5,432 immigrants questioned in massive security sweep in July-August 2005 at request of MI6
– 28 Pakistani men abducted, held in secret houses, questioned and subjected to violence
George Voulgarakis, the Public Order Minister, told the Greek parliament’s Committee on Public Order and Justice earlier this month that:
"The British sent a very long list of individuals seen as being involved in the 7 July attacks"
As a result, in July and August 2005, 5,432 immigrants were "questioned", 2,172 immigrants were "probed", 1,221 were arrested for "other reasons" (other presumably than terrorism) and six of these were deported. The massive sweep across Greece was carried out by over 1,000 law enforcement units including state security, immigration and counter-terrorism officers.
The evidence presented to the Committee by the Minister was that MI6 (the UK’s external intelligence agency or Secret Intelligence Service, SIS) had sent a request to Athens about a specific Al-Qaeda operative with a Greek mobile number (a number which had too many digits and might have been a "cryptographic" code, or simply wrong). A number of other Greek mobile numbers supposedly linked to the suicide bombers of 7 July 2005 were also provided.
28 Pakistani men abducted, held in secret houses, questioned and subjected to violence
Mr Voulgarakis said that none of the 28 Pakistani men who say they were abducted were among those arrested in the sweep last year – confirming that this was an intelligence not a police operation. The men were abducted by plain-clothed security agents – probably from the Greek national intelligence service, EYP – from Athens, and from Oinofyta and Ioannina to the North. One eyewitness said of seven of the men from Ioannina, "one minute they were working on the farm then they disappeared for a week".
Three of the men were interviewed by the Athens News – Gul Nawaz, Mohammed Nazir and Mohammed Munir abducted from their homes in Petralona, Athens. They were driven to a house where they were interrogated, fed once a day and slept on the floor for between two to six days before being released. Gul Nawaz said:
"They covered our eyes by pulling our shirts over our heads. They drove us blindfolded for about an hour and a half – a long time…. Two times the policeman hit me. Then I asked for some water and he punched me hard in the face. Later he kicked me. They hit me four times"
Mohammed Munir said:
"They questioned me over five days, between one and three hours each time. They asked me lots of questions about London. They hit me very hard on the head."
Frangisko Ragousis, a lawyer representing seven of those abducted, said that his clients’ testimony shows several foreign, English-speaking agents were involved in the interrogations. Nawaz said one of then was an English-speaking black man.
At a meeting in Athens on 19 January one of the lawyers said that the men were under great pressure from the Pakistan Embassy to withdraw their complaints. Frangisko Ragousis said that they had been offered bribes to retract their statements.
Javed Aslan, President of the Pakistani Community in Greece, said the men had been physically abused:
"There was a dark-skinned British [spy] who was apparently in charge. One man was threatened with a pistol that was shoved in his mouth, others were hit."
The Greek magazine Pro Thema broke the story in December and named the MI6 head of station in Athens as well as 15 Greek EYP agents – the accuracy of the latter appears to be confirmed as the EYP said this endangered "the safety of its agents in the field".
This reaction by the intelligence agency contrasted to that of the police who said in December that they had only recently received a formal complaints. In fact the the mens’ lawyers had filed the complaints on 29 July 2005. It then took the prosecutor until 29 September to order an investigation and which was not recorded on the prosecutor’s office computer system until 18 November 2005. The Attica police were not handed the case until 2 December 2005.
Justice Minister, Anastasios Papaligouras, said that law enforcement cooperation with the UK was based on a "1961 law" providing for the exchange of evidence and court records. This appears to be a reference to the 1959 Council of Europe European Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters (ratified by Greece in 1962). However, this Convention in Article 1.2 says:
"This Convention does not apply to arrests"
The Convention applies to supplying evidence and records but not arrests and certainly not detention for questioning.
Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, comments:
"The Public Order Minister confirmed that the 28 men were not part of the massive sweep last summer. It was clearly a separate intelligence agency operation carried out by EFY at the behest of MI6. If they had been arrested the questioning would have taken place at police stations where they would have had the right to legal advice and regular meals etc.
They were not arrested but abducted by intelligence agents, held incommunicado in secret houses, denied legal advice, and in a number of cases suffered abuse and ill-treatment."
1. Protest march on 28 Pakistani men abducted at behest of MI6
2. MI6 Athens station chief named (Cryptome, link)
3. MI6 officer linked to abductions in Athens hunt for Tube bombers (Guardian, link)
4. Greece urged to investigate MI6 torture link
5. Athens News (link)
6. 1959 CoE Convention on Mutual Assistnce in Criminal Matters (pdf)