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Terrorist Conviction Stirs Asylum Debate in Britain

  • Mike Drudge

The conviction of an Algerian man for plotting poison attacks in London has focused new attention on Britain's asylum policy just three weeks before a general election.

The political opposition is hammering the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair for its handling of the case of Kamel Bourgass, an Algerian convicted of murdering a policeman and plotting a terrorist attack.

Metropolitain Police photo of flat used by Kamel Bourgass where traces of deadly toxin ricin were found
The leader of the opposition Conservative Party, Michael Howard, says Bourgass should have been deported long before he concocted his plot, since his application for asylum already had been rejected.

"Kamel Bourgass, an al-Qaida operative, should not have been in Britain at all," he said. "He was one of the quarter of a million failed asylum seekers living in Britain today who should have been deported. His case underlines the chaos in our asylum system."

The Conservatives propose stricter border controls and asylum procedures as they try to tap into voters' anger over those issues before May's general election.

Mr. Blair's home secretary, Charles Clarke, admits the Bourgass case underscores the problem of dealing with a backload of asylum files.

"I am not absolutely confident that the processes are as they should be," he said. "We have reduced the time taken for applications to be considered from a situation where 80 percent of them took about 20 months to 80 percent taking two months. But it is still too long and I have to concede that."

The Blair team is fighting to not be outflanked by the Conservatives on security and terrorism issues.

Cabinet officers point out the Conservatives blocked a Blair initiative to create national identification cards, and held up passage of a law that gives police limited powers to place suspected terrorists under house arrest.

The Conservatives objected to both measures on grounds they could violate civil liberties and be subject to abuse by authorities.

The convictions of Kamel Bourgass were revealed Wednesday when a court lifted restrictions on media reporting of the trial. Eight other North African men were cleared of conspiring in the case, which police say was Britain's biggest terrorist plot since the 2001 attacks against the United States.

But defense lawyers say the government exaggerated the threat and they describe Bourgass as an anti-social loner with no evident ties to global terrorism.

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