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Prior to September 11, the Terrorism Act 2000 conferred the Home Secretary with powers to ‘proscribe’ organisations ‘concerned with terrorism’ in the UK or abroad and it also provided government with legislative powers to seize funds and property implicated in terrorist or suspected terrorist activities. The traditional principle of the presumption of innocence unless proven guilty was overturned.
The application of this Act has been largely one-sided. For example these were the 21 organisations proscribed In November 2001 by the then Home Secretary Jack Straw: Al-Qa'ida, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Al-Gama'at al-Islamiya, the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC), Babbar Khalsa, the International Sikh Youth Federation, Harakat Mujahideen, Jaish e Mohammed, Lashkar e Tayyaba, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Hitzballah External Security Organisation, Hamas-Izz al-Din al-Qassem Brigades, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad -Shaqaqi, the Abu Nidal Organisation, the Islamic Army of Aden, Mujaheddin e Khalq, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the Revolutionary Peoples' Liberation Party (DHKC-P), ETA and the November 17 Revolutionary Organisation.
The sole institution whose funds have been seized by the Treasury has been the Benevolence International Foundation, in November 2002.
In November 2001 Home Secretary David Blunkett obtained parliamentary approval for the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, conferring the state with powers to detain indefinitely suspected terrorists. Because this clashed with the European convention on human rights that prevents the indefinite detention of suspected terrorists, Blunkett also presented before parliament and the European court of human rights in Strasbourg a "designated derogation order", which was an official declaration that the events of September 11 and Britain's involvement in the war in Afghanistan meant that there was a "threat to the life of the nation" that justified such emergency measures. The 2001 Act also allowed the government to apply it retrospectively – so including persons in the UK awaiting a decision on their asylum application. The law does not apply to UK citizens.
Amnesty International considers that the application of Part 4 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 (ATCSA) amounts to a perversion of justice. The organization believes that the emergency provisions of the ATCSA are inconsistent with international human rights law and standards, including treaty provisions by which the United Kingdom (UK) is bound.
In December and January 2002 eleven Muslims were arrested in London and Leicester. Detainees, who were not charged, were incarcerated in the London high security prison, Belmarsh. They were locked up for 22 hours a day and did not see daylight. On detention they were given access neither to lawyers nor to their families. They were unable to speak to families without the presence of an approved translator visiting once a week. They were denied prayer facilities apart from 15 minutes on a Friday but in the absence of an iman. Gareth Peirce, a solicitor who represents several of them, stated that "these men have been buried alive in concrete coffins and have been told the legislation provides for their detention for life without trial".
John Wadham, director of civil rights group Liberty, said: "Is there such an imminent and extreme national emergency as to justify locking people up without charge or trial, not for anything they have done but for something someone thinks they might do? The Home Office says there is, but it refuses to tell either the people it is imprisoning or the general public why."
The conclusion must be that the Home Office is acting on the basis of unverifiable information compiled by the security services, very likely obtained from overseas governments keen to crush dissenters. The human cost has been high. Some are taking anti-depressants and two have been classed as a suicide risk. Two have become fathers while in prison and have yet to see their new children. Two detainees have now received compensation from the Metropolitan police for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment.
From a report published by the Muslim News, London, August 2002.
MI5 and Special Branch officers have visited the homes of over 30 British Muslims since May (2002).
These ‘fishing’ expeditions are part of a new strategy to collect information on possible terrorists. No one was arrested. The Home Secretary David Blunkett has apologised to the Muslims interviewed by the MI5. In a letter, dated August 16, to a Muslim organization seen by The Muslim News, he said: “I am sorry that anyone interviewed was distressed by the experience.”
“We felt intimidated. They alleged that our names and addresses were found in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan,” one Muslim from Blackburn said. Most of those visited preferred not to be identified. Some of the cities where British Muslims have being approached include Blackburn, Birmingham, Bolton, Leicester, London and Manchester. Many visited are Imams of Indian origin, trained in the UK.
All the Muslims said they cooperated with the security services and answered their questions. Some of them said they reluctantly agreed to talk to the Special Branch as they were “too frightened” to say ‘no’ as they were not aware of their rights and thought that “if we had refused to talk to them, they would have suspected that we had something to hide,” one told The Muslim News.
Typically conversations began: “We saw your names somewhere in Afghanistan.” Others were told: “We saw your names in the Tora Bora caves.” A further variation was: “We saw your names around Afghanistan”. The next question usually asked was: “Is there any reason why your names should be there? Do you have any relations with the Taliban? Are you supporting al-Qaida? Are you funding al-Qaida? Do you know anyone who has gone to Afghanistan and returned?” Some were asked whether they had knowledge of any organisations operating in Pakistan or if they met Imams who came from Pakistan before they were proscribed by then Home Secretary Jack Straw.
The majority of those interviewed were from India. They were also asked whether they knew various personalities like Usama bin Ladin, Mufti Jamil Ahmed of Khatme Nabuwwat and Maulana Masood Azhar (who was released by India after hijacking of a plane and is now in Pakistan). One of the MI5 agents asked if suspects belonged to the Deobandi school of thought. Others asked: “Do you have any feelings for the people in Afghanistan.”
All denied any knowledge of these issues. One said he told the police that he had feelings for the people in Afghanistan but that “did not mean that I belong to any of the groups there.” They also denied that they had given any money to the groups in Afghanistan. One said that the reason why they may have their names was because many Muslims had subscribed to a magazine published in Afghanistan some 5 years ago. Many Special Branch officers said they would return to question them further.
Some of the Muslims said they were “frightened”, “felt intimidated”, “worried” and could not understand the need for such intense questioning. Some denied they felt concerned but said they felt “harassed” by the police “fishing for information”. One was angry as his parents opened the door for the officers. “My parents were shocked and surprised. For many days the atmosphere at home was tense, my parents and family were in shock. I was not bothered as I know I have nothing to hide.” All were alarmed and surprised at the detailed information they had on them – their names, addresses, which mosque they frequented. Some said the police knew who they met in the mosques, showing that some Muslims in mosques were working for the intelligence services.
One man who was willing to be identified was Leicester businessman, Khalid Jessob, who was visited by Special Branch and a uniformed policewoman at 7 am on August 3. “I refused to allow them into my home as they did not have a warrant. We talked outside,” Jessob told The Muslim News. They said some people had complained that there were people going into the house and they wanted to know who these were. They asked him which mosques he frequented and which Imams came to see him. “I told them, ‘if you want to question me, you have to arrest me.’” He refused to give them his ID and talk about his work. “Then they said, ‘You know why we are here.’ I replied, ‘No I don’t.’” They then told him that there were a number of al-Qaida operatives in Leicester. “I replied, ‘Why are you asking me?’”
Most have responded to the surprising visits by taking some action. Some have written to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, the constituent MP for Blackburn, through organisations like Lancashire Council for Mosques. Others have sent letters directly to the Home Secretary David Blunkett. The Foreign Office refused to discuss the issue. But the Home Office acknowledged that Blunkett had received correspondence from various people, after being asked by The Muslim News about the harassments, and said he was going to respond to them. The Muslim Council of Britain separately took the issue up with the Home Office Minister Beverley Hughes during their meeting earlier this month to discuss the police raid on Lye mosque to apprehend an Afghan family seeking sanctuary. She pledged to investigate the matter.
The Muslim News has learnt that Special Branch officers have also visited over 100 mosques, Islamic centres and Muslim organisations since early April. The questions revolve around Muslim organisations and Mosque activities and the presence of “extremists” in their midst. “The Special Branch confided that the Reid case had taken them off guard and needed information on extremists in mosques and Islamic institutions,” said one executive member of a Muslim organisation in London.
“We want to know who the extremists are in the community,” another organisation said they were asked. In latter visits, officers telephoned organisations to make appointments to see them.
The Home Office’s first reaction was that they did not “comment on operational matters” but later conceded visits by the Special Branch had taken place and that the interviews were being conducted to help with the police enquiries. “The Home Secretary has replied to those letters,” a spokeswoman for the Home Office told The Muslim News. She added: “The Home Secretary appreciates and shares the concerns of those interviewed and we will do nothing to undermine good community relations. We are sorry if they have been distressed.” She denied that they were targeted because of being Muslim. “It is not about targeting of different faiths.” She also denied that Muslims who collect funds for the impoverished Muslims in Afghanistan were interviewed because of their religion even though no Christian groups have been interviewed for collecting funds for Afghanistan.
The Home Secretary in the letter mentioned earlier, said he would consider “suggestion of prior consultation with community leaders” but the police would only do so “whenever they are able to do so”. A spokeswoman for Head of Specialist Operations at the Metropolitan Police David Veness said the visits by Special Branch were part of police inquiries, not because “we were checking on them.” But he accepted that the Muslims “may feel being threatened” by the Special Branch visits. She added that the issue will be brought up during the next meeting with the Muslim leaders in September to find “the best way to deal with this issue”.
Lancashire Constabulary insisted that their Special Branch officers accompanied the MI5 officers as they did not wish to jeopardise relations built with the Muslim community in Blackburn over a number years. One of the Special Branch officers told a Muslim leader, “We were very polite. We even took our shoes off when we entered the house. We reassured the person so that he was not alarmed at our visit.”
[The Muslim News, August 2002, ‘British Muslims accuse security services of harassment and intimidation’ by Ahmed Versi]
On 16-17 October 2002, the UK press gave prominence to the arrest in London of three men of North African descent, charged under the Terrorism Act. This was linked by the media to a terrorist threat to London. For example The Sunday Times said MI5 had foiled a plot to release poison gas, possibly cyanide, on the Tube during rush hour. On Monday 18 October, The Daily Mirror reported that four stations had been targeted, Baker Street, King's Cross, Waterloo and Bank.
However according to the solicitor for one of the detainees, Ms Gareth Pearce, there had been
The men had been arrested on 9 November, but the alleged ‘plant’ was not ‘activated’ for a week, interestingly, after a keynote speech by the Prime Minister at the Lord Mayor’s banquet on the international situation and justifying military action in Iraq.
[The Guardian 19 November 2002]
None of the men arrested were subsequently questioned on their links with the Tube scare story. The case against one, Mr Karim Kadouri, was dropped on 28 January 2003. Susan Hemming, for the prosecution, said at Bow Street Magistrates’ Court said that he remained accused of offences involving a fake French passport and identity card. He denied all charges and was remanded in custody for a further three weeks.
[The Times, 28 January 2003]
Mr Kadouri appeared before Bow Street magistrates court on 17 February, 2003 and was jailed for four months for possessing a fake French passport. No evidence was offered suggesting he had ever used it. Mr Kadouri has been living in the UK for the last ten years.
[The Guardian, 18 February 2003]
Born Francis Asibong Etim in South London in 1958, Sulayman Balal Zain-al-Abidin worked for much of his life as an itinerant chef. After completing schooling in 1974 he took a City & Guilds course in catering and also signed up as a reserve in the Royal Green Jackets battalion from 1976-1979. He adopted Islam in 1979, and his choice of surname, drawing on the memory of the Prophet’s family and his great-grandson in particular is also a clue to a young man’s journey to a new faith. This was the moment of the reassertion of Islam in Iran and Sulayman once observed that “when I embraced Islam I was fortunate enough, by the grace of Allah, to be in that period when Ayatullah Khomeini was saying ‘No East, No West, Islam is the Best’ ”.
Sulayman died on 22 December 2002, and if justice is to be done, there are many who will need to be called to the dock to answer for their vendetta against a harmless man - the mob of Fleet Street, a police force obsessed with results, and a Member of Parliament with an agenda.
Sulayman’s conversion to Islam coincided with a turbulent period of twentieth century Muslim history – not only was he caught up in the tremendous excitement of the Islamic revolution of Iran, but also the Afghan war against the Soviets, Rushdie’s vilification, the frustration of the Iraq-Iran War, the first Intifada, the Lockerbie plane bomb, the frustration when FIS in Algeria were denied their electoral victory and subsequent chaos, the Kuwaiti invasion by Iraq, and the plight of the Bosnians and then the Kosovars. Sulayman channelled his energy and enthusiasm to the causes of the day, holding his own on the soapbox at Speakers Corner and visiting prisons as a Muslim helper. Perhaps drawing on his Army experience, he also provided self-defence and survival training to Muslim youth groups. At no time did he visit Bosnia, Afghanistan, Pakistan or Chechnya. He did visit Libya in connection with the campaign for a fair trial of those charged as responsible for the Lockerbie crash, Palestine, as part of a Muslim delegation, and the USA (in 1998).
In 1999 Sulayman ventured into the business world with a one-man enterprise, Sakina Security Services. This company’s website, registered in Sulayman’s name, offered enrolment to ‘the ultimate jehad challenge’, a course conducted in the US. The site was one of bravado and hyperbole, referring to the skills needed to conduct ‘high profile missions’. The website declared support for various Muslim causes, including Chechnya and the liberation of Masjid Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem. This, and his earlier Palestine visit, led to Sulayman being a marked man.
There followed a period of intense pressure from the Police to disclose personal information and details of acquaintances and also serve as a potential police witness. A police officer also stated that if he did not turn up for interview at the Charing Cross station and was not willing to say anything then an application would be made to the Court to commit him to prison for contempt of Court and he would be imprisoned. Sulayman resisted and was arrested on 15 March 1999 under Prevention of Terrorism charges. His solicitors, Arani & Co, were able to obtain legal aid for instigating proceedings. Arani & Co were further successful in an ex-parte application for an explanation order, obtained at Middlesex Guildhall Crown Court, and Sulayman was released. However he was then re-arrested on a conspiracy to kidnap and released on bail. Arani & Co successfully obtained further legal aid for instigating proceedings against the police for malicious prosecution and false imprisonment.
In August 1999 Channel 4 broadcast a sensationalist ‘Dispatches’ to “Kill or to be Killed”, to which Sulayman had unwittingly contributed. Arani & Co were unable to pursue a restraining injunction on the TV company because legal aid was not available. Sulayman, now in poor health from an arthritis condition and struggling to make ends meet, was confronted by relentless forces: on 21 September 1999, London’s Evening Standard ran a sensationalist headline stating that a London security firm was sending Muslim fighters to Afghanistan. Sulayman was described to as a terrorist. The Hendon MP Andrew Dismore wrote to the police and called for his arrest.
Arani & Co immediately contacted the police on Sulayman’s behalf, requesting police protection for him and his family. Sulayman then visited Plumstead Police Station, where he attempted to explain that his security services were above board, bona fide and barely profitable.
Andrew Dismore pursued the matter in Parliament, on 25 May 2000 raising a question with the Home Secretary to establish what action would be taken “in respect of the activities of Sakina Security Services relating to British Islamic fundamentalists and firearms and explosives training in the United States”. Arani & Co would show that only one person had ever enrolled on Sakina’s training course, - a Sainsbury's security guard who traveled to a commercial bodyguard training camp in the United States and that the web site notice offered the same type of training course advertised by 125 different English companies. In fact some of the site’s content had been taken - without permission - from a US security company’s web site. Notwithstanding all this, in the aftermath of September 11 Sulayman was arrested on 1st October 2001 charged with providing training in guns and explosives, an offence under the Terrorism Act 2000.
Andrew Dismore continued the pursuit of his quarry. On 16 October 2001 he observed in Parliament that “Sakina is an Islamist security organisation with extremely close links to al-Muhajiroun and Supporters of Sharia. Sakina sends people overseas for jihad training with live arms and ammunition. It is hostile to the British Government, police and security services, and regularly issues threats to British interests in the United Kingdom and overseas. It is also particularly anti-semitic and appears to have singled out the Jewish community as its direct adversary. In October 2000, Sakina launched an appeal for donations to the Al Aqsa Liberation Fund to raise money to support the Palestinian jihad….Sakina also organises training in many different sites in the United Kingdom. However, its activities are not limited to that. A bulletin board posted on its website a year ago today claimed that Sakina operatives were in ‘occupied Palestine, sisterly Lebanon and in Jordan’ ready to fight in the Palestinian jihad. Although the police have acted, I regret that the Department of Trade and Industry has done nothing to close the company. So far, only one Sakina associate, Sulayman Bilal Zain-ul Abidin—also known as Frank Etim—has been arrested and charged with offences under the Terrorism Act 2000”.
After a ten month incarceration in the Belmarsh high security prison, Sulayman was brought to trial in the Old Bailey in August 2002. The prosecution case was that Sakina Security Services was a front for Al-Qaida, for "the pursuit of jihad, a holy war, against the perceived enemies of Islam". These allegations could not be backed by evidence to convince a jury, and after four days of deliberation, Sulayman was acquitted. Faced with financial ruin, in poor health and a house repossessed, he planned to sue the police for unlawful arrest. He told the press, “If you speak up for oppressed people, it means you are a terrorist. If you give money to any Muslim charity organisations, you're funding terrorism”. At his trial he explained Jehad as struggle in its widest sense. It is a tribute to his character that he did not lose a sense of humour and could draw on his Catholic upbringing to reinforce the point, “the priest used to say every Sunday take this bread all of you and eat it - this is the body of Isa alayhissalam, asthagfullah, and then he would say take this water and drink it - this is the blood of Isa alayhissalam, asthagfullah. So if I was to act like they do and take the religion out of context I'd say look at these people they are promoting cannibalism”.
The due process of law however did not quell Andrew Dismore’s concerns, who was reported as describing the verdict as very disappointing. FBI sources also confirmed that they were still investigating an alleged link between Sakina and James Ujaama, arrested in Denver, Colorado, for delivering laptop computers to the Taliban.
Sulayman believed that the police would be carrying out a character assassination against Muddasir Arani, his solicitor. He was on the verge of disclosing this information to her in December 2002 when he was taken into hospital on an emergency basis for a knee operation. A friend recounts that "Sulayman was laughing and joking with us for the first two days after his operation. He was sitting up in bed and said he felt fine. By the third day he seemed drowsy and his wife became alarmed. After that he slipped in to a coma. His drug records went missing and no one seemed to know what medication he had been given. It all sounded very suspicious and then on Sunday he died. He never came out of his coma”.
Maddassar Arani notes that, "His wife did not want a post mortem examination
on religious grounds and because of her wishes no tests or examinations have
been carried out. She does not want her husband's body to be exhumed to try
and prove foul play or medical negligence. She has lost her husband and no amount
of legal activity and claims can bring back her husband. She did not want his
burial delayed and wants no further pain for her husband. We have to respect
her wishes. The cause of death on the certificate has been given as cardiac
arrest, organ failure, a septic knee and arthritis. His death is very suspicious.
The day before he went into hospital he said he wanted to see me about something
very important. He said he had some vital information about the anti- terrorist
squad, but did not want to discuss it over the telephone."
[Copyright © Salaam 2003]