- Jawad Botmeh and Samar Alami
- The ‘Iraqgate’ companies
- The sad story of Sulayman Balal
- The Ricin ‘Plot’
Jawad Botmeh and Samar Alami
In July 1994 there was a bomb blast at the Israel Embassy in Kensington Palace Gardens, London, in which a number of people were injured. It coincided with the Middle East peace negotiations that were proceeding in Washington, marked by the occasion when King Hussein of Jordan shook hands with Israeli PM Rabin. In 1996 two young Palestinian, Jawad Botmeh and Samar Alami were convicted for the bombing and sentenced to 20-year sentences. Both claimed their innocence, but the prosecution used ‘Public Interest Immunity Certificates’ to block the disclosure of critical evidence that might clear them.
‘Defending the Realm’, the book based on the testimony of ex-MI5 agent David Shayler points to a miscarriage of justice:
MI5 was warned that an attack on the embassy was imminent. Despite receiving specific information from a highly reliable source, it did nothing. The MI5 officer who received the warning failed to act on it and after the bombing, which injured thirteen people, it was found ‘buried’ in a cupboard by another officer, leading to speculation of a cover-up by the officer who had received it.
The woman concerned was not even disciplined, said Shayler, despite an immediate inquiry headed by the section chief. As a result morale in MI5’s international terrorism section dropped alarmingly, particularly when senior management failed to institute new procedures to prevent a similar event occurring….
Indirect confirmation of the story came from a 1994 Sunday Times article, published just after the attack, which stated that a top Israeli secret service delegation had visited London three weeks before the bombing….
Botmeh and Alami were found guilty because they had been trying to discover ways of making simple explosive devices, with mainly household ingredients, for use as a form of basic self-defence by Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Both were scientists from well-known Palestinian families. The judge at their trial accepted that they had no links with any terrorist organization. Their amateurish activities were also in sharp contrast to the bombings, which had been carried out professionally, so much so that the police forensics team could not even establish what explosive had been used…..
In November 1997, Gareth Pearce – a highly respected solicitor who represented the Guildford four – wrote to the Crown Prosecution Service asking for any information relevant to Shayler’s allegations. Sixteen months later, in March 1999, it was revealed that Home Secretary Jack Straw had signed two Public Interest Immunity Certificates, which meant that his officials did not have to release information on the case. The Home Office has not contended that the information is irrelevant, simply that its grounds for non-disclosure are connected to national security. Gareth Pierce states; ‘I am totally, absolutely and one hundred per cent sure, as sure as of any person that I have ever represented, that these two have no involvement whatsoever in the bombing of the Israeli embassy’.
(Defending the Realm by Mark Hollingsworth and Nick Fielding, Andre Deutsch, 1999, pp146-147)
The ‘Iraqgate’ companies
During the course of the Iraq-Iran War (1980-88), the UN agreed on guidelines to stop the export of arms to the protagonists. Britain publicly supported this policy, but privately encouraged and approved arms deals by British companies. The attitude was summed up by Trade Minister Alan Clark at the time: “’I am not particularly bothered about who we are trading with, providing we get paid.’
The Customs & Excise, unaware of this duplicity, brought a criminal prosecution against a Midlands-based engineering firm, Matrix Churchill, for not complying with export restrictions of sales of weapons to Iraq. The case however collapsed in 1992 following the decision of the trial judge to disclose to the defence some reports for which Ministers had signed ‘gagging orders’ or Public Interest Immunity Certificates (PIIs).
In the wake of this debacle, the Government was forced to establish an enquiry under Sir Richard Scott. This enquiry (1992-96) lifted the lid on some of the workings of the ‘military-industrial’ complex in the UK.
The shocking aspect of the revelations from the Scott Enquiry was that the managing director of Matrix Churchill had been acting as an informer for MI6 for seventeen years, yet this connection was disavowed through the use of PIIs. It was a calculated and cynical betrayal – Paul Henderson was ruined financially and, and with another directors, would have faced a seven-year prison sentence had the trial judge not ruled in their favour.
A supplier of military fuses, Ordtec, was also used to collect intelligence information but then disowned. Paul Grecian, Bryan Mason and Colin Phillips, directors of Ordtec, were convicted at Reading Crown Court in 1992. The judge allowed a PII to be invoked, thereby making it appear that the men were acting unlawfully, and profiting from the export of fuses to an embargoed destination – Iraq. The PII was issued to prevent an officer of Special Branch from verifying that Grecian was acting with official backing in order to gather intelligence on Iraq. The prosecutor, one Andrew Collins QC, was later formally reprimanded for knowingly withholding evidence which would have caused the prosecution case to collapse: he would knowingly have sent innocent men to prison to prevent exposure of illegal government activity. Grecian, having received a prison sentence, was exonerated in 1995 when it became apparent “that the government had failed to disclose the relevant documents”.
Reaveley James of Astra Holdings Plc, an ammunition and weapons manufacturer, has also described how his company became involved in covert weapons and ammunitions operations organised by the covert agencies:
“It also became clear that all our main operations were involved in covert operations in the USA, Belgium and the UK, and that Astra, when it acquired these companies, had inherited a hard core of MI6, MI5, DIA agents who operated behind the back of the original directors and who treated them as “useful idiots” … By early 1990 my probing had become a major problem and a plot was hatched to remove me as Chairman shortly before the Supergun and other revelations and Bull’s murder… In order to explain away the destruction of the company with a £350m order book and a market capitalisation of £120m desperate attempts were made to find evidence of malpractice by the original directors…..My family suffered considerably, my two eldest sons army careers suffered, my youngest son’s education because of adverse publicity, my brother was killed in an accident never satisfactory explained which could have been intended for me”.
On 14 April 1998, Margaret Beckett, President of the Board of Trade announced that she has decided not to continue the disqualification proceedings of the directors of Astra, including Reaveley James.
(Sources: The Unlikely Spy by Paul Henderson, Bloomsbury, 1994; Betrayed: The Real Story of the Matrix Churchill Trialby David Leigh, Warner Books, 1996; In the Public Interest by Gerald Reaveley James, Little Brown, 1995; http://www.elc.org.uk/Conference_Papers/Gerald%20James.doc)
The sad story of Sulayman Balal
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 travelled 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 his enquiries. 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 satisfy Andrew Dismore, 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.”
solicitor Mudassar Arani of Arani & Co
The ‘Ricin Plot’
21 February 2003
On 5th January this year, the story of a ‘ricin factory’ above a chemist’s in Wood Green, North London, dominated the media. Public anxiety was stoked to a high pitch, with the Deputy Chief Medical Officer issuing public health notifications on 7th January. Politicians contributed to the hysteria, with the Shadow Defence Secretary Bernard Jenkin on 15 January stating on the Today Programme that “we are dealing with suicide bombers”. A dragnet was thrown, and within the next few days upto 8 persons had been arrested in various parts of the country. The tragic fatal stabbing of DC Oake during the search of a flat in Manchester hardened public perceptions. The persons arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 were a 17-year-old youth, Samir Feddag, his brother Mouloud Feddag aged 18, Mustapha Taleb, Nasreddine Fekhadje, Mouloud Bouhrama, Kamel Bourgass and Samir Asli,. Subsequently, Rabah Kadre, Mouloud Sihali and Aissa Khalef were also detained.
The London arrests were a tip-off from the French intelligence services. It was also thought that “some of the suspects are alleged to have links with a gang seized in Paris last month” (The Times, 9 January 2003). The eleven men, including two teenagers charged with “conspiring to develop a chemical weapon” meanwhile remain incarcerated awaiting their trial.
The discovery of some vials and powder during a routine search of lockers at Gare de Lyon station in Paris in March was taken up as sign of “a pan-European Islamic network [is] preparing chemical attack” (Adam Sage writing in The Times, 20 March 2003). Journalist Piotr Smolar writing in Le Monde (22 March 2003) noted that “Ce même poison avait été retrouvé à Londres, en janvier, chez des islamistes” – ‘the same poison [Ricin] has been found in London, in January, with the Islamists’
French police however are now beginning to distance themselves from this Ricin scare story – the powder turned out to be a harmless mixture of ground barley and wheatgerm (Vikram Dodd, The Guardian, 12 April 2003). At the time the French Ministry of Interior was quite adamant that Ricin had been uncovered: “les analyses effectuées ont permis de constater que les deux derniers flacons contenaient des traces de ricine dans un mélange qui s’est révélé être un poison très toxique” – ‘analysis indicates that the two flasks contain traces of Ricin in a mixture that is a very toxic poison’. While authorities find it expeditious to downgrade scare stories after the event, it is Muslim communities, particularly asylum seekers, in London and Paris that suffer the consequences and the climate of hate and suspicion. We now await a trial or early release of those held in London on the Wood Green Ricin scare.