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Britain to Appeal Verdict on Afghan Hijackers


The British government has confirmed it will fight to overturn a judge's ruling that a group of Afghan hijackers be granted residency rights.

British Home Secretary John Reid has announced the decision to appeal the high court judgment in favor of nine Afghan men who hijacked a plane to Britain in 2000.

"When decisions are taken which appear inexplicable or bizarre to the general public, it only reinforces the perception that the system is not working to protect, or in favor of, the vast majority of ordinary, decent, hardworking citizens in this country," said Reid. "That is a perception that should worry all of us and it is a perception that all of us should be working to put right."

Reid spoke after Prime Minister Tony Blair denounced the court's ruling as "an abuse of common sense." The government wants to deport the hijackers back to Afghanistan.

The high court ruled on Wednesday that the Afghans should be allowed to work in Britain and apply for government benefits under a status called "discretionary leave." The high court justice, Jeremy Sullivan, said the government should have obeyed a ruling by immigration authorities in 2004 to grant refugee status to the Afghans.

The hijackers landed at London's Stansted Airport in 2000 after commandeering an Ariana Airlines domestic flight that had taken off from Kabul.

The hijackers asked for asylum, saying they had fled repression from the Taleban regime in Afghanistan, but Britain arrested them and put them on trial. Their convictions were overturned in 2004.