Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Doron Almog and the 2005 Heathrow incident

An Israeli general wanted for alleged war crimes escaped arrest in the UK because British police feared an armed confrontation at Heathrow airport. Documents seen by BBC News reveal that Major General Doron Almog was flown back to Israel after officers refused to board his plane in September 2005. He stayed on board for two hours after a tip-off that he was facing detention. Police were concerned about a potential clash with air marshals or possible armed personal security on the plane. Maj Gen Almog had flown to the UK for social and charitable visits to Jewish communities in Solihull, in the West Midlands, and Manchester. Lawyers acting for Palestinian campaigners lobbied the Metropolitan Police to act amid allegations that he had ordered the destruction of more than 50 homes in the Gaza Strip in 2002. Campaigners say the homes were destroyed in retaliation for a Palestinian attack that killed four Israeli soldiers. The Met initially refused to get involved, citing massive pressures on counter-terrorism teams in the wake of the London bombings. But the legal representatives successfully applied to a judge for an arrest warrant for a private prosecution. Decisions log prepared for the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which has investigated the incident, shows officers decided to detain the general at Heathrow's immigration control. They then planned to take him to a police station to consider executing the warrant. However, news of the warrant leaked to the Israeli Embassy. Officials tipped off the general and he and his wife refused to leave the El Al flight for the two hours it sat at the London airport's terminal. The documents now show Det Supt John MacBrayne, who was responsible for the operation, could not get confirmation that his team had the right to board the plane. El Al, Israel's national airline, had refused permission. Det Supt MacBrayne is a leading counter-terrorism officer who most recently flew to Pakistan to investigate the killing of Benazir Bhutto. Destroyed: Palestinians accused Maj Gen Almog of an attack on homes In his log, he wrote: "Another consideration [was] that El Al flights carried armed air marshals, which raised issues around public safety. "There was also no intelligence as to whether Mr Almog would have been travelling with personal security as befitted his status, armed or otherwise." The officer concluded there were real risks to the police and public and also had concerns about the "international impact of a potentially armed police operation at an airport". When Maj Gen Almog arrived back in Israel, the planned arrest caused a minor diplomatic storm, with Israeli foreign minister Silvan Shalom describing the incident as an "outrage". In turn, the then UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw apologised to his counterpart for any embarrassment caused. Hickman and Rose, lawyers for the Palestinians, demanded an inquiry. A spokesman for the Independent Police Complaints Commission said its review had not identified the source who leaked details of the planned arrest. It also concluded police had not broken rules by failing to board the aircraft to execute the warrant.

No comments:

Post a Comment