Review of the Year October 2014: Moazzam Begg released after terror charges dropped

Moazzam Begg had Syria-related terror charges dropped against him

On October 1, 2014 the former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg had seven terror charges against him dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service.

The charges were all connected to the conflict in Syria and included an allegation that he attended a terrorist training camp there.

Mr Begg was subsequently released from Belmarsh Prison in south London after being arrested along with three others in February this year.

The prosecution said there was insufficient evidence to bring him to trial on terrorism charges.

An Old Bailey judge entered a formal verdict of not guilty and ordered that Begg be set free immediately from Belmarsh high security prison.

The 45-year-old from Birmingham had spent seven months in custody after being arrested and questioned over a trip he had made to Syria.

Moazzam Begg leaving Belmarsh prison
Moazzam Begg leaving Belmarsh prison

He was facing seven charges of possessing a document for the purposes of terrorism funding and training, and attending a terrorism training camp.

At a hearing five days before his trial was due to begin, Christopher Hehir prosecuting, said: “The prosecution have recently become aware of relevant material, in the light if which, after careful and anxious consideration, the conclusion has been reached that there is no longer a realistic prospect of conviction in this case.

“The prosecution therefore offers no evidence.”

Begg’s lawyer, Gareth Peirce, said he should never have been charged, as his activities did not amount to terrorism.

“This is a good man trying to the right thing in a very difficult world,” he said.

Meanwhile, Begg’s workplace CAGE issued a statement welcoming his release.

“CAGE is delighted to announce that all seven charges against our Outreach Director Moazzam Begg have now been dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service due to lack of evidence.

“This is the second time that a major Western country has held Moazzam Begg without trial and so serious questions must be asked about why this has been allowed to happen for a second time. CAGE calls for those responsible for his needless incarceration to be held to account.

“We thank everyone for their support in what has been a testing time for Moazzam, his family and the rest of the CAGE family.”

Poppy Hijab

Also in August 2014 British Muslims were urged to wear a new “Poppy Hijab” – as a challenge to extremist groups who spout hatred about the Armed Forces.

The scarf was backed by government-friendly Muslim groups including the Islamic Society of Britain and profits from its sale were going to be donated to the Poppy Appeal.

The scarf, which costs £22, marked 100 years since the first Muslim soldier was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery during the WW1.

poppy hijab

Sughra Ahmed, President of the Islamic Society of Britain, said she wanted to take attention away from the “angry minority” of extremists who spout hatred.

Ms Ahmed said: “Thousands of British Muslims already wear a poppy in November. This is just another way for them to show they remember those who gave their lives for their country. It’s also a way for ordinary Muslim citizens to take some attention away from extremists who seem to grab the headlines.

“This symbol of quiet remembrance is the face of everyday British Islam – not the angry minority who spout hatred and offend everyone.

“We’re launching this today as it’s exactly 100 years since the first Muslim soldier was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery – Khudadad Khan from Pakistan, who was fighting for Britain on the Western Front in the First World War.”

However, many British Muslims were less-than-taken with the initiative.

Some took to social media to denounce the campaign as another attempt to make British Muslims prove their loyalty to the country.

Others have said the poppy itself is a symbol of the British Army which has invaded and occupied two Muslims countries in the last decade, leading to countless deaths and major destruction.

Second Deghayes son dies in Syria

Meanwhile, a teenager from Brighton whose brother died fighting in Syria earlier in 2014 was also killed in the war-torn country, his father said.

Jaffar Deghayes, 17, is believed to have died after leaving home for Syria in a bid to help overthrow Bashar Al-Assad’s government. His brother, Abdullah, 18, died in Latakia province in April after leaving the UK in January reportedly to take up arms with Jabhat al-Nusra, Al Qaeda’s official franchise in Syria. It’s thought that Jaffer also had been involved with Jabhat al-Nusra.

Jaffar Deghayes
Jaffar Deghayes

Their father, Abubaker, said a third son, Amer Deghayes, 20, who also travelled to Syria, relayed the news to the family in Saltdean, East Sussex.

“Somewhere near Aleppo he was with a group of five people who were trained to go in as special force fighters,” said Mr Deghayes. “They were surrounded by the Assad regime. Three of the five were killed. My son was shot with a bullet in his head. He lived for 15 minutes and then he passed away.”

The Deghayes brothers are nephews of Omar Deghayes, who was held by the United States as an enemy combatant at Guantanamo Bay detention camp between 2002 and 2007 after he was arrested in Pakistan.

Following the death of Abdullah, counter-terrorism officers raided the Deghayes family home in May and seized material after a warrant was issued under the Terrorism Act 2000.

Mr Deghayes said the authorities had stopped him from trying to go to Syria to bring his sons back by keeping his passport for six months. He said all his conversations with his sons had tried to encourage them to come home.

He said his message to all young Muslims planning to go to Syria “out of kindness or to try to make a difference” was “do not go”.

Masjid al Aqsa

On the international scene Israel’s closure of Masjid al-Aqsa to all visitors following the shooting of a Jewish hardliner was tantamount to a “declaration of war,” Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said.

“This dangerous Israeli escalation is a declaration of war on the Palestinian people and its sacred places and on the Arab and Islamic nation,” his spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina quoted him as saying.

“We hold the Israeli government responsible for this dangerous escalation in Jerusalem that has reached its peak through the closure of the al-Aqsa mosque this morning,” he told AFP.

Masjid al Aqsa is the third holiest site in Islam
Masjid al Aqsa is the third holiest site in Islam

The compound houses Islam’s third holiest site, but is also the most sacred spot for Jews who refer to it as the Temple Mount because it once housed two Jewish temples.

Although non-Muslims can visit the site, Jews are not allowed to pray there for fear it could disturb the fragile status quo.

“This decision is a dangerous act and a blatant challenge that will lead to more tension and instability and will create a negative and dangerous atmosphere,” Abbas said.

“The state of Palestine will take all legal measures to hold Israel accountable and to stop these ongoing attacks.”

Israel ordered the compound closed to all visitors, both Jewish and Muslim, after an overnight shooting incident in which a man on a motorbike tried to gun down an ultra-nationalist Jewish activist who has long worked to secure Jewish prayer rights at the Al-Aqsa plaza.

Several hours later, police stormed the house of the suspected Palestinian gunman, sparking a gunfight in which he was killed.

Arab east Jerusalem, which was seized by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed in a move never recognized internationally, has been wracked by violence since early July, with clashes erupting between stone-throwers and police on an almost daily basis.

Saudi King voted “most influential Muslim”

Meanwhile, the annual “Muslim 500” list of the world’s most influential Muslims named King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in the top position.

The makers of the list set out to ascertain the influence Muslim individuals have on their worldwide community of 1.7 billion, be it cultural, ideological, financial or political.

Split into 13 categories, the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Jordan picked figures from across a spectrum of fields, including politics, celebrity, sports, science and technology.

Saudi Arabia and the US are close allies
Saudi Arabia and the US are close allies

The top spot went to Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, due to his being the “absolute monarch of the most powerful Arab nation.”

The list accords him the place in light of Saudi Arabia being home to Islam’s two holy cities of Makkah and Madina, which millions of Muslims visit throughout the year, as well as the kingdom’s oil exports.

Rounding out the top three are Dr Ahmad Muhammad al-Tayyeb, grand sheikh of Al-Azhar University and grand imam of Al-Azhar mosque, and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

The top nine are all political leaders and royals, including Morocco’s King Mohammed VI and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

British Muslims included on the list are Islamic Relief founder Dr Hany Al-Banna; athlete Mo Farah; Islam Channel CEO Mohammad Ali al Harrath; journalists Mehdi Hasan and Rageh Omaar; singer Yusuf Islam; Ajmal Masroor of the Islamic Society of Britain; Shaykh Shams Ad-Duha of Ebrahim College; and the preacher Amaar Nakshawani.

Opinion and analysis

Commenting on the Moazzam Begg release, 5Pillars deputy editor Dilly Hussain said an innocent man was freed for the second time in his life after being detained on terrorism charges.

Dilly wrote: “Moazzam’s seven-month ordeal at HMP Belmarsh was incomparable to his three-year incarceration at Gitmo, where he experienced horrific treatment in one of the most inhumane prisons in modern history. On this occasion, financial sanctions were imposed on him, as a result of which his bank accounts (including joint accounts) were frozen or shut down.

“His wife was unable to pay her utility bills that were held in their joint accounts without receiving a license from the Treasury, and it became a criminal offence to even try and support his family with money during this period.

Moazzam Begg
Moazzam Begg

“Moazzam’s arrest corresponded with the UK government’s crackdown on activities related to Syria. Aid workers, Islamic charities as well as prominent Muslim figures were being targeted for their support of the Syrian revolution.

“Moazzam is well-known to Muslims and non-Muslims across the world as a representative of justice, truth and human rights in the face of oppression, tyranny and injustice. Naturally, the right wing media will portray him as a terrorist sympathiser, supporting the likes of Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

“However, the reality is this – after his release from Gitmo, Moazzam chose to pursue a path which challenged the same oppressors who had him imprisoned without charge for four years.

“He joined advocacy group, CAGE (formerly known as CagePrisoners) in 2005, but his life as a determined human rights activist, responding to the call of those who fell victim to draconian anti-terror laws, eventually caught up with him earlier this year.”

Saudi-Iran rivalry

Finally, prominent Arab journalist Abdel Bari Atwan said that the rising tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran is a major cause of the problems plaguing the Middle East.

He wrote: “The two countries are fighting proxy wars in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and Palestine, and people of the region are paying the price in their blood, wealth, territorial integrity and stability.

“The Iranian-Saudi conflict is not new. It dates back to 1979 when the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was overthrown. It was later exacerbated when Tehran revealed its nuclear ambitions and it reached its climax in the continuing crisis in Syria and the Saudis’ loss of control of Iraq to Iran.

saudi iran“The Saudi leadership wants the Assad regime to fall by any means. To this end, it is using all its material resources and its regional and international alliances. On the other hand, the Iranian leadership is striving to foil such attempts and has so far succeeded by helping the Assad regime survive.

“The Saudi-Iranian confrontation is taking its toll on the region, fuelling civil and sectarian wars and turning many countries into failed states. It is difficult for Riyadh to win in Syria and it is almost impossible for Iran to win in Yemen. And to say that ISIL was a by-product of the Riyadh-Tehran conflict would not be an overstatement.

“Dialogue is the only way out of this lethal whirlpool. Tehran and Riyadh have to bring all their disputes to the table and seek to reach an agreement to end the bloody conflict ravaging the region before it is too late.”

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