Haneef says he was never a terror threat
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Haneef says he was never a terror threat

The Indian doctor, now absolved of all charges of terrorism, speaks exclusively to Channel Nine Television.

world Updated: Jul 29, 2007 21:42 IST

An Indian doctor freed from jail after Australia dropped terrorism charges against him said on Sunday he had never been a terror threat and that even police investigators did not know what to ask him.

Gold Coast doctor Mohamed Haneef spent more than three weeks in detention on one count of "reckless" support for a terrorist group, but the case against him collapsed Friday for lack of evidence, and the charge was dropped.

Haneef, who was due in the southern Indian city of Bangalore at 1600 GMT to reunite with his wife and see his one-month-old daughter for the first time, said he had been traumatised by his experience.

"It is a tremendous amount of trauma that I have gone through, that I have never imagined in my life," he told Australia's 60 Minutes programme.

"People need to be detained, but not with such a long period."

Haneef, whose second cousin Kafeel Ahmed was allegedly involved in last month's failed attack on Glasgow airport, was detained on July 2 as he attempted to leave Brisbane on a one-way ticket to India.

The doctor said while he understood why he had been questioned, he had done nothing wrong.

"I don't mean to harm anyone by words, how can I harm somebody with my activities, that is what I mean to say," he said.

The 27-year-old Muslim said Australian investigators seemed unsure about what to question him about beyond his bank statements, where he had lived and whether he had ever undergone terror training in Pakistan or Afghanistan.

"It's clear from my records, even when they were interrogating me it wasn't clear to them what they were asking me and what they wanted me to tell," Haneef said in the programme taped before he left Australia.

"They were just... getting bits and pieces of information and just assuming things."

But Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said Haneef's rapid departure after being released from detention on Saturday only made the 27-year-old Muslim look more suspicious.

"If anything, that actually heightens rather than lessens my suspicion," he told commercial television.

Andrews, who earlier this month cancelled Haneef's visa on character grounds, insisted he would not reinstate his work permit, thereby ending any hopes that the Indian doctor would be able to return to his job in Australia.

"Nothing has changed in terms of the circumstances in which I had to make a decision concerning Dr Haneef," the minister said.

Andrews said he would seek the release of confidential police files on which his decision was based, saying: "I have had to defend this matter with one arm tied behind my back because of protected information."

Haneef's lawyers described Andrews' latest comments as "beyond bizarre".

"What we can't understand is how the minister can cling to a view that a man who had been detained for nearly a month on charges that proved to be baseless can continue to smear his good name through an executive decision based on secret material," lawyer Peter Russo said in a statement.

"It will make overseas people very suspicious about living and working in Australia and this negative perception will take decades to erase."

Haneef's lawyers have already lodged an application for his work visa to be restored and the doctor said he would return if allowed.

"Even after I go back to India, I might think of coming back here. It's just a matter of my visa being sorted out," he said.

Scores of journalists were gathered at Bangalore's international airport for Haneef's arrival. His wife Firdous said family and close friends would welcome him home with a quiet dinner party.

"I am happy and excited at the thought of seeing him," Firdous told AFP by telephone.

Calls have mounted for an inquiry into Haneef's case after Australian police were described as bumbling "Keystone Cops" for their handling of the investigation.

While prosecutors have admitted presenting Haneef's bail hearing with incorrect information, Australia's top policeman Mick Keelty has said British police had at one stage misinformed local investigators.

First Published: Jul 29, 2007 16:38 IST