Minister ‘misled Commons’ over attacks by Islamic group

By Jon Ungoed-Thomas writing in the Times Online

HAZEL BLEARS, the Home Office minister, has been accused of misleading parliament by presenting ‘false’ intelligence over the threat posed by an alleged Islamic terrorist group. Blears told MPs this month that an Uzbek organisation, the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), was a threat to British interests overseas and announced that it was to become a proscribed organisation.

MPs questioned the wisdom of banning a group with the stated aim of bringing democracy to Uzbekistan, a dictatorship with one of the worst human rights records in central Asia.

It was pointed out that in May Uzbek government troops killed about 700 people when they opened fire on crowds in the eastern city of Andijan following an uprising.

To make her case against the IJU, Blears told MPs that information on the group had been received directly from British intelligence sources which showed it to have been responsible for a series of bombings in Uzbekistan in March 2004.

Her account was accepted at the time by MPs but has now been challenged by Craig Murray, who was British ambassador in Uzbekistan until 2004.

He said that while he was ambassador he had warned the British government over accounts of bomb attacks connected to the IJU. He suspected they may have been concocted by the Uzbek government to justify local police killing a number of dissidents.

‘The official accounts were not credible,’ he said. ‘I went to one of the sites where a suicide bomber was meant to have launched an attack. It was a triangular courtyard and not one of the windows was blown out and there was no sign of significant damage.

‘I sent a telegram to London ‘ copied to the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) in MI5, to the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence ‘ about the inconsistencies of the accounts.

‘JTAC agreed with my assessment that the official version of events was not credible. I am amazed to find it being repeated in the House of Commons by Hazel Blears.’

Murray said an organisation calling itself IJU also claimed responsibility in 2004 for attacks on the Israeli and American embassies, but there was no convincing evidence that such a group existed.

The former ambassador was squeezed out of his post by the Foreign Office after criticising the human rights record of the Uzbek government. He says MI6 has no staff in central Asia and was relying on information from other sources ‘ possibly the Uzbek government itself.

MPs were concerned at the inclusion of IJU when its name first appeared on the list of banned groups. Blears was repeatedly questioned in parliament whether it was right to ban the organisation.

Adam Price, the Plaid Cymru MP, said: ‘Should we not tread very carefully before proscribing an organisation that has less blood on its hands than a government with whom we still maintain diplomatic relations?’ Blears assured MPs she had taken a ‘particular look’ at the IJU. She said she was satisfied that it posed a threat and cited the attacks in 2004.

A Home Office spokeswoman said Charles Clarke, the home secretary, who took the final decision to ban the IJU, had been provided with a detailed intelligence assessment.

‘IJU is a proscribed organisation by the United Nations and there was a clear case for the government to follow suit,’ she said. Blears had presented accurate information to parliament and was drawing on the ‘full intelligence picture’.