Pakistan offers to help screen U.K. visa applicants

A house in Manchester, England, is searched Wednesday as part of the counterterrorism operation.
Britain should refer suspicious student visa applications to Pakistan as a way to help prevent terrorism, the country’s high commissioner to Britain said Friday.

Wajid Hasan’s suggestion came the same week that 12 people were arrested in Britain with suspected links to al Qaeda. Eleven of those arrested were Pakistani nationals, some of whom were in Britain on student visas, officials told CNN. “If they (the British authorities) had referred these cases to us, we would have made inquiries, and then told them whether to issue them visas or not,” Hasan told CNN from Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. “That’s why I suggested, I’ve been suggesting, that in case there are doubts, they should always be referred to our home ministry … so that we could also be made responsible for it.” British authorities have not yet given any evidence related to the arrests to their Pakistani counterparts, Hasan said. As soon as they do, he said, Pakistan is ready to start its own investigation. “Once the investigations are over in England, probably these boys will be released and they will have no evidence for (prosecution),” he said. “I don’t know, because we have not been provided any information as far as what they have found on them to make suspicions they were planning to commit some sort of mischief there. “They could be innocent students,” he added. “So we have to check it here as well, and they have to make the inquiries thoroughly because otherwise it will have a very bad impact for the Pakistani community.”

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Hasan said he doesn’t blame Britain for not referring the applicants to Pakistan before issuing them visas. The application procedures are already “quite tough,” he said, and require the applicant to provide evidence that he is a student and has gained admission to a school in Britain. He suggested that in the future, Britain should consider asking for Pakistan’s help to investigate suspicious applicants. “It’s difficult, but it can help if they are referred to Pakistan if they suspect any student of having any links to anybody,” he said. “We could make inquiries here.”

The chief constable for Britain’s Greater Manchester Police indicated Thursday there would have been the potential for terrorist acts this coming weekend if police had not made the arrests. The 12 people were arrested Wednesday night at several locations, mainly in northwest Manchester, and counterterrorism police were questioning them and carrying out searches as part of the probe.