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Deadline near for Australia police on Indian doctor

The police must decide by Monday night whether to extend the detention of an Indian doctor held over failed car bomb attacks in London and Glasgow.
Reuters | By HT Correspondent, Canberra
UPDATED ON JUL 09, 2007 10:49 AM IST

Australian police must decide by Monday night whether to extend the detention of an Indian doctor held over failed car bomb attacks in London and Glasgow, while his lawyer said his defence was being stonewalled.

A warrant allowing Australian authorities to hold Queensland hospital doctor Mohamed Haneef, suspected of having links to the United Kingdom plot, expires at 7.05 pm (0905 GMT) on Monday.

Australian and British police then have 12 hours more to question him.

"He's obviously made a request to me that he'd prefer to be in the community rather than where he is," Haneef's lawyer Peter Russo told Australian radio.

But the job of defending Haneef, Russo said, was being complicated by the reluctance of Australian authorities to hand him details of the allegations leading to the 27-year-old's detention last week at Brisbane airport.

"I was provided with some material that I had requested on Friday night. There might be some more material being made available today," he said.

Haneef is one of six Indian doctors questioned in Australia over the suspected al Qaeda-linked plot in Britain. The others have already been released.

Two car bombs primed to explode in London's bustling theatre and nightclub district were discovered the day before a jeep crashed into the terminal building at Glasgow airport on June 30 and burst into flames.

Haneef was detained a week ago while trying to leave Australia with a one-way ticket to India. His family in India said he is innocent and planned only to visit his wife and newborn daughter. Haneef was to phone his wife on Monday.

Australian police are examining more than 30,000 documents seized in raids spanning the country, including files on Haneef's laptop computer and mobile phone Sim cards left with the alleged UK bombers. British police arrived last week to help.

Australia's Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said Haneef appeared to have been in a great hurry to leave the country after the foiled UK attacks, beyond the birth of a new daughter.

"That may be well the reason. But certainly the appearance was that his intention was to leave with speed," Ruddock said.

"The further explanations that have been offered may be reasonable, but they may also be a cover for something else."

Ruddock said other foreign doctors working in Australia could be interviewed and appeared to leave open the option of extending Haneef's detention under tough anti-terrorism laws -- a move which would require independent approval from a court judge.

He also defended the operation of the new laws amid accusations from civil liberties groups and a former High Court chief justice that the laws were too draconian.

"When you're questioning people and you don't know where the questioning is going yourself, it seems very novel to involve defence counsel in assisting you with your inquiries," Ruddock said.

Australia's Prime Minister John Howard on Sunday fast-tracked changes to immigration screening which match intelligence data with a person's travel and financial history to determine if they might be a security threat to Australia.

Australia has never suffered a terrorist attack on home soil.

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