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A review of Terrorism arrests
Of the 572 persons arrested in Britain up to April 2004 under anti-Terrorism laws, 289 were released without charge (51%). Of the remaining, 186 were charged with passport irregularities and other crimes not related to terrorism. Of the 97 charged with a terror-related offence 14 convictions have been upheld (2% of arrests).
Outcomes of some high publicity incidents in London:
23rd June 2003: The ‘Waltham Forest Guardian’ in East London reports that “Shazad Ashraf, 32, is accused of possessing 'combat books, quasi-military information and tactical planning material". The item was picked up by all the news agencies. On 23rd March 2004, when his case was scheduled for a trial at Southwark Crown Court, the prosecutor offered no evidence. Ashraf had been in custody for nine months at Belmarsh prison. He was given a 12-month jail sentence for possessing a false passport, but released immediately due to the time he had served. The trial judge observed that the case had a ‘bad history’: "This man was charged with a serious crime under the Terrorism Act and was then charged with a second offence. The prosecution case has shifted and changed."
20th January 2003: 150 officers supported by 2 helicopters with floodlights executed a dawn raid of the Finsbury Park mosque – a venue that had been infiltrated by security agents and under stringent surveillance for several years. The raid uncovered one stun-gun, one tear-gas canister and one imitation handgun that fired blanks. Seven men were arrested – one was later released without charge and five were charged on non-terrorism offences e.g. immigration issues and possession of the tear-gas canister. One individual, Samir Asli, charged under the Terrorism Act, has been brought to Bow Street Magistrates Court in January and February 2003 but it appears that there is a reporting restriction on the case and the outcome is not in the public domain.
11th February 2003: More than 400 soldiers and armoured vehicles staged a major display of force at Heathrow. A Police statement linked the possibility of a terrorist threat with the festival of Eid, an association that was immediately deprecated by the Muslim Council of Britain. Sir Rodric Braithwaite, a former head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, has observed “I mean all that stuff... tanks at Heathrow. I mean, I call that overselling."
5th January 2003: the story of a ‘ricin factory’ above a chemist’s in Wood Green, North London, dominated the media. Eight were arrested in various parts of the country. Six months later, when the charges were pressed, the two ‘ring-leaders’ - the Algerian brothers Mouloud Feddag and Samir Feddag were jailed for the possession of false passports – there was no mention of terrorism.
17th November 2002: The ‘Sunday Mirror’ reported, “A gang of terrorists with links to al-Qaida plotted to launch a devastating cyanide gas attack on the London Underground that would have killed thousands of people”. The next day’s London ‘Evening Standard’ cried out ‘Keep alert on the Tube’ warning of a poison gas or ‘dirty bomb’ attack. It referred to arrests made on 11th November of ‘terrorist suspects’ – three North Africans. It was also reported that officers from SO13 of the Met had leaked the news together with “embellishments”. None of these men - Rabah Chekat-Bais, Rabah Kadris and Karim Kadouri - were subsequently convicted of any terrorist activities. Karim Kadouri was jailed for four months on 17 February, 2003 for possessing a fake French passport. No evidence was offered suggesting he had ever used it – he had been living in the UK for the last ten years. The ‘Sunday Mirror’ and ‘Standard’ headlines appeared a week after a Mansion House speech by Prime Minister Blair urging ‘vigilance to prevent a terrorist attack in the UK’.
Some major incidents outside London:
19th April 2004: nine men and one woman, reported to be of North African and Iraqi Kurdish origin, were arrested in Manchester under the Terrorism Act 2000 in what Reuters described as a ‘major anti-terror swoop’. Four hundred police officers were involved. The Sun newspaper claimed a plot against Old Trafford – on the basis of information from an ‘an unnamed police source’: "if successful, any such attack would have caused absolute carnage. Thousands of people could have been killed." By 29th April all the ten had been released (but later 6 were charged with immigration offences and one deported).
27th November 2003: 24-year old Sajid Badat was arrested at his home in Gloucester in a dawn raid involving twenty-six armed police units and the sealing of three roads in the city centre and the evacuation of 119 homes. Within hours, Home Office Minister David Blunkett announced that “it is the belief of the security and special branch forces that this person has connections with the network of al-Qaida groups. That is why he has been arrested under the Terrorism Act”. Notwithstanding this statement, a trial is still awaited. Badat has appeared in Court in December 2003 and May 2004 and a plea – his barrister is Michael Mansfield QC - is to be heard in July 2004. He presumably remains in Belmarsh.
14 January 2003: Special Branch detective constable Stephen Oake was tragically fatally stabbed in the course of a police raid of a flat in Manchester last night as part of an investigation “into the discovery of the poison ricin” (Timesonline reportage). The media headlines were ‘Terror suspect stabs officers with kitchen knife. Kamal Bourgass was charged with murder (but not with Terrorism offences).
Meanwhile we await the outcome of the massively publicized arrests on 30th March 2004 of 8 men linked with the storage of ammonium nitrate in West London.
The initial media coverage makes a powerful association between terrorism and British Muslims. However when the Terrorism charges are subsequently established to be unfounded, the coverage is virtually non-existent.