Northern Ireland news

Palestinian doctor charged in connection with 'New IRA' probe must remain in custody, judge rules

A Palestinian doctor charged in connection with a major surveillance operation against the New IRA must remain in custody, a High Court judge ruled today.

Issam Bassalat, 63, was seeking bail amid claims that he is being denied access to urgent spinal surgery.

But Mrs Justice Keegan refused his latest bid to be released after being informed of a new timeframe for the procedure. She said: "The application is effectively redundant now."

Dr Bassalat, with an address at Telford Road in Edinburgh, faces a charge of attending an alleged meeting of the New IRA.

He is among ten people facing prosecution following a joint PSNI and MI5 sting against the terrorist grouping's activities.

The operation involved bugging two suspected meetings at properties in Co Tyrone last year. Dr Bassalat was subsequently detained at Heathrow Airport in August.

He faces a single count of preparatory acts of terrorism by allegedly attending and addressing an IRA meeting in Omagh on July 19.

Previous courts heard claims that the doctor was part of a plan by the grouping to source weapons.

But the accused insists he had been misled and pestered into attending by an alleged MI5 agent.

His lawyers have stressed he is suspected of playing a lesser role than his co-accused, as well as his "impeccable" character and decades of medical work.

Bail was being sought due to his deteriorating health and need to undergo surgery.

Counsel for the prosecution said arrangements were in place to have Dr Bassalat escorted out for a scheduled procedure this month.

That appointment had to be cancelled on security grounds after the date became publicly known, the court heard.

It was claimed that either the defendant or his representatives "leaked" those details.

"A new timetable has been set," the Crown lawyer added.

Defence barrister Malachy McGowan insisted no disclosure could have been made because the date was never confirmed.

"Dr Bassalat is now being held in circumstances where he's being denied access to urgent medical treatment," Mr McGowan submitted.

"It is necessary because he's in ongoing, acute pain, and the delay could potentially result in long-term, permanent loss of function."

Denying bail, however, Mrs Justice Keegan cited confirmation that the procedure is now planned on the NHS.

She added: "That satisfies me that the medical issues are in hand."

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