LONDON – British police released the last of 12 suspects rounded up in a series of dramatic anti-terror raids earlier this month, failing to charge any of the men, authorities said Wednesday.
The news was an embarrassment for British authorities, including Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who claimed at the time of their arrests that police had disrupted "a very big terrorist plot" that had been monitored "for some time."
The arrests were rushed in part because a police commissioner inadvertently exposed details of the operation to photographers outside the prime minister's office.
Police had to scramble to catch the suspects before they learned of the raid, forgoing their usual dawn raids for a dramatic series of daytime operations across northern England on April 8.
Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick, one of the country's top counterterrorism officers, resigned after he inadvertently exposed details of the operation.
One suspect was forced to the ground by gun-toting officers in front of students at the library of Liverpool John Moores University. Most of the men taken into custody were Pakistanis in Britain on student visas.
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British officials have said they want to deport all but one of the men on national security grounds, but that may be difficult: A lawyer for three of the men said his clients would fight to continue their education in the U.K., while Islamabad opposes deportation.
"We think they should not be deported if there is no evidence against them and they can't be tried in Britain and if they're innocent," Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit said Wednesday. "Our position is that they should be allowed to continue their studies and live a normal life."
Disquiet within the Muslim community has grown in the two weeks since as media reports suggested that officers were failing to turn up significant evidence of a plot. One suspect was released April 11. Nine more were released Tuesday. The final two were released Wednesday.
Attorney Mohammed Ayub said his clients were in Britain lawfully and that their detention had been "a very serious breach of their human rights." The government was acting in bad faith by seeking to kick the students out of the country, said Inayat Bunglawala, the spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain.
"Instead of releasing them with good grace and making clear a mistake has been made, the government is seeking to deport them citing a very vague national security threat," Bunglawala told BBC radio. "That is a very dishonorable way of proceeding."
Greater Manchester Police, which spearheaded the operation, said it had been extremely complex.
"When it comes to the safety of the public we can't take any chances, we must act on information we receive," Chief Constable Peter Fahy said in a statement.