Muslim officer sacked from guarding Blair

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The Independent Online

An experienced Muslim firearms officer has begun race and religious discrimination proceedings against the Metropolitan Police after he was removed from a close-protection unit guarding senior dignitaries, including Tony Blair. Amjad Farooq, 39, a father of five, was told he was a threat to national security because his children had attended a mosque associated with a Muslim cleric linked to a suspected terrorist group.

The officer was also told that his presence might upset the American secret service which worked closely with the Met's close-protection group.

His case raises further concerns about the treatment of Muslim firearms officers working in Metropolitan Police Force. Last month, at the height of the conflict in southern Lebanon, PC Alexander Basha was excused from guarding the Israeli embassy in Kensington Palace Gardens, central London, because of concern about his family links with Lebanon.

PC Farooq was a firearms specialist working for the Wiltshire Constabulary when he was transferred to the Diplomatic Protection Group SO16 (DPG) whose main role is to provide static protection at government, diplomatic and Metropolitan Police sites. All officers within the DPG are required to undergo security vetting including a counter-terrorism check (CTC).

PC Farooq was told he would not be transferred until he had received full counter-terrorism clearance. On 16 December 2003, he was approached by a detective chief superintendent from Special Branch who informed him that he had failed his CTC. By then, PC Farooq had been working for the DPG for six weeks.

The Met told the officer that they had evidence to justify the refusal of the CTC and referred to the fact that PC Farooq's children, two sons aged 9 and 11, had attended their local mosque for religious studies when the building was associated with an iman whom the police suspected of links to an extremist Islamic group. Mr Farooq strongly denies any such links or inappropriate behaviour.

At a tribunal to be held next year, Mr Farooq is expected to say that his colleagues had said words to the effect of "what will the American secret service make of him when he turns up there?" [referring to the likelihood that PC Farooq would be posted to duty at the US embassy in Grosvenor Square, London].

It is understood that the officer is the first person to have his CTC vetting status withdrawn.

PC Farooq later challenged the decision to remove his CTC by lodging an appeal with the Security Vetting Appeal Panel (SVAP), which is administered by the Cabinet Office, itself headed by the Prime Minister.

It has subsequently emerged in relation to the appeal that the Met refused to disclose any evidence for these allegations on the grounds of national security concerns.

PC Farooq's case will challenge the secrecy surrounding vetting appeals so that he can be allowed to be represented by a Special Advocate who would test the national security evidence used by the Met to reach its decision to withdraw his special clearance.

As a result of the clearance refusal, PC Farooq was transferred from the DPG to Hammersmith & Fulham constabulary. When he returned to collect his belongings, on 31 December 2003, he was asked to return to meet a police sergeant. He claims that he was taken to a basement room where he was searched in front of other officers.

PC Farooq's solicitor, Lawrence Davies, of the law firm Equal Justice, said last night he was unable to comment about the case, but did say: "We live in a society where it is possible to point a finger at a Muslim abroad and say that they have WMD and are a threat to national security and no questions are asked. Now those who 'protect' us feel emboldened to point the same finger at British Muslims. Muslims are labelled guilty by association. Doubt is insufficient to save them. They are assumed guilty before being proven innocent. We are very close to living in the days of Salem. If the head of counter-terrorism becomes a Witch-Finder General then any Muslim or Muslim-looking person or sympathiser best take cover."

PC Farooq declined to comment about the case.

Inayat Bunglawala, assistant secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said details of Mr Farooq's case would "not come as a great surprise to many British Muslims. Smear and innuendo appear increasingly to have taken the place of hard evidence when it comes to finding Muslims guilty of misdemeanours. There is no suggestion that Amjad Farooq himself represented any kind of security risk or that the cleric in the mosque had been convicted of any actual crime."

Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, leader of the "British Muslim Parliament" , said: "Unless the individual has close links with a terrorist organisation there is no reason to take these kind of decisions. I think it is a dangerous precedent to set and we have to be very careful about going beyond what is direct evidence, particularly when the allegation concerns the children of the person involved."

Religion on trial

* PC Alexander Omar Basha was excused from guarding the Israeli embassy in Kensington Palace Gardens, central London, because of a possible conflict of interest over his family links with Lebanon. The Met said he was not " emotionally equipped" to be on armed duty at the embassy in the recent Israeli-Lebanese conflict. He requested in summer that he not be sent there because of his family background and concerns for his safety. His superiors agreed after making a risk assessment.

* The son of jailed Islamic cleric Abu Hamza was given a job working on London Underground, it emerged last month. Mohammed Kamel Mostafa, 25, who was jailed for three years in Yemen in 1999 for plotting a bombing campaign, worked for a sub-contractor of the network's maintenance company Tube Lines. The decision drew widespread condemnation. But London mayor, Ken Livingstone, warned that no one should be condemned for the sins of their fathers. Mr Mostafa no longer works with the subcontractor.

* Muslim teaching assistant Aishah Azmi was suspended from her job after she refused to remove her veil at Headfield Church of England Junior School in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire. She lost her claim for religious discrimination but won £1,100 for "injury to feelings". She will take her case to the European Court of Human Rights.