Liverpool John Moores student held in terror raid

As many as ten suspects could possess student visas. Melanie Newman reports

April 9, 2009

A student at Liverpool John Moores University has been arrested on suspicion of terror offences.

He was one of 12 men arrested in the North West of England on 8 April under the auspices of the Terrorism Act 2006. Several of the men are believed to be Pakistani nationals.

As many as ten of the suspects are reported to have been in the UK on student visas, although this has not been confirmed by police.

Detective Chief Superintendent Tony Porter, head of the North West Counter Terrorism Unit, said the arrests were part of an ongoing investigation and that his officers had acted on intelligence the unit had received.

"This phase is still in its very early stages, so the information we can release about it is limited," he said.

It is not known whether the Liverpool John Moores student is studying for a postgraduate or undergraduate qualification.

Anthony Glees, director of the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at the University of Buckingham, said: "This again raises [the] question of whether our universities are taking the severe security threat to this country seriously. Academics think it has gone away now that there is a new US President, but that clearly isn't the case."

He added: "I would be interested to see whether [Liverpool John Moores] and any other universities [that may be] involved had submitted the names of these students to the Foreign Office vetting service. Most universities did not want to use this system as they thought it would deter applications from overseas."

The Academic Technology Approval Scheme (Atas) to vet postgraduate applicants from outside the European Economic Area and Switzerland has been operational since November 2007.

All students applying for doctorates or research masters in 41 subjects have to go through the system, but Professor Glees said universities are able to voluntarily submit the names of students on other courses.

Last November, MI5 and MI6 revealed that Atas had intercepted up to 100 potential terrorists posing as postgraduate students.

A Foreign Office spokesman was quoted as saying that the applicants had been denied clearance to study in the UK under powers "to stop the spread of knowledge and skills that could be used in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery".

He added: "Here is empirical evidence of a problem with postgraduate students becoming weapons proliferators."

At about the same time, MI5 issued a warning to the Foreign Office that the al-Qaeda terrorist group was attempting to recruit scientists and university students with access to laboratories.

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