Arrested Pak terror suspects may have exploited student’s visa regime to enter UK

April 10th, 2009 - 1:25 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Apr 10 (ANI): The 10 Pakistani nationals arrested in the United Kingdom for planning to carry out terror strikes in the country may have exploited the shortcomings in the visa regime as described by a British minister as “the major loophole in Britain’s border controls.”

This is the first time Pakistanis on student visas have been arrested on such serious charges. Sources said that the arrests of 12 men in the north west of England on Wednesday were linked to a suspected plan to launch a devastating attack this weekend.

All the arrested Pakistani nationals belong to the North West Frontier Province, the hot bed of al-Qaeda and terrorist activities.

The issue of student visas represents a potential security nightmare for the police and MI5. There are 330,000 foreign students in Britain and around 10,000 such visas are issued every year to Pakistanis alone.

Immigration Minister Phil Woolas described the student visa system as having the major loopholes in effectively controlling the borders of Britain.

Peter Fahy, chief constable of Greater Manchester, said police had been forced to act to protect the public. Asked about al-Qaeda involvement, he added: “We know what is the nature of the threat to this country and where it comes from.”"

The security services suspect that several of the men arrested were trained at religious schools in Pakistan and sent to launch suicide attacks on the West.

They were suspected to have chosen Easter as the most significant Christian holiday for an attack.

Police believe the suspects may have smuggled bomb-making equipment into the country and were ready to launch their attacks.

Riffat Hussain, of the Defence Studies department at Islamabad’s Quaid-i-Azam University, outlined two possible scenarios under which militants could infiltrate Britain as students.

They may have been genuine students who had entered Britain, possibly overstayed visas and fallen prey to Islamists, The Guardian quoted him, as saying.

“Once you lose your legal status you become vulnerable to … those with an extremist agenda,” he said. The other scenario was the men had been specifically dispatched by al-Qaida, travelling under the cover of third-level students, to carry out the attack.

Britain is a popular destination for Pakistani students, but with tuition fees ranging over 8,000 pounds, it is mostly limited to the wealthy. But student visas can offer a potential backdoor for economic migrants. (ANI)

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