They were supposed to be the British government’s piece de resistance in its domestic war on terror: the smoking guns that confirmed the presence of al-Qa’ida cells in Britain. But a recent wave of police raids on homes, charities and, most spectacularly, a mosque in London have provoked accusations that the government is scapegoating the Muslim community in order to boost support for its involvement in the impending war against Iraq.
In the early hours of Monday 20 January, 150 police officers, backed up by two helicopters and using battering rams and ladders, smashed their way into the Finsbury Park mosque, north London. Thanks to its larger-than-life imam and his uncompromising, if somewhat controversial, views, the mosque has in recent years rarely been out of the media spotlight as an alleged haven for ‘wannabe’ terrorists and their sympathisers.
The police said that they were acting under anti-terrorism legislation and in connection with the recent discovery of traces of ricin, a highly toxic poison, at a flat in north London. However, the results were disappointing by any measure. The "mini-arsenal" that the police discovered turned out to consist of one stun-gun, one tear-gas canister and one imitation handgun. The police also made seven arrests under sweeping terrorism legislation. A raid on 14 January in a northern suburb of Manchester had ended in tragedy when five arresting detectives were stabbed; one of them died.
These arrests are all part of an outbreak of "anti-terror" activity that some observers are attributing to a not-too-well-hidden government agenda to provoke fears of terrorism in order to sell the war on Iraq. Outright opposition to this war has risen to 47 percent of Britain’s people, according to a survey by the Guardian in January, and 81 percent of Britons are now opposed to any action at all without a second UN resolution.
"We are currently in the midst of the largest propaganda campaign waged by any British government since the attack on Suez in 1956," wrote Mike Berry of the University of Glasgow Media Group last week in a letter to the newspaper. "The Blair government has tried the Iraq weapons dossier—rubbished by defence analysts—and the Iraq human rights dossier—condemned as cynical and opportunistic by Amnesty International. Now it appears to have embarked upon a massive propaganda effort to link Iraq to terrorism and has started fabricating stories about imminent terrorist threats to Britain... The purpose of this is to scare the population into believing that an attack on Iraq will somehow improve their security by removing a potential terrorist sponsor."
At the very least, the timings of the recent raids have coincided neatly with the government’s war preparations. On the same day as the disclosure of the "ricin find" on Tuesday 7 January, two days after it was recovered, defence secretary Geoff Hoon called up a thousand military reservists to go to the Gulf; the Finsbury Park mosque operation was executed just hours before Hoon announced the deployment of 30,000 troops in the Gulf.
Equally importantly, the recent raids and arrests have failed to yield more than traces of ricin, in a quantity that the authorities admit is too minute to be any threat. The substance is produced naturally from the seeds of castor beans, used in many parts of Africa as a laxative, so it is entirely possible that its presence is quite innocent. But this did not stop a splurge of alarmist media stories warning of "kitchen-sink terrorism", and of "terrorists sneaking into Britain as asylum-seekers". So venomous has been some of the coverage that lawyers and Liberty, a civil-rights group, have been forced to warn publicly that it might prejudice the trials of those arrested.
The raid on the Finsbury Park mosque coincided with an inquiry by the Charities Commission, prompted by complaints from the Community Security Trust, a zionist self-defence organisation for British Jews. The Commission is to rule on whether Abu Hamza, a veteran of the jihad to liberate Afghanistan from the Soviet Union, has indeed breached the guidelines for charities (the mosque is registered legally as a charity) in undertaking political activities. British zionists have inspired several investigations into Muslim individuals and groups. Last year Sulayman Zain-ul-Abedin, 44, became the first Muslim to be tried under the Terrorism Act 2000. He was cleared at the Old Bailey by a jury, which decided that a course whose title was "The Ultimate Jihad Challenge", offered by his self-defence company, was not involved in training terrorists.
Sulayman Zain-ul-Abedin’s company was exposed by a London-based newspaper at the instigation of Labour MP Andrew Dismore, a known Zionist. He had protested that he was being victimised by British intelligence because he refused to spy against Sheikh Abu Hamza. On December 22 last year Sulayman Zain ul-Abedin died of a mysterious infection after routine knee surgery, provoking suspicion that he may have been "taken out" under the much-publicised US government secret hit-list of Islamist terrorists.
Dismore also successfully lobbied the authorities to arrest Sheikh Abdullah el-Faisal, another outspoken imam, who is currently being tried under the hitherto dormant 1861 Offences Against the Person Act, on the grounds that in his lectures he "encouraged others to murder persons unknown".
Britain’s crackdown against its Muslims may also be a result of increasing security cooperation between London and Tel Aviv. In recent years, past and present Commissioners of the London Metropolitan Police have accepted frequent Israeli offers of information about the Zionist state’s own methods of combatting "terrorism". The scale of the offensive has confirmed fears expressed since the new terrorism legislation —the Terrorism Act 2000 and the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill—was passed, that it would be used to criminalise the Muslim community in the same way as anti-terror legislation drafted in the 1970s was used to target Irish Catholics during their war for independence.
To date more than 200 people, almost all of them Muslims, have been arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000. Not a single one has yet been convicted on any charge. What is more, most of those charged have been hit with Section 57, a provision so broad that it has been described as a "trawling net". It states: "A person commits an offence if he possesses an article in circumstances which give rise to a reasonable suspicion that his possession is for a purpose connected with the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism." In addition, about a dozen foreign nationals are in custody under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act, which abolished the right of habeas corpus when it was enacted in 2001. The Act gives the government powers to detain for up to six months people who are suspected of being involved in terrorism but against whom there is no evidence.
These figures only scratch the surface of what has become something of a witch-hunt. On 14 January anti-terrorist police swooped on addresses in a northwestern town to detain five Muslims involved in a charity working in Afghanistan. Once they were in custody, the police pressurised the men to sign a document waiving their right to consult a solicitor, and frustrated their requests to speak to their chosen lawyer in favour of another lawyer whom the police recommended. They also refused to give the five any reasons for their arrest.
While the men were held, policemen ransacked their homes and offices, the net result of which was nothing at all, at least on the terrorism front. Not to be defeated, the police bailed the five to reappear on suspicion of a theft charge relating to the charity’s assets. This is widely regarded as a crude ploy to discredit the charity.
In another incident last December a 49-year-old father of five was stopped as he drove past an army barracks in central London. Three police vans surrounded his People Carrier. At least six policeman charged out, guns trained at his window, screaming at him not to move and to raise his hands. For 20 minutes they stood him against a wall in full view of passing traffic, much of it hooting in approval, while they combed his vehicle and kept their guns cocked.
The outlook for the future of British Muslims is little better. Sir John Stevens, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, has warned that, with more and more people coming under surveillance, further arrests are likely. Add to this the widespread rumours of informers operating in British mosques, brazen MI5 recruitment of Muslims, pressure on mosque-committees to observe the ban on registered charities undertaking political activities (including prayers and lectures), and British Muslims have all the ingredients of a conflict that could turn very nasty indeed.