Police question 3 N. African men after anti-terror raid in Britain

Case proves government was right in expanding detention laws, Blair says


LONDON - The police interrogated three North African men in the wake of an anti-terror raid Tuesday that led to the killing of an officer in the British city of Manchester. Politicians and law enforcement authorities debated what had gone wrong and what could be learned from it.

Shocked by the first loss of an officer in the scores of swoops on suspected terror cells across Britain since the Sept. 11 attacks, Prime Minister Tony Blair told the House of Commons that the case proved that his government was right in passing emergency laws permitting the police to detain people on suspicion of being threats to national security.

"We've got to make sure that these groups of fanatics, who have no compunction in taking human life and who have no demands that any political system could possibly accede to, are defeated," he said.

Detective Constable Stephen Oake, 40, was killed by a man who had been under arrest in a Manchester apartment for an hour before wrestling free of police. The man grabbed a kitchen knife and fatally stabbed the officer when he came to the assistance of colleagues.

Four other officers were injured, but Oake, part of the follow-up team responsible for searching for suspected poison in the building, was not wearing the body armor that they were, and he died from a chest wound.

A 24-member police team, many officers dressed in nylon body suits and gas masks, participated in the raid because, the police said, the man being sought was believed to be connected to the discovery of the poison ricin in north London.

The police were surprised to find not one but three men in the apartment, among them the man they said attacked Oake. Officials identified them only by age - 23, 27 and 29 - and as North Africans.

More than 200 people have been arrested in Britain under anti-terror legislation since the attacks in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, with several dozen awaiting trial. Most are North Africans, with the majority from Algeria.

Conservatives said the government is not moving aggressively enough against people who were planning terror acts while posing as asylum seekers. Oliver Letwin, the Tory spokesman on law enforcement, told the House that there is "ample evidence that at present people are getting through the asylum system who do not have the best interests of this country at heart and who intend to pursue terrorist activities."

But Home Secretary David Blunkett said Tuesday's mission was undertaken using the new powers in the government's anti-terrorism law to detain and deport a man considered a threat to national security.

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