This a guest post by James
Earlier this week, Faraj Hassan al-Saadi, a Libyan former terrorism suspect who spent the years 2002 to 2009 either under arrest or else released under a control order, died in a motorcycle accident in Harrow.
From every perspective his death was tragic. Faraj al-Saadi was only 29 years old. His death leaves three young children without a father and a wife without a husband.
Moreover after years of having his movement restricted by the British government al-Saadi died at the very time when at last had the chance to turn his life around. At the time of the death he was working at a travel agent and was enjoying financial independence for the first time in years.
Equally tragic is that Al-Saadi died before he had had time to free himself from Islamist extremism or to disassociate himself from hate-mongers.
Indeed, in the months before his death, Al-Saadi (who was never convicted of any terrorist offences) was energetically consorting with pro-extremist, Islamist-supporting organisations from Cageprisoners to ‘Helping Households Under Greater Stress’ (Hhugs).
Just twelve hours, before his death, for instance, Al-Saadi spoke alongside individuals from Hizb ut-Tahrir at an event outside the US Embassy organised by the Justice for Aafia Coalition, calling for Muslims to support Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani neuroscientist dubbed “Lady Qaeda” by the US media who was convicted earlier this year of attempted murder.
In the video above of this event, Al-Saadi can be heard repeating many standard Islamist tropes, referring to the ‘United Snakes of America’ , describing Aafia as the blameless victim of US aggression and comparing US interventions in the Middle East to medieval attacks by the Mongols.
It seems unfair to blame Faraj Al-Saadi for holding such views however. Instead the Prison Service and particularly the National Offender Management System (NOMS), whose ‘Extremism Unit’ is supposed to be tackling extremism in prison, is the real culprit.
Since entering prison aged only 22, Al-Saadi (who was never convicted of any terrorism-related offences) was repeatedly placed by the Prison Service with leading Islamist extremists who were notorious for influencing and brainwashing vulnerable young Muslim men.
Initially he was placed in HMP Belmarsh where he was surrounded by older charismatic preachers such as Abu Hamza, notorious for radicalising the lost and vulnerable young men who clustered around him at Finsbury Park Mosque.
Later Al-Saadi was moved to HMP Long Lartin where he was imprisoned in a special isolation unit. Only 10 others were jailed in this unit but they included some of the world’s most hardened extremists such as Abu Qatada, the Jordanian cleric, and Adel Abdel Bary of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad Group.
During all this time, Al-Saadi received no meaningful support from NOMS and no real attempt was made by the Prison Service to challenge any extremist views which he may have held or to prevent him from being radicalised by older, more experienced extremists.
What chance did this give Al-Saeed of giving up extremism? Absolutely none.
If NOMS’ Extremism Unit had actually done their job Al-Saadi may have left prison a changed man – as so many others have left prison changed for the better.
Instead he left with his extremist beliefs entrenched and deepened. Is it really any surprise therefore that he spent the night before his death calling on Muslims to support a woman convicted of attempted murder?
The Prison Service may not be to blame for Al-Saadi’s pre-mature death.
However, they are unquestionably to blame for the fact that this young man died having never had a real chance to reject extremism, to discover a form of Islam based on peace rather than hatred or to re-build his life after years in prison.