Briton arrested in Zambia will be extradited

 

Lusaka suspect: A Briton arrested last month in Zambia who is suspected of links to al-Qaeda and the London bombings will be handed over to British authorities, a Zambian government official said.

Haroon Rashid Aswat, a British citizen of Indian descent who grew up in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, was arrested on July 20th in the Zambian capital Lusaka after local intelligence agencies received information on his whereabouts from foreign security services.

Peter Mumba, Zambia's permanent secretary for home affairs, said Mr Aswat, who is being held in Lusaka, has admitted ties to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden under interrogation, but has not acknowledged any links to the London bombings.

"During the interrogation he said he is very close to Osama bin Laden," Mr Mumba told the Financial Times.

"When he was asked whether he was happy that so many people died in London, his answer was a question: 'Are you also happy that so many people are dying in Baghdad?'"

British authorities have sought to play down Mr Aswat's links to the London bombings, which are reported to include calls from the July 7th bombers to a telephone registered in Mr Aswat's name. Like three of the bombers, Mr Aswat is from the Leeds area.

The UK foreign office said yesterday its high commission in Lusaka still had not gained access to the British national in Zambian custody and declined to comment on any extradition proceedings that might be under way.

US officials are believed to be more interested in talking to Mr Aswat, however. Court documents in the US have accused him of working with a radical Muslim-American on plans to set up a jihadi training camp in rural Oregon.

American law enforcement officials have reportedly been seeking him for at least three years.

Zambia has no extradition treaty with the US however, and Mr Mumba said that American and British authorities had come to an agreement to allow Mr Aswat's transfer to UK custody.

"I think the two countries have reached a conclusion, some agreement," Mr Mumba said. "After the interrogations he will be handed over to Britain. I have no idea when. It's a highly sensitive matter."

He added: "If the country is a commonwealth country, we use the commonwealth treaty. According to our laws we cannot hand him over to a third country like the US. We have to hand him over to his country."

Mr Mumba would not say which countries aided in Mr Aswat's capture, but local media quoted Zambian police as crediting the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency.

Officials at the US embassy in Lusaka declined to comment but any participation by the FBI and CIA would give further credence to British accounts that Mr Aswat is of more interest to US than UK authorities.

Mr Aswat was originally reported to have been captured in Livingstone, on the border with Zimbabwe, but Mr Mumba said he was picked up July 20th in an "unregistered guest house" in Lusaka.

Mr Aswat told Zambian officials that he entered the country on July 6th from Botswana. Mr Mumba said Mr Aswat had indicated he was trying to reach Tanzania.