Al-Qaeda

How Did Abid Naseer Come to be Convicted in a U.S. Court?

By Diane Webber
Saturday, March 14, 2015, 4:00 PM

On March 4 2015, Pakistani national Abid Naseer was convicted in a Brooklyn Federal Court of supporting terrorism and conspiring with al-Qaeda to bomb a shopping mall in the United Kingdom in 2009. The case received a fair bit of press attention, including this story in the New York Times. Naseer’s trial in Brooklyn had some theatrical attributes, with testimony from MI5 officers disguised in wigs.

But the saga has an additional strange element underlying the whole case: Naseer was apparently convicted in the wrong country, and was extradited from the country where his crime took place to face trial there. Why was he was not prosecuted in a British court? And how did he find himself in a Brooklyn court, now likely to end up as a long-stay guest in a U.S. prison?

The reason the United Kingdom was unable to prosecute Naseer, but the United States was successful in getting him extradited and prosecuting him here is the different evidentiary standards required for a British prosecution and extradition to the United States. In order to prosecute in the United Kingdom, the Crown Prosecution Service must have sufficient evidence to support a realistic prospect of conviction. For extradition, by contrast, there need only be probable cause that the suspect committed the offense. What's more, the British prosecutors do not even see the American extradition papers.

The story of how Naseer ended up in the United States is a pretty interesting yarn.

On April 8 2009, police in Manchester arrested twelve men, including Naseer, in northern England, to thwart an alleged imminent Al Qaeda mass-casualty terrorist plot. Eleven of the men were Pakistani nationals. In fact, the arrest was premature, but required on that day because of an unfortunate incident. The media accidentally saw and photographed a top secret document with operational details of the plot, as Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick, then head of Scotland Yard’s specialist operations wing, was entering 10 Downing Street to brief the Prime Minister.

All twelve men were detained without charge for fourteen days---the maximum period permitted by U.K. law---and released without charge. But nine, including Naseer, were transferred into the custody of the U.K. Borders Agency in preparation for deportation.

The U.K. sought Naseer’s deportation on grounds that his presence in the United Kingdom would not be conducive to the public good for reasons of national security. His leave to remain in the U.K. was canceled in December 2009 and he sought judicial review of that decision on two grounds: (1) whether it was conducive to the public good for reasons of national security to deport or exclude him; and (2) that deporting him would breach his human rights under Article 3 of the European Convention, which prohibits torture, and cruel and inhuman treatment.

The Special Immigration Appeals Commission determined on May 18, 2010 that Naseer posed a serious threat to the national security of the United Kingdom and should be deported. However the Commission also decided that Naseer faced a real risk of illegal detention, disappearance or torture if he were deported to Pakistan.

So Naseer was released. But although the Crown Prosecution did not believe that it had sufficient admissible evidence to charge him, he was considered sufficiently potentially dangerous to be made the subject of a control order in 2010, which placed certain restrictions on his liberty and right to communicate with others.

Then, in July 2010, the United States government requested Naseer’s extradition in connection with alleged plots to plant bombs in the United Kingdom, New York and Norway. In January 2011, the District Judge at Westminster Magistrates Court in London approved the extradition. And while Naseer petitioned the European Court of Human Rights, claiming that if he were extradited, his human rights under Article 3 of the European Convention would be violated, the court rejected his application at the end of December 2012, and he was extradited to the United States on January 3, 2013.

Sentencing has not yet been scheduled.

Diane Webber earned her doctorate at Georgetown University with a thesis that compared the laws of several countries dealing with preventive detention of terror suspects, and crafted a set of criteria as a basis for a new international legal framework.