Terror suspect evades British police by donning burqa

LONDON (AFP) - The British government defended its terror prevention measures on Monday after a Somali-born suspect escaped surveillance by putting on a burqa during a visit to a mosque.

Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed, 27, who was subject to an order restricting his movements, entered a mosque in London on Friday wearing Western-style clothes but CCTV images showed him leaving disguised as a woman, with his face and body fully covered.

He is understood to have received training and fought overseas for the Somalia-based Al-Shabaab, the Al-Qaeda-linked militants who launched the attack on a Nairobi shopping mall in September in which at least 67 people were killed.

British newspapers on Tuesday reported that Mohamed was trying to join up with terror suspect Samantha Lewthwaite.

The British woman, also known as the White Widow, is wanted for alleged terror offences in Kenya.

She is the widow of Germaine Lindsay, one of four Islamist suicide bombers who attacked the London transport network on July 7, 2005, killing 52 people.

The Times also reported that Mohamed had been cleared of tampering with his electronic monitoring tag on the day of his disappearance.

Home Secretary Theresa May, the interior minister, said that the suspect did not pose a "direct threat" to Britain.

"The police and Security Service have confirmed that they do not believe that this man poses a direct threat to the public in the UK.

"The reason he was put on a TPIM in the first place was to prevent his travel to support terrorism overseas," she said in a statement to parliament.

Mohamed is under a Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIM) notice, which was imposed primarily to prevent overseas travel.

He is the second person to breach such an order since Prime Minister David Cameron's government introduced them to replace control orders in early 2012.

They allow suspects to live in public but under stringent restrictions.

Another suspect, Ibrahim Magag, tore off his electronic tag and vanished in a taxi last December. He has not been seen since.

A spokesman for Cameron said that the government would "look at whether there are lessons that can be learned" following the latest disappearance.

Yvette Cooper, home affairs spokeswoman for the main opposition Labour party, described the situation as "extremely serious" and demanded answers from the government on how Mohamed was able to abscond.

"The home secretary also needs to provide information about the decisions made over Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed's TPIM, how he was able to abscond and what the risks to the public are," she said.

It is believed Mohamed attended a training camp in 2008 and is understood to have helped people travel to Britain from Somalia to allow them to engage in terror-related activity.

He is also believed to have procured weapons for terror use.

One lawmaker from Cameron's Conservative party said the incident reinforced the need for a ban on face-covering burqas and niqabs, like France and some other European countries have introduced.

Gerald Howarth called on May to "have the burqa banned in this country because it is alien to our culture, and has enabled this man to abscond." But May said she believed that women should be able to wear what they wanted.

There has been a growing debate in Britain about Muslim women wearing face-covering garments and the government has said it may consider a ban in schools and courts of law.