A Moroccan who has lived in the UK for the past 15 years has been extradited to Spain under the order of a European Arrest Warrant. After a long legal battle, Farid Hilali, 39, made a final attempt to fight extradition through an asylum application on February 7, but the application failed and he was extradited the following day.
Hilali was arrested in June 2004, after the Spanish courts issued a European Arrest Warrant seeking his extradition to Spain to be prosecuted for various charges in relation to the September 11 attacks. His arrest was based on telephone intercept evidence that showed him to have had conversations with another suspect in the 9/11 attacks, Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas.
Upon arrival in Spain Hilali was charged with one count of “belonging to a terrorist organisation,” even though a hearing in the House of Lords stated that it was inadmissible for Hilali to be extradited for such an offence under EU law, and that: “The Spanish prosecutor appears not to have appreciated this point (…) The right to liberty is at stake in these matters. The importance of accuracy and attention to detail in the preparation of the European arrest warrant and of any order that is made to give effect to it cannot be overemphasised.”
The legality of Hilali’s extradition is also under scrutiny because of key changes in the initial grounds for his arrest. Yarkas, who was charged with direct involvement in the murders of all those who perished in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, was acquitted on September 24, 2005, of direct involvement in those murders. On May 31, 2006, his conviction of indirect involvement in the murders was also quashed by the Supreme Court on the grounds that the telephone intercept evidence was fraudulent and legally null and void as it was illegally obtained. But a more important development was that the conversations between Hilali and Yarkas were found not to even evidence a conspiracy to commit acts of terror.
On April 25, 2007, the Divisional Court granted a writ of habeas corpus to Hilali, a court order which would have given him the chance of a trial to prove his guilt or innocence, on the grounds that his detention in custody while awaiting extradition had become unlawful because of the acquittal of Yarkas. However, the House of Lords appealed against the granting of habeas corpus on the grounds that EU member states have no right to question each other’s grounds for arrest warrants, and that “inquiry by a member state into the merits of a proposed prosecution in another member state” was “inappropriate and unwarranted.” The proceedings continued that a habeas corpus “would be inconsistent with the principle of mutual respect and recognition of the judicial decisions in that member state.”
Arani solicitors, representing Hilali, are appealing to the European courts and believe they have a strong case. In their rebuttal against the European arrest warrant in 2006, Arani solicitors used evidence from a report compiled by a Lawyer of the Madrid Bar Association. The report argued that the Spanish prosecutor, Pedro Rubira, acted “behind the back of his hierarchical superiors and the Director of Public Prosecutions.” A posture which was “(…) punishable via disciplinary proceedings, [and] has already been criticised in the cases relating to the crime committed during the dictatorships of Argentina and Chile.” The report also states that Rubira produced false witness statements that “invert the burden of proof and proceed with an unconstitutional presumption of guilt.”
Hilali had previously alleged he was tortured in prison in the United Arab Emirates and Morocco in 1999 under the orders of the British Secret Intelligence Service because he refused to be a spy for them. In a recent press release issued by his solicitors he said: “My extradition to Spain is a smokescreen to conceal Britain’s true intentions of sending me to Morocco to face torture leading to death. If I am ultimately sent to Morocco and tortured, Britain will be held legally and morally responsible.”
In response to these allegations, the Foreign Office told The Muslim News: “We are aware of Mr Hilali’s claims and have made clear that the British Government, including the intelligence and security agencies, never use torture for any purposes including to obtain information.”
Arani Solicitors claims that “the Spanish authority’s relentless pursuit of an innocent man is nothing short of administrative rendition,” and maintains that “the European Arrest Warrant allows EU countries to get around their obligations under International Law to grant people like Mr Hilali, who have been tortured, political asylum.” They also claim that if extradited to Spain, Hillai will eventually be returned to Morocco where they also maintain he has been tortured on the direct instructions of the British Secret Intelligence Service.
In a statement to the press they said: “We are thus concerned that having secured Farid Hilali’s extradition from the UK, his liberty and Article 3 of the European Convention of Rights [absolute prohibition on torture] are being negated for the sake of ‘political correctness’. The fact that the Spanish have now charged Mr Hilali for the very offence which the House of Lords held he could not be tried for, is unequivocal evidence that Mr Hilali will not receive a fair trial in Spain.”
Moazzam Beig, former Guantánamo detainee and Spokesperson for Cageprisoners, said: “The extradition of Mr Farid Hilali to Spain demonstrates how some foreign nationals in the UK held under anti-terror measures, without charge or trial, have become non-persons.
“After five years of incarceration in British prisons - equivalent to serving a ten year sentence if he had been convicted - Hilali faces the bleak prospect of remaining in Spanish prisons until, if ever, he is brought to trial.”