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One of the UK's most dangerous terror suspects (allegedly...) was free to walk into the offices of a major newspaper this week, despite being subject to a control order, and despite intense (or not...) surveillance by the security services. Mahmoud Abu Rideh, one of the terror suspects recently released from custody into a regime of restrictions, tagging and surveillance was we stress able to do this entirely in accordance with the terms of his control order - he was merely dropping in to the Guardian in order to explain the confusion and sheer, barking madness of Britain's new 'prison without bars' system of terror controls.

Rideh is one of those detained without trial by David Blunkett over three years ago. These detentions were ruled to be in breach of human rights legislation late last year, and the control order system was brought in under the Prevention of Terrorism Act this month in order to provide an equivalent form of restriction of men the Government still insists are dangerous. So they were in prison or in Broadmoor secure mental facility, and now they're at home (or in some cases Home Office accommodation), but subject to curfews, restrictions on what they can do, who they can meet and the communications devices they can use. Depending on how you imagine this, it could sound rather like being in prison, but according to Rideh it's a lot weirder and more random than that.

Under the circumstances it would probably be unwise for Rideh to speculate loudly about how the subject of one of the Home Office's new hi tech prisons without bars might go about meeting dangerous wanted terrorists, making bombs or even planting them - but frankly, it doesn't look hard to us, if that was what any of them actually wanted to do.

The way the terms of the control orders operate seems (as we earlier suggested would be the case) to be being made up as the need arises. Rideh is not allowed to meet people by arrangement, but is allowed to drop in on them without prior arrangement. Which would appear to be able to meet anybody he likes without the security services needing to know about it. In terms of monitoring and control this would appear to be worse, from the point of view of the security services, than allowing him to meet anyone he likes provided he has prior permission. Other control order suspects have however said they can talk to people if they bump into them in the street, so it might be that he's allowed to walk into the Guardian to be interviewed if it's a spur of the moment decision, but not if he'd left home specifically planning to do this. Or something - Rideh has been diagnosed as mentally ill following his earlier detention, and this obviously can't be helping.

Rideh can also meet people at prayer meetings at a mosque, but needs to have visitors to his home vetted in advance. He's not allowed to attend pre-arranged meetings or gatherings, but he was at the anti-war demonstration in Hyde Park last Saturday, saying he stumbled across it while playing football in the park with his children.

He also reports that the voice recognition system installed by tagging company Premier Monitoring Services doesn't work, while the Guardian found that the Home Office control order "hotline" was connected to an answering machine. Unfortunately, he doesn't report what happens when the voice recognition service fails. The tags used are the home detention variety, operational within range of a base station but useless outside the home, and the voice recognition is presumably used to confirm that the person under detention is actually the person reporting in to the control centre (or possibly the unattended workstation). So considering these are dangerous men who absolutely had to be kept in prison until just the other week, you'd expect squad cars and Special Branch to descend in force whenever the system said the detainee might have fled. But we very much doubt anything of the sort happens.

Out on his travels, Rideh says he thinks he's being followed when he catches the underground, but that he doesn't appear to be if he calls a taxi. This probably means he's deemed to rate one minder on foot, but not a motorised team.

Rideh himself is of Jordanian origin and has lived in the UK since 1995, when he was granted refugee status. He is claimed by the Government to have provided financial and logistical support to extreme Islamists with connections to al-Qaida (N.B., not to al-Qaida itself). Lawyer Gareth Pearce says these claims arise from support given to the families of immigration detainees and from work in relation to charitable projects in Afghanistan, for which he raised funds.

Tags in action: At a recent murder trial a bizarre feature of some UK tagging systems emerged. One of those subsequently convicted was subject to a tag, but removed it without it being noticed for six days, and his home curfew was only monitored by passing mobile detector vans, because he didn't have a home phone. (Thanks to Spyblog for the link.

Terror watch: Islamist/al Qaida terror is, the Government keeps telling us, more dangerous than the IRA was, which is one of the major reasons why there are no IRA suspects being detained without trial (sing yourself a few bars of "The men behind the wire" to remind yourself of another major reason). But none of the raids or arrests connected with the new more dangerous class of terror has turned up guns or explosives. Dodgy passports and ID, yes... Police in Northern Ireland this week have however turned up this lot. AK47, real and replica handguns, shotgun and ammunition, components of an explosive device and a notebook with details of security personnel. They're still not as dangerous though, apparently... ®

Related stories:

Chaos as 'tagging for terror' system hits glitches
UK tagging for 'terror plotters' goes live on freed suspects
ID scheme, IT the key to Blunkett's new terror laws

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