Britain to unveil new security law proposals

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LONDON, Nov 6 (Reuters) The government will unveil a raft of new security proposals today which are expected to include a controversial plan to extend the period a terrorism suspect can be held without charge to 56 from 28 days.

Details of the new counter terrorism law will be given during the Queen's Speech which comes a day after the head of the domestic intelligence agency MI5 warned there was a growing number of Islamists at large in the country.

The measures are set to be dominated by a proposal to double the pre-charge detention times for terrorism suspects, a highly emotive issue since the July 7, 2005, suicide bomb attacks by four British Islamists on London which killed 52 people.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair suffered his first defeat in the House of Commons two years ago over plans to allow police to hold suspects for up to 90 days, following a rebellion by Labour MPs.

Instead, parliament agreed on a compromise deal which means they can be detained for up to 28 days.

Police minister Tony McNulty indicated on Sunday that the government would seek to extend this to 56 days, with the process overseen by judges and parliament.

The Home Office, which says it has the backing of the police and Lord Alex Carlile, Britain's independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, argued that complex investigations and the growing threat meant the change was needed.

Yesterday, Jonathan Evans, head of MI5, said his agency had identified 2,000 British-based individuals who posed a direct threat to national security, some as young as 15, and there could be another 2,000 they did not know about.

However civil rights campaigners and the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, as well as some Labour members, say there is no evidence to support change.

The government has said there has been no case so far when a suspect has been released when a higher time limit would have led to a charge, but it argues the current limit has put investigators under great pressure.

Other proposals likely to feature in the new law include setting up a counter terrorism DNA database, harsher jail terms for those convicted of helping terrorists and tougher monitoring of terrorism offenders on their release from prison.

This could include a ban on overseas travel.

The plans could also include the proposal to allow post-charge questioning of terrorism suspects, something currently only permissible in a British criminal inquiry with the consent of the accused.

REUTERS MP AS0614

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