ­Justice Cooke said: ‘It is plainly a matter of public interest. The fact is the very identity of this applicant is of importance.
'The history of the circumstances in which he was taken to Guan­tanamo Bay, his immigration ­status, the alleged complicity of Her Majesty’s Government in what happened at Guantanamo Bay, all raise questions of public interest against which the decision to grant the applicant indefinite leave to remain has to be seen.
'I cannot say in the circumstances that the applicant is likely to succeed in preventing publi­cation of that matter.’
Bonyam Mohamed
Touch down: Binyam steps on to British soil following his release
Mr Mohamed was allowed to come to Britain in 2009, having spent six years as a prisoner after being captured and transported under the CIA’s so-called extraordinary rendition programme, which saw terror suspects secretly moved between interrogation centres in parts of the world with poor human rights records.
He had been arrested in Pakistan in 2002 after attempting to board a flight to Britain using a forged passport and claims he was then transferred between several so-called ‘ghost prisons’ where he was interrogated and tortured.
The US military said that during questioning, Mr Mohamed admitted that he had trained in the Al Farouq Al Qaeda terrorist training camp alongside another Briton, Richard Reid, who attemp­ted to bring down a passenger jet with explosives hidden in
his shoes.
It was also alleged that Mr Mohamed was trained to build radioactive dirty bombs and involved in an alleged plot to attack high-rise apartment buildings in the United States.
But he denied these claims, and said his admissions were made under torture and that he had in fact travelled to Afghanistan and Pakistan to overcome drug problems.
He says he was held in ­prisons in Pakistan, Morocco and Afghanistan, and that while he was in Morocco, interrogators tortured him by using scalpels or razor blades repeatedly to cut his penis and chest.
Mr Mohamed was taken from Bagram air base to Guantanamo Bay on September 19, 2004. After the US dropped the case against him, he was allowed to return to Britain in February 2009.
Almost immediately he began proceedings against the British Gov­ern­ment, alleging they had been complicit in his ill-treatment.
In an interview with The Mail on Sunday when he was released, he said: ‘It was obvious the British were feeding them questions about people in London.’
Last night a Home Office spokesman said it did not comment on individual immigration cases.

Freedom has to work both ways, Mr Mohamed

Mail on Sunday Comment

The use of super injunctions to keep the public from knowing about matters that might be regarded as controversial is increasing at an alarming rate.
Almost every week some celebrity takes out such an injunction to prevent publication of facts that might cause him shame, damage his reputation or reduce his earning power.
That is quite bad enough. But even more disturbing is the use of such instruments to prevent the media from reporting the workings of Parliament or the courts.
Galling: Binyam Mohamed owes his release to the diligent actions of an independent Press, not least this newspaper
Recently, a large multi-national company even tried to stop The Guardian newspaper reporting a parliamentary question. Now Binyam Mohamed has sought to prevent The Mail on Sunday from reporting that he has been given leave to remain in this country.
This is particularly galling because he owes his release to the diligent actions of an independent Press, not least this newspaper.
He was perfectly happy for us to lay bare the details of the legal battle that secured his liberty – and the activities of Britain’s security services.
The principle that helped to free Binyam Mohamed in the first place – that the actions of the state and the courts in a free society must be open to reasonable scrutiny – applies just as much to him and his immigration status as it does to the British Government and its decisions.

Facing the sack, civil servants who spend too much time on Facebook and Twitter

Hard day at the office: Authorities are concer
Hard day at the office: Authorities are concerned that some employees are spending too much office time chatting online

By Jason Lewis
Government and council employees using Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites at work or posting inappropriate ­comments from home face being disciplined or even sacked.
One police force censured eight employees last year after it caught them using police computers to chat to their friends online.
A local authority disciplined a member of staff who used the websites to discuss what he was doing in his social life while he was supposed to be off sick.
And another council caught staff using special software to get around a ban on using office computers to tweet on Twitter and ‘update their status’ on Facebook during working hours.
Now, Government departments and quangos, including officials planning the 2012 Olympics, have issued written guidelines to staff detailing their restrictions on using the sites.
They are also paying thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money to outside consultants for courses on the do’s and don’ts of how to behave on Facebook and similar sites.
Last year The Mail on Sunday revealed how Sir John Sawers, the head of MI6, was left exposed by a personal security breach after his wife published intimate photos and family details on Facebook.
This led to all Government staff who were undergoing developed vetting – required if they were to handle top-secret documents – being warned against posting personal details online which could leave them open to blackmail.
Last month the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) distributed a guide to all employees stating: ‘Facebook, Linked-In, Twitter have become very popular ... and offer significant business benefits ... Their use poses risks both to the data on the ODA IT system ... and to the users of the sites and ODA.’
A letter to staff says they are allowed to use social networking sites in lunch breaks but warns: ‘You must not publish content about London 2012.’
Cheshire Constabulary is one of a number of police forces that impose
a total ban on staff using social networking sites on work computers unless it is required for ‘policing purposes’.
The force revealed that breaches of its guidelines have led to eight staff being disciplined over their online activities. Seven took place on police premises while another had been disciplined for their home internet usage, which ‘involved inappropriate and offensive comments’.
Glasgow City Council bans staff from using Facebook and other
similar sites for personal use. It ­disciplined two staff who attempted to get around these restrictions by using special software to circumnavigate the council’s internet ­filtering system.
Meanwhile St Helens Borough Council, in Merseyside, revealed that ‘we have had one instance where an employee has been disciplined for excessive use of the internet, including posting material about their social life on a social networking site when they were off sick’.
Rochdale Borough Council, in Greater Manchester, also revealed it had disciplined a member of staff over their ‘home’ use of social ­networking sites.

Parents helping in school to be spared criminal checks    
By: Jason Lewis

PARENTS will no longer need criminal record checks to help at their children's schools - as the Home Secretary dismantles Labour's health and safety culture.

The Government will also place greater restrictions on when unsubstantiated allegations and hearsay held on police files should be given to employers vetting prospective staff.

The moves are the intended outcome of a review of the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) ordered by Home Secretary Theresa May, who is concerned about the 'overuse' of vetting and wants a commonsense approach.

Senior Home Office sources said Mrs May was 'irritated by the health and safety culture' inherited from Labour and had ordered a 'radical shake-up'. At present, parents who go into schools to help with reading or games lessons must have a CRB check. It is understood the review will do away with this requirement.

Those who have greater contact with children or vulnerable adults, such as teachers, Scout leaders, doctors and nurses, need an 'enhanced' check.

This includes 'soft' information including when someone is questioned but not charged or faces unsubstantiated claims discounted by officers.

The review will examine the need to release this 'soft' information amid claims that innocent people are denied jobs based on hearsay.

Vetting came under fire last year after two women police officers were banned from looking after each other's children without CRB checks.

Home Office Minister Lynne Featherstone said there had been unintended consequences of tightening up checks legislation.

'It has resulted in the number of volunteers stepping forward dropping,' she said. 'Too many hoops to jump through just to help with reading in school.'

Last night the Home Office confirmed the intention was to 'bring the criminal records regime back to commonsense levels'. There will be further announcements in the near future, it said.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Phone app that tracks planes 'is aid to terrorists armed with missiles'

By Jason Lewis
A mobile phone application costing less than £2 which tracks the precise location of passenger aircraft in the sky is a serious terrorist threat and should be banned, according to a security expert.
The Plane Finder AR app for the Apple iPhone and Google’s Android allows users to point their phone at the sky and see the position, height and speed of nearby aircraft. It also shows the airline, flight number, departure point, destination and even the likely course.
The program, developed by a British firm and sold for just £1.79 in the online Apple store, was last night labelled an ‘aid to terrorists’ amid fears it could be used to target an aircraft with a surface-to-air missile, or to direct another plane on to a collision course.
Threat: Security experts have slammed a £2 phone app which gives specific details about in-flight aircraft
Threat: Security experts have slammed a £2 phone app which gives specific details about in-flight aircraft
Terrorists have launched ground-to-air attacks against commercial jets in the past, most recently in Iraq in 2007. The threat has led to Israeli commercial aircraft being fitted with countermeasures.
The US Department of Homeland Security is also examining how to protect airliners.

The new app works by intercepting the so-called Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcasts (ADS-B) transmitted by most passenger aircraft to a new satellite tracking system that supplements or, in some countries, replaces radar.
British and European air traffic control systems have not yet adopted the technology but it is being fitted in all new aircraft, which now constantly broadcast their positions.
After the September 11 attacks in America in 2001, a senior Federal Aviation Administration official warned that ADS-B technology could be used by terrorists.
He wrote: ‘Broadcasting the identity and location of aircraft . . . would open the door for a terrorist to attack a specific aircraft or airline.’
The firm behind the app, Pinkfroot, uses a network of aircraft enthusiasts in Britain and abroad, who are equipped with ADS-B receivers costing around £200, to intercept the information from aircraft and send it to a central database.

'Helping enemies find targets is madness'


It is one of a number of companies offering near real-time tracking of aircraft in Britain, Europe, America and Australia.
But Pinkfroot, based in Southsea, Hampshire, has gone one step further, marketing a so-called ‘Augmented Reality’ application because users can point a phone’s camera at the sky and see the precise position of aircraft superimposed on the horizon.
The firm claims more than 2,000 people have downloaded Plane Finder AR from iTunes since its launch last month.
Conservative MP Patrick Mercer, former chairman of the Parliamentary Counter Terrorism sub-committee, said: ‘Anything that makes it easier for our enemies to find targets is madness. The Government must look at outlawing the marketing of such equipment.’
Last night Lee Armstrong, a director of Pinkfroot, said: ‘We have packaged information that is freely broadcast. We haven’t had any objection from the authorities in the UK or anywhere else in the world.’
He added that it had ‘crossed our minds’ that ‘a terrorist could use it’ and admitted that the firm had built in a delay to try to reduce the risk.
He said: ‘It is only real-time to an extent – it is about 30 seconds behind. If someone really wants to do that [shoot down a jet] they could buy their own ADS-B or radar.’
A spokesman for the Department for Transport said: ‘This application might be new but the ability to track aircraft isn’t.’

Britain held secret war talks with U.S. general 11 months before Iraq invasion

By Jason Lewis
America's most senior general flew into Britain for top secret talks on the invasion of Iraq 11 months before the attack on Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Details of the classified meeting, held at RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, suggest Tony Blair’s Government was involved in detailed discussions about toppling the Iraqi dictator earlier than previously disclosed.
American General Tommy Franks flew in to the base in April 2002 to attend a summit meeting called by the then Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon.
Geoff Hoon
General Tommy Franks
Meeting: Former Defence Secretary had talks with General Tommy Franks in 2002
It followed similar meetings Gen Franks had in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
Secret Pentagon documents reveal Mr Hoon asked about ‘US plans for Iraq’.
Exactly what was said has been censored, but declassified sections of the documents show Gen Franks had a separate meeting with Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, then Britain’s chief of defence staff, and senior officers.
At that meeting, ‘regional issues’ including Iraq were discussed, and Gen Franks was told the Ministry of Defence had ‘put together a small cell’ for ‘thinking strategically about Iraq’ and ‘what courses of action are available to handle the regime’.
Mr Hoon did not mention the meeting when he gave evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry on Iraq earlier this year. And Admiral Boyce, now Lord Boyce, told the Chilcot panel he had set up an Iraq planning group, but only in May 2002.
Location: Talks took place at RAF Brize Norton where dead troops are repatriated to
Site: Talks took place at RAF Brize Norton, where Iraq dead were later flown to
Last night Mr Hoon said: ‘I do recall meeting [Gen Franks] at Brize Norton but I am pretty confident that the primary purpose was to discuss Afghanistan.
'Whether in the course of that meeting there were discussions about Iraq wouldn’t entirely surprise me, but I am confident that there wasn’t anything more specific other than questions like, “What’s going on?”  ’
He added that he did not ‘hide or disguise meetings’ from Chilcot, saying he volunteered as much information as he could recall.
Researcher Chris Ames, who helped secure the documents’ release under Freedom of Information laws, said: ‘The memo contradicts the evidence of other Chilcot witnesses, who said British collaboration with US war plans did not begin until the early summer of 2002.’