This is a guest post by Robin Simcox
There are a few outstanding points from today’s blog on control order detainee Faraj Hassan al-Saadi that need clarifying – one which gives the impression of al-Saadi being a pretty sound guy with a couple of ‘out there’ ideas, who was unfairly detained in prison and then radicalized by the Islamist hardcore once inside. This is utterly delusional.
‘James’, the author, says – twice – that al-Saadi was never convicted of any terrorism offences. This is untrue. He was found guilty in absentia in Italy in February 2008 of, among a litany of terrorism charges, membership of a terrorist group and being part of a proposed 2002 al-Qaeda bomb plot in Europe. He was sentenced to 5 years and 10 months. The Special Immigration Appeals Commission stated in 2007 that the cell of which he was part ‘can properly be regarded as a serious terrorist group’ and that al-Saadi was ‘a highly respected member of the group and that he may well have been its leader for a while’. An Italian Court of Appeal judgment in 2008 described al-Saadi as ‘without the slightest doubt the most prominent figure in the group’. Al-Saadi was referred to in an Italian court as the ‘European envoy’ of the head-hacking former leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Musab al-Zarqawi. Certainly the two were in contact via telephone, unaware that their conversations were being monitored by Italian authorities.
Al-Saadi had entered the UK illegally in March 2002 using a false passport, an offence of which he was convicted in the same year. Italy began extradition proceedings against him in February 2003, in order that he face terrorism charges. In November of that year, al-Saadi was added to the permanent register of al-Qaeda and Taliban members held by the United Nations Sanctions Committee and had his assets frozen by the UN. However, the UK government missed a legal deadline to extradite him, and then could not deport him back to Libya (his country of origin) due to potential breaches of Article 3 of the ECHR.
That is why al-Saadi spent the years between 2002 and 2009 either in jail or under a control order. He was either serving time for passport offences, imprisoned awaiting extradition or deemed to be too great a national security threat to be released without restrictions. It was not because the government gets a kick from locking up Muslims unfairly. He was here illegally, refused to return to Libya and was fighting extradition to the western democracy where he had been convicted of serious terrorism offences. Even when his control order was revoked at the end of last year, the judge accepted that in doing so he was ‘not accepting the assessment of risk of the Security Service and the Secretary of State’.
Having sought to absolve al-Saadi of his various pro-totalitarian connections and views (‘It seems unfair to blame Faraj Al-Saadi for holding such views however’), ‘James’ instead somehow finds that the ‘real culprit’ is the Prison Service and the National Offender Management System, as al-Saadi was ‘repeatedly placed by the Prison Service with leading Islamist extremists who were notorious for influencing and brainwashing vulnerable young Muslim men.’
It certainly is not ideal that al-Saadi was cellmates with the likes of Abu Hamza and Abu Qatada, any more than it is that any jihadi shares digs with one of his pals from AQ. But al-Saadi was a committed extremist long before going to prison. He spent the years between 1997 and 1999 fraternising with the proscribed Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. In 2001, the Security Service assessed that he attended a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan and could have ‘engaged in extremist fighting’ afterwards. A year later, his terrorist cell was planning its bombing operations. It is no more ‘unfair to blame Faraj Al-Saadi for holding such views’ than it is for blaming any other jihadist. James does at least concede that ‘The Prison Service may not be to blame for Al-Saadi’s pre-mature death’. How good of him.
It is indeed a tragedy for al-Saadi’s family and loved ones that he has died – but let’s not make him out to be any kind of tragic hero. And let’s not put the blame on the UK state for a terrorist being radicalized for at least half a decade before even setting foot in the country.