London: British police said Thursday they will investigate claims that the secret services were involved in the rendition and ill-treatment of two Libyans under Muammar Gaddafi's regime.
The allegations, including those made by Tripoli's military commander Abdelhakim Belhaj, are the subject of a forthcoming official inquiry but police said they were "so serious" they warranted an immediate criminal probe.
The news came as prosecutors announced that they would not be bringing charges against British agents in two other cases of alleged complicity in torture, among them of former Guantanamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed.
The head of Britain's foreign spy agency MI6 welcomed the decision and said it would cooperate fully with the police investigation into the claims by Belhaj and another opponent of the Gaddafi regime, Sami al Saadi.
"We will of course be cooperating fully with the police on this new investigation, as we have done on the one now concluding," said John Sawers.
"It is in the service's interest to deal with the allegations being made as swiftly as possible so we can draw a line under them and focus on the crucial work we face now and in the future."
Prime Minister David Cameron set up the Gibson inquiry in 2010 to look at allegations of British complicity in the torture of suspected extremists overseas following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
It will look at claims made by former Guantanamo detainees and those concerning Libya but has yet to begin its work, and it could now be delayed until the end of the new police investigation.
"The allegations raised in the two specific cases concerning the alleged rendition of named individuals to Libya and the alleged ill-treatment of them in Libya are so serious that it is in the public interest for them to be investigated now rather than at the conclusion of the detainee inquiry," Scotland Yard said in a statement.
Files unearthed from the archives of toppled leader Gaddafi said Belhaj was captured by the CIA in Bangkok in 2004 and with British help was forcibly returned to Libya, where he was jailed in the notorious Abu Salim prison.
Saadi meanwhile claims British agents helped detain him in Hong Kong in 2004 and return him to Libya, where he was subjected to years of torture.
Clive Stafford Smith, the director of legal charity Reprieve, welcomed the new police investigation, saying he had little faith in the official inquiry.
The police decision "shows that evidence of British complicity in the torture of Libyans Sami al Saadi and Abdulhakim Belhaj by the Gaddafi regime is so blatant that a criminal inquiry must go ahead before the government's deeply flawed Gibson Inquiry can get started", he said.
Prosecutors also announced they would not be bringing charges against British agents in the case of Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born British resident who was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 by US authorities.
Mohamed claims he was taken on a secret flight to Morocco by the CIA and subjected to appalling treatment for 18 months, before being transferred to Afghanistan and finally to the US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay in 2004.
A police investigation found that British agents interviewed Mohamed in Pakistan, gave the US authorities information about him and supplied questions to be put to him while he was held in Morocco.
But prosecutors said there was "insufficient evidence" to prove they did this while they knew or should have known that he was at risk of torture.
They added: "Nothing in this decision should be read as concluding that the ill-treatment alleged by Mr Mohamed did not take place, or that it was lawful."
Police also found insufficient evidence to prove that an MI6 agent was involved in wrongdoing when he interviewed a terror suspect held by the US authorities at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan in 2002.
First Published: Thursday, January 12, 2012, 23:49