LONDON - British authorities detained seven foreigners yesterday for deportation as threats to national security, and the government backed a police proposal to hold militant suspects for up to three months without charge.
Civil rights activists condemned the idea of increasing detentions from the current 14 days, which was in legislation unveiled by Home Secretary Charles Clarke to toughen anti-terrorism laws after the deadly July 7 bombing attacks on London commuters.
If approved by Parliament, the Counter-Terrorism Bill also would outlaw "indirect incitement" of terrorism and "glorifying" violence - provisions aimed at extremist Islamic clerics accused of seducing youths into militant activities.
The legislation would widen government powers to ban organizations if they support terrorism, make it an offense to publish or sell material that incites terrorism, and outlaw attending militant training camps.
Prime Minister Tony Blair's government hopes to get the bill passed by year's end.
The most controversial proposal is extending the detention for militant suspects without charge.
Police and prosecutors argue more time is needed in complex cases, in which militant suspects often have multiple aliases and store information in tightly encrypted computers, or when the cooperation of foreign agencies is needed.
In a letter to the main opposition parties, Clarke stressed that lengthy detention would be used in only "very rare cases" and would need to be approved by a judge on a weekly basis.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of civil rights pressure group Liberty, attacked the proposal.
"Three months' detention without charge is the very antithesis of justice," she said, adding it would be as "damaging to fighting terrorism at home as to defending our reputation around the globe."
Since the July 7 bombings that killed 52 people and the four bombers, and the failed bombings two weeks later, Blair has moved to tighten terrorism laws and crack down on Islamic extremists.
Last month, authorities detained 10 foreigners for deportation, including firebrand cleric Abu Qatada, who previously had been described by Spanish officials as Osama bin Laden's "spiritual ambassador in Europe."
The government declined to say what prompted yesterday's detentions in London and Manchester or to disclose the names or nationalities of the seven men. It said they were being held under "powers to deport individuals whose presence in the U.K. is not conducive to the public good for reasons of national security."
A senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press that some of the seven were once suspects in a 2003 plot to make the deadly poison ricin, but had either been acquitted or had the charges against them dropped.
Gareth Peirce, an attorney who represented some of the ricin defendants, was unavailable for comment, her office said.
In April, an Algerian with alleged links to al-Qaida was the only one of nine suspects to be convicted in the ricin case. Kamel Bourgass was sentenced to 17 years in prison for allegedly writing recipes for making ricin.
A jury cleared four other Algerians whose fingerprints allegedly were found in a London apartment where police discovered the recipes. Prosecutors dropped a separate trial of three more Algerians and a Libyan who purportedly were associated with Bourgass.