British Muslims on safari 'stopped by MI5'


Home Affairs Editor,Robert Verkaik
Saturday 01 May 2010 00:00 BST

MI5 agents illegally interrogated British Muslims who were detained while on safari holidays in Africa, it was claimed yesterday.

The new allegations mirror cases first raised by The Independent last year in which the security service was accused of harassing and intimidating north London community workers who had returned from Somalia.

Now two British men from west London who visited Tanzania for a week-long safari in May last year say they were arrested and held for "days" in inhumane detention on the orders of MI5.

Abu Talib and Muhammad ibn Muazzam, both in their mid-20s, and a German friend travelling with them, allege they were threatened with beatings by members of Tanzania's security forces. After being refused entry to Tanzania they were returned to the Netherlands, where they say they were questioned by MI5 agents who accused them of having links to Islamic extremists.

On their return to the UK the next day, the men allege they were harassed by MI5, who warned them they were now on a terror watch list which prevented them travelling to any Muslim country. Another British citizen, Abu Omar, 19, says that in April 2009 his safari holiday to Kenya was interrupted when the house in which he was staying was raided by local security officers.

Mr Omar claims he was held and questioned for four days, also on the basis of intelligence supplied by MI5. He alleges that his interrogators threw a mobile phone at him which they said had his fingerprints on and was linked to phone calls made to Osama bin Laden. Back in London Mr Omar was further questioned by MI5, who took his fingerprints and photographs.

He told the human rights group Cageprisoners: "I was left in the airport without money, barefoot and my clothes in bin liners."

The new cases bear striking similarities to allegations made by six youth workers from Kentish Town who allege that they too were harassed and unlawfully interrogated after holidays abroad in 2008. Cageprisoners' executive director, Asim Qureshi, said: "The last seven years of the 'War on Terror' have seen the profiling and criminalisation of the Arab and Pakistani communities by UK authorities around the world. The policies implemented through counter-terrorism legislation and Prevent [the Government's strategy for combating extremism in the Muslim community] have been counter-productive as Muslim communities feel marginalised. Many Muslims feel besieged and the policies of Government have done nothing to temper that."

A government spokeswoman said the Security Service "operated within the law" and complaints about officers' alleged behaviour should be made to the independent commissioner who has the power to investigate allegations.

Case study

Mahdi Hashi: They had me sent back because I was a terror suspect

In April 2009, 19-year-old Mahdi Hashi arrived at Gatwick en route to visit his sick grandmother in Djibouti. At the check-in, he was stopped by two plainclothes officers. One who called himself Richard said he was working for MI5.

"He warned me not to get on the flight. He said, 'Whatever happens to you outside the UK is not our responsibility'. I was absolutely shocked," Mr Hashi said. In Djibouti, he was stopped at passport control, held in a room for 16 hours and deported back to the UK. He claims Somali security officers told him their orders came from London. At Heathrow he was detained again.

"I was taken to pick up my luggage and then into a very discreet room. 'Richard' walked in with a Costa bag with food which he said was for me, my breakfast. He said it was them who sent me back because I was a terror suspect."

Mr Hashi says the officer made it clear that his "suspect" status and travel restrictions would be lifted only if he agreed to help MI5. "I told him, 'This is blatant blackmail'. He said, 'No, it's just proving your innocence. By co-operating with us we know you're not guilty'. He said I could go and that he'd like to meet me another time, preferably after [May] Monday Bank Holiday. I said, 'I don't ever want to see you or hear from you again. You've ruined my holiday, upset my family, and you nearly gave my sick grandmother in Somalia a heart attack'."

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