This is a guest post by Shiraz Maher. It is part 2 of the investigation that Standpoint, Harry’s Place and the Spittoon is conducting into the British supporters of Sheikh Anwar al-Awlaki. Part 1 is here.
Today we focus on Cage Prisoners which likes presents itself as a human rights organisation campaigning on behalf of Muslim detainees. The group appears to support any Muslim arrested in the UK on terrorism charges, all inmates at Guantanamo Bay, and any British citizen arrested abroad on terrorism charges.
So it’s a little strange that they campaigned so vigorously for Awlaki when he was arrested in Yemen in 2006. After all, Awlaki has no links to Britain and was not being held in Guantanamo Bay. To my mind that suggests he was singled out because he is a theoretician with whom some of those at Cage Prisoners sympathise. Indeed, one article on the Cage Prisoners website describes Awlaki as ‘inspirational’.
In August, Cage Prisoners advertised that Awlaki would be submitting a ‘video message’ (from Yemen) to help their Ramadhan Fundraising Dinner. Other speakers included former Guantanamo Bay detainees: Moazzam Begg, Binyam Mohammed, and Sami el-Haj. Another former inmate, Moussa Zemmouri, was invited to lead prayers.
It was not the first time Awlaki has been advertised at an event by Cage Prisoners. He was also invited to speak at the 2008 Ramadhan fundraiser – again, by video link. Also participating were Moazzam Begg, Moussa Zemmouri, and Yvonne Ridley.
Promoting the event on their website, Cage Prisoners say:
The dinner will have the largest gathering of ex-Guantanamo detainees from all around Europe to date.
You will be able to meet those that Allah has tested and you will see that they are flesh and bone just like you or I.
If a speaker can inspire you, how about a room of people whom Allah has tested, and have remained steadfast?
You will be listening to the likes of Moazzam Begg and Imam Anwar Al Awlaki, in his first live public address since his release from prison, less than a year ago. You will have the opportunity to take away with you the letters that they wrote in Guantanamo, previously unseen sketches conceived in the cages of Camp Delta, bid for books and DVDs signed by these inspirational brothers.
If seeing these brothers and meeting them does not fill your heart with ambition and jealousy at the favour Allah has bestowed upon them with the rank He has given them – I wonder what else will?
Ambition? Jealousy? At the ‘favour Allah has bestowed upon them’? Maybe I’m just getting old and boring these days, but call me crazy – spending a few years in Guantanamo Bay or a Yemeni prison is not something I would regard as a ‘favour’ bestowed on me by God.
It begs the question, just what ‘ambition’ are Cage Prisoners promoting exactly?
As if the chance of dining with a bunch of Guantanamo rejects wasn’t enough, Cage Prisoners had more to offer.
Our rows [for prayers] will (Insha’Allah) be filled with ex-detainees united again for Taraweeh [special Ramadhan prayers], an event that last occurred thousands of miles away in Guantanamo, a different existence to our own – except this time YOU get to join their taraweeh, and join your feet to theirs.
Don’t all rush at once.
The relationship between Cage Prisoners and Awlaki goes back a number of years. For example, when Awlaki was arrested in 2006, Cage Prisoners organised an ‘urgent appeal’ on his behalf urging their supporters to campaign for his release.
Similarly, Asim Qureshi, a senior researcher for Cage Prisoners, was previously involved with another project known as ‘Stop Political Terror’ where he used the email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. On its website, Stop Political Terror listed Awlaki as a ‘supporter’.
When Stop Political Terror ceased campaigning in November 2006, it subsequently directed all its supporters to Cage Prisoners, and another group called ‘Campaign against Criminalising Communities’.
The support Cage Prisoners lends Awlaki is hardly surprising when you consider the activities and associations of two of its leading members – Moazzam Begg and Asim Qureshi.
Begg hardly needs much of an introduction having been one of the most high profile British detainees held in Guantanamo Bay. However, his arrest in 2001 was not the first time he popped up on the radar of law enforcement officials.
Begg had been arrested the previous year, in March 2000, when a bookshop he ran called Maktabah al Ansaar was raided by West Midlands Police during an intelligence-led operation by the Security Service.
An Algerian man, known only as ‘D’ also worked there. In December 2001, the Home Secretary sought to deport ‘D’ because of his suspected involvement in international terrorism. ‘D’ appealed to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) and what transpired in the final SIAC judgement is extremely relevant here. The judgement found that ‘D’ is
an active supporter of the GIA (an Algerian terrorist group)
It really is a quite damning verdict. The judgement doesn’t mince its words.
We regard D as a practised and accomplished liar. We do not believe his excuses, his claims to ignorance, his attempts to distance himself from other terrorist suspects, or his assertions that he has nothing to do with the GIA or other terrorist organisations, networks or activities.
The judgement goes on to hold that ‘D’ is
involved with other extremists, in particular Djamel Beghal, Abu Qatada and members of the latter’s group, and Begg, with whom he worked at the Maktabah Al-Ansar Book Shop in Birmingham.
About the raid on the bookstore, the court found
It is right to say that the Secretary of State was in error in suggesting that weapons were found at the book shop when D was working there: they were not – they were found at Begg’s house.
So there you have it.
A British court has branded Moazzam Begg an ‘extremist’ who associates with ‘practised and accomplished liars’. Begg is now one of the directors of Cage Prisoners.
Another senior member of Cage Prisoners is Asim Qureshi (he describes himself as a ‘senior researcher’) who has been involved with the group almost since its inception. In 2006 he gave this outrageous speech outside the American embassy in London.
So when we see the examples of our brothers and sisters, fighting in Chechnya, Iraq, Palestine, Kashmir, Afghanistan, then we know where the example lies. When we see Hezbollah defeating the armies of Israel, we know what the solution is, and where the victory lies. We know that it is incumbent upon all of us to support the jihad of our brothers and sisters in these countries when they are facing the oppression of the West. Allahu Akbar!
Significantly, Qureshi refers to Afghanistan and Iraq – theatres of conflict where British troops are currently serving – while saying it is ‘incumbent upon all of us to support the jihad of our brothers and sisters in these countries when they are facing the oppression of the West’.