The government has secretly ramped up a controversial programme that strips people of their British citizenship on national security grounds – two of whom have been subsequently killed by US drone attacks.
An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and published in the Independent has established that since 2010 the Home Secretary Theresa May has revoked the passports of 16 individuals many of whom are alleged to have had links to militant or terrorist groups.
Critics of the programme warn that it also allows ministers to ‘wash their hands’ of British nationals suspected of terrorism who could be subject to torture and illegal detention abroad.
They add that it also allows those stripped of their citizenship to be killed or ‘rendered’ without any onus on the British government to intervene.
At least five of those deprived of their UK nationality by the Coalition government were born in Britain, and one man had lived in the country for almost 50 years.
Those affected have their passports cancelled, and lose their right to enter the UK – making it very difficult to appeal the Home Secretary’s decision.
The Bureau’s investigations have established the identities of all but four of the 21 British passport holders who have lost their citizenship, and their subsequent fates. Only two have successfully appealed – one of whom has since been extradited to the US.
In many cases those involved cannot be named because of ongoing legal action.
The Bureau has also found evidence that government officials act when people are out of the country – on two occasions while on holiday - cancelling passports and revoking citizenships.
Those targeted include Bilal al-Berjawi, a British-Lebanese citizen who came to the UK as a baby and grew up in London, but left for Somalia in 2009 with his close friend British-born Mohamed Sakr, who also held Egyptian nationality.
Both had been the subject of extensive surveillance by British intelligence, with the security services concerned they were involved in terrorist activities.
Once in Somalia, the two reportedly became involved with al Shabaab, an Islamist militant group with links to al Qaeda. Berjawi was said to have risen to a senior position in the organisation, with Sakr his ‘right hand man’.
In 2010, Theresa May stripped both men of their British nationalities and they soon became targets in an ultimately lethal US manhunt.
In June 2011 Berjawi was wounded in the first known US drone strike in Somalia and last year he was killed by a drone strike – within hours of calling his wife in London to congratulate her on the birth of their first son.
Sakr, too, was killed in a US airstrike in February 2012, although his British origins have not been revealed until now.
The Home Secretary, Theresa May, has sole power to remove an individual’s British citizenship. The decision does not have to be referred through the courts.
From the moment the Home Secretary signs a deprivation of citizenship order, the individual ceases to be a British subject – their passport is cancelled, they lose the diplomatic protections Britain extends to its citizens, and they must apply for a visa to re-enter the country.