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Aus police drop plea to extend Haneef's detention

Last updated on: July 13, 2007 19:03 IST

Prospects of release of Muhammad Haneef brightened on Friday, after the Australian police dropped a request to extend the detention of the Indian doctor who has been in custody for 11 days without charge in connection with the failed terror plot in the UK.

The Australian Federal Police quickly resumed interrogation after it withdrew its application to a Brisbane magistrate to prolong the detention, which ends on Friday, amid reports that it has not been able to find any incriminating evidence against Haneef.

The police now have 12 hours excluding usual breaks like meals to probe the 27-year-old doctor under counter-terrorism laws before he must be charged or released soon.

But the 12-hour period could stretch to one or two days since fresh questioning would not be done in one go.

Haneef's lawyer Stephen Keim said he expected the questioning to be complete in around 24 hours while another lawyer Peter Russo said in a worst case scenario the doctor could be held for three more days.

Current documents circulated by senior public servants in the Howard Government show the AFP acknowledges  it has scant or no evidence against Haneef and cannot test his knowledge without any incriminating evidence.

The police move not to press for detention came amid growing calls in Australia for releasing Haneef immediately with the Law Council saying the 'law was not operating fairly in Haneef's case'.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard however said he was not uncomfortable with the extended detention of Haneef.

"I'm not calling him a terrorist, I'm not passing a judgment on him," he said.

The AFP spokesman did not give any reason for dropping the plea for extending the detention. Haneef has denied any involvement in the foiled terror plot and said he was getting depressed a 'bit teary' by his extended detention.

The Bangalore doctor broke down in tears during a visit by his lawyer Rosso and told interrogators that he 'is not a

Media reports said that despite a massive investigation into vast amounts of computer data, phone records and other
materials seized as evidence police have not found any evidence.

Attorney General Philip Ruddock said authorities could seek to detain Haneef again if new information is uncovered
during the fresh interrogation which commenced at 3 pm local time.

Russo revealed that Haneef, who has been in a Brisbane watch house since July 2, went through a DNA test on Friday and that the  tests were merely a routine procedure.

"(Friday's hearing is) really just in relation to the unfairness of detaining someone this length of time," Russo said adding, "and also for detaining someone in a situation in which they haven't been further questioned."

The documents circulated by public servants in the Howard Cabinet said 'so far AFP's searches have come up with blanks. And calls for Haneef's immediate release are growing louder. The documentation known to the Australian refers to police suspicions, relations, connections, phone numbers, borrowed sim cards and overseas terrorism', the paper said.

"But nowhere does it confirm any finding yet of sufficient substance to justify charging Haneef, who is spending his spare time in prayer," it said.

Media reports said seized materials include 1,636 photographs, a 40-gigabyte hard drive that belongs to Haneef, an 80-gigabyte hard drive belonging to his fellow doctor Mohammed Asif Ali, two mobile telephones, a personal digital assistant and two 128-megabyte flash drives.

A Cybershot digital camera, documents including email addresses, clothing, computer discs, a global positioning system and phone packaging.

"Investigations are complicated by the need to interrogate these computer hard drives - significant resources have been committed to this analysis resulting in approximately 95 per cent of material being examined to date," the reports said.

As the Law Council of Australia on Thursday described Haneef's predicament as 'indefinite detention by stealth',
top-level documentation known to The Australian newspaper reveals the reasoning of the AFP, its suspicions and vague circumstantial evidence.

But nowhere does it confirm any finding yet of sufficient substance to justify charging Haneef, the paper said.

"Police have been unable to find any evidence against Gold Coast Hospital terror suspect Haneef to justify charges despite executing several search warrants in a massive investigation over the past 10 days," it added.

Meanwhile, as if being locked up for 11 days without charge was not bad enough, Haneef now might be evicted for failing to pay the rent on his Gold Coast residence.

Landlord Callum Spence said he had sought legal advice on whether he could evict Haneef for falling a week behind on
rent money, The Age said on Friday.

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