Babar Ahmad: The godfather of internet jihad?

July 17, 2014

If you wanted to find the face – and voice – of Generation Jihad, it would be Babar Ahmad. A decade in jail fighting against conviction, he finally accepted last year that he had committed terrorist offences in 1990s London. Ahmad pleaded guilty in an American courtroom to providing support for terrorism. The US authorities say that he ran a support network in south London which had near-unprecedented global reach. But his story is more complicated than that – the judge sentencing him concluded he was no international terrorist. And at the heart of his network was a website – the first in English to spread jihad. The US says his network not only spread a dangerous ideology – it encouraged young Muslims to join al-Qaeda and turn their face against the West.

So why did the US Department of Justice spend a decade trying to bring this earnest young man to justice? They say it’s about how his ideology changed and what he did with it – and to understand that it is necessary to go back to a terrible moment in modern European history.

The Bosnian War that began in 1992 shocked the world. TV pictures showed Serbian soldiers killing white-skinned European Muslims. Living and being brought up in an increasingly secular post-religious Western British environment. Many decided to solve this identity crisis by firmly adopting political Islam and becoming not only devout Muslims but highly politicised Muslims and connecting with that resurgence of political Islam around the world. Babar Ahmad adopted that identity. And now, in talks across London and other cities, he and others applied it to the horrors of Bosnia. He split from the mainstream, frustrated by inaction, and said there was one priority – armed jihad. And aged just 18, this student at Imperial College London – one of the world’s finest Universities – went to fight.

In 1996, he launched Azzam Publications. This was the first English language website dedicated to jihad. It has now long since disappeared from the web, but the site declared that its purpose was to propagate a call to arms “among the Muslims who are sitting down ignorant of this vital duty”. “Fight in the cause of Allah,” it said, “incite the believers to fight along with you.”

One of the tapes produced by Azzam Publications was called In the Hearts of Green Birds – more stories of martyrs and battles in Bosnia. Babar Ahmad was the narrator, and this tape – and the ideas in it – took on a life of their own. The 7/7 London suicide attackers had this tape and others from Azzam – and today quotes from it can still be found on social media posts by British fighters in Syria.

“I actually find it extremely offensive to be called a terrorist supporter because there is no allegation that is more serious than the allegation of terrorism. And in my life I have never supported terrorism, I have never financed terrorism. I believe that the targeting and killing of innocent people I believe that to be wrong, whatever the circumstances, whatever the justification, whoever does it” Babar Ahmad says.

Ahmad’s former friend Usama Hasan now works for the Quilliam Foundation which advises governments on how to combat extremism. He says the intellectual and religious struggle that Babar Ahmad faced is being repeated today over Syria. He says today’s militants need to hear from Babar Ahmad. “He can help in peace and reconciliation – in guiding the next generation of British Muslims in a positive direction, just as IRA terrorists have done that – served their time in prison and realised that violence is not the ultimate path.”

Dutch Somali Woman Among Those Arrested for Funding Al-Shabaab

July 23, 2014

A Dutch Somali woman is facing extradition to the United States on charges of helping to finance Al-Shabaab. The Dutch public prosecution says the woman has been arrested by U.S. authorities, and two other women were also arrested in the United States. The woman of Dutch nationality, born in Somalia, will appear in court to determine whether she will be extradited to the United States.

The arrested women face charges of providing support to al-Shabaab, which a United States Department of Justice statement identifies as conducting an insurgency campaign in Somalia. The statement said the women referred to the money they sent overseas in small amounts as “living expenses”, using terms such as “orphans” to refer to fighters.

If convicted the women face up to 15 years in jail.

Jihad, justice and the American way: is this a model for fair terrorism trials?

The government stokes fear and fails to understand the Muslim world. But inside at least one courtroom remains an unusual precedent: context can be served

July 17, 2014

Sitting and waiting in US District Court here on Wednesday, you got the undeniable sense that something unusual was about to happen.

Here was the end of a terrorism trial with two men who had already pled guilty – the British citizen Babar Ahmad to providing material support for terrorism by way of administering a website that called on Muslims to devote themselves to jihad, which he did, and the British-born Talha Ahsan to helping him, despite being a mailman for the site for five months in 2001 – but both of whom still looked nervous in that familiar shackle-and-jumpsuit uniform of so many Muslim foreigners in this country over the past 13 years.

Here was the final hearing for two men who had already spent two years in a US supermax prison – under the kind of no-contact conditions Edward Snowden refuses to come home for, in what Ahsan’s brother described to me as “solitary confinement torture” – before they even got a fair trial. By the time they arrived for sentencing on Wednesday, Ahmad and Ahsan had already sat and waited in prison for 10 and eight years, respectively.

Yet here was a terrorism trial about non-operational terrorism – about a website, and Ahmad’s visit to an Afghan training camp in 1999, and ultimately about over-aggressive prosecutors seeking 25 and 15 years, respectively – and here it was coming to a close not under the specter of xenophobia so much as all-American common sense.

No, Judge Janet Hall was not willing to entertain the Fox News-ification of terrorism. “There is no way to rationalize the sentences” the government had recommended, she said, at least not based on claims that two men promoted “violent jihad” and provided what is known as “material support” for terrorists. “In my view,” the judge said, “jihad does not equal terrorism. In a perversion of what Islam teaches, terrorists have misappropriated the concept of jihad from its true meaning – struggle. But jihad is not what happened on 9/11.”

But allegations of terrorist activity almost always lead to perceptions of guilt rather than even partial innocence, and too often it’s the government stoking that perversion of such a basic principle of justice. In this case, the judge found that extensive research by government lawyers ultimately led them to make little more than connections that didn’t exist. She gave Ahmad 12 years and handed Ahsan eight years, for time served.

“I’ve had to witness the agony in my mother’s voice every day,” Ahsan’s brother, Hamja, told me moments after learning the verdict, which will leave Talha in the custody of US immigration officials with the prospect of returning home to Tooting in London. (With time served and good-time credits, Ahmad has approximately 13 more months left on his sentence, at least some of which he will serve back in the UK. ) “I’m going to fight for the rest of my life to ensure that no other family goes through what we have gone through.”

I’ve written about the grueling extradition process of these two men and the uniquely American extreme conditions of detention they faced once they arrived, two years ago, at Connecticut’s Northern Correctional Institute, the notoriously harsh facility that also houses death-row inmates. On Wednesday, after a decade of incomplete justice and what Ahsen called “the best possible outcome”, context was served.

Of course, Dick Cheney and lawmakers like Congressman Peter King would rather forget, but in the mid- to late ’90s, around the time a 19-year-old Ahsan made his pilgrimage to Afghanistan, thousands of British Muslims were making similar journeys to fulfill religious obligations. Those obligations were made more urgent by the Bosnian War, and so an 18-year-old Ahmad traveled to Bosnia to assist Muslims who were being slaughtered in Srebenica while the international community looked the other way.

The vast majority of these “holiday jihadists” did not become radicalized. They just got trained in the real meaning of jihad – “struggle”, not “holy war” – and returned home.

Now Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan finally face the prospect of going home earlier than jingoist prosecutors wanted them to – much earlier. Next time, let’s understand the broader context of the Muslim world – and the basics of our own justice system – much, much sooner than that.

Briton Babar Ahmad given 12-year US prison term for aiding Taliban

Ahmad, who could be freed in a year because of time served, pleaded guilty to providing material support to the Taliban

July 16, 2014

Babar Ahmad, the British citizen who was extradited to the US two years ago, has been sentenced to more than 12 years in prison for providing material support to the Taliban at a time when they were harbouring the al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

Ahmad, 40, will be returning to the UK to serve the remainder of his sentence, which was issued by a federal court in New Haven, Connecticut. The 150-month sentence was substantially less severe than the 25 years US prosecutors had been seeking for him.

Judge Janet Hall also gave the Briton credit for the eight years he already spent in detention without trial in the UK, and the additional two years he has been held in solitary confinement in Supermax facilities in the US. The reduction for time served means that with good behaviour he stands to be released in 13 months.

He will now be sent to the metropolitan correctional center in Manhattan, before being eventually sent back to the UK, from where he was extradited in 2012.

Stephen Reynolds, addressing the court on behalf of the US government, had tried to secure a lengthy prison term for the defendant, on the grounds that he might reoffend. He alleged that Ahmad, through jihadist websites, had actively supported Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida, and had shown no remorse.

But the judge pushed back on the accusations, pointing out in earlier hearings that even the government’s main co-operating witness had denied that Ahmad had helped al-Qaida. “Your own witness doesn’t support that. Fighting against US forces doesn’t necessarily equate to support of al-Qaida,” Hall said last week.

Ahmad pleaded guilty last December to providing material support to the Taliban and Chechen mujahideen by using websites to raise money, recruit fighters and provide equipment for the movements.

But his defence lawyer, Terence Ward, told the judge that only a few of the 4,000 articles he had posted mentioned the al-Qaida leader. The defendant was “horrified” by the terrorist attacks of 9/11, he said.

The case was heard in Connecticut because Ahmad, and his co-defendant Syed Talha Ahsan, who has been released into the custody of US immigration officials pending possible deportation, used an internet service provider in the state to base one of their websites.

The sentencing follows the protracted battle Ahmad fought to avoid extradition to the US. In an article in the Guardian in October 2012, he argued that “as a British citizen who has lived since birth in Britain, studied, worked full-time and paid taxes, if I am accused of any offence here in Britain I expect at the very least to face trial here in Britain.”

He was awarded £60,000 in March 2009 as compensation for having been physically abused by Metropolitan police officers at the time of his initial arrest in December 2003.

Judge challenges prosecutors on terror case claim

July 11, 2014

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — A federal judge preparing to sentence a British citizen for supporting terrorists in Afghanistan challenged U.S. prosecutors Friday on their claim that the defendant supported al-Qaida.

Babar Ahmad’s support for the Taliban regime in Afghanistan didn’t necessarily mean he supported al-Qaida, Judge Janet Hall said during a hearing in New Haven. She cited the testimony of a government cooperating witness who denied Ahmad supported al-Qaida.

Prosecutor Stephen Reynolds said Ahmad was not a member of al-Qaida but became sympathetic to the terrorist group and sent people to its training camps.

Ahmad and a co-defendant, Syed Talha Ahsan, pleaded guilty in December to supporting terrorists through websites that sought to raise cash, recruit fighters and solicit items such as gas masks for the Taliban.

The two men, who were extradited from Britain in 2012, faced charges in Connecticut because authorities said they used an Internet service provider in the state to run one of the websites.

The cooperating witness said Ahmad urged him to try to meet al-Qaida’s then-leader, Osama bin Laden, prosecutors said. That witness testified in a recent deposition that while he and Ahmad were in Afghanistan in January 2001, the witness saw bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders, though Ahmad denied going to Afghanistan, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said they have not claimed Ahmad or Ahsan were involved in any operational terrorist plots or attacks.

Dutch Court Blocks US Extradition of Al-Qaeda Suspect

23 July 2013

 

A Dutch court has blocked the extradition of Dutch-Pakistani Al-Qaeda suspect to the US, on the grounds of unanswered questions regarding the US role in his alleged torturer in Pakistan. Without proof that the US was not involved in his alleged torture, extradition is illegal.

The man is accused in the US of planning to commit acts of terror, including a suicide attack in Afghanistan in 2010. The 26 year old says that the US played a role in what he says was his torture in Pakistan following his arrest.

Abu Qatada extradition battle has cost taxpayers £1.7m, says Theresa May

The Home Office’s long legal duel with the radical cleric Abu Qatada has cost taxpayers £1,716,306, Theresa May has told MPs. The figure includes £647,658 in legal aid for the terror suspect and more than £1m in government costs, the home secretary disclosed in a letter to the all-party Commons home affairs committee. But the overall bill would have been nearer £2m if more than £200,000 had not been used from Abu Qatada’s frozen assets, according to officials. The bill, run up since 2005, was revealed as the formalities were being finalised for a legal treaty with Jordan which would allow Abu Qatada’s deportation. Ministers are hoping this can be ratified at Westminster by next Friday and the cleric put on a plane as soon as possible afterwards. Home secretaries have been trying for years to deport Abu Qatada to Jordan, where he was convicted in his absence in 1999 of terror charges related to bomb attacks. The Special Immigration Appeals Commission previously heard that a USB stick understood to belong to Abu Qatada’s eldest son contained “jihadist files” made by the “media wing of al-Qaida”.

The Jordanian parliament has approved a treaty with the UK designed to trigger the removal of radical cleric Abu Qatada, the Home Office has said. The agreement, unveiled by Home Secretary Theresa May in April, aims to allay fears that evidence extracted through torture will be used against the terror suspect at a retrial. The agreement has been approved by both houses of the Jordanian parliament but must still be signed off by the country’s King Abdullah. The UK Government expects the treaty to be ratified in Britain by June 21.

 

Terror Suspect Will Not Be Extradited To US

A Dutch-Pakistani terror suspect will not be immediately extradited to the US, justice minister Ivo Opstellen has announced. Sabir K., who according to the US worked with al-Qaida in planning attacks, initially lost an appeal against extradition which was then overturned by Opstellen. The extradition has been denied based on the 26 year old’s medical condition, as he is suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome and depression. The extradition will not be granted unless the US authorities agree to treat him for these afflictions.

Extradited Muslim Cleric and 4 Other Terrorism Suspects Appear in American Courts after being extradited from Britain.

NEW YORK — A radical Muslim cleric whose fiery sermons at a London mosque were blamed for influencing followers to embrace a holy war against the United States arrived in New York on Saturday along with other terrorism suspects after losing a battle to fight extradition from Britain.

Abu Hamza Masri, also known as Mustafa Kamel Mustafa; Adel Abdel Bary; and Khaled Fawwaz appeared in federal court in Manhattan hours after their arrival in the U.S. to face multiple terrorism-related charges. Two other suspects were sent to Connecticut.

After a protracted battle in the British and European courts, Abu Hamza al-Masri, an incendiary Muslim preacher with links to Al Qaeda, and four other terrorism suspects implicated in an array of terrorist plots were extradited to the United States on Saturday to face federal charges in Manhattan and New Haven.

The two other defendants in Manhattan, Adel Abdul Bary, 52, and Khaled al-Fawwaz, 50, were arraigned on charges including murder and conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction in connection with the 1998 bombings of the American Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and in Nairobi, Kenya, in which more than 200 people died. They pleaded not guilty.

In New Haven on Saturday, the final two defendants, Seyla Talha Ahsan, 33, and Babar Ahmad, 38, pleaded not guilty to charges that included conspiring to recruit fighters, raise money and gather equipment for terrorists on Web sites hosted out of Connecticut.

Federal authorities in the United States had long been seeking the extradition of Mr. Masri, an Egyptian-born cleric, for his involvement in a 1998 kidnapping of American citizens in Yemen, supporting the establishment of a terrorist training camp in Bly, Ore., and “facilitating violent jihad in Afghanistan,” according to a statement by the United States attorney in Manhattan. If convicted, Mr. Masri could face life in prison.

Muslim groups react against the extradition of five Muslim suspect to the US

06 October 2012

 

On the 5th of October, Abu Hamza and four Muslims suspects were extradited to the US under terrorism charges. The group arrived in New York this week and the US attorney office in New York has said they would appear before court soon. Abu Hamza faces eleven charges in the US relating to hostage taking, conspiracy to establish a militant training camp, and calling for holy war in Afghanistan. He suffers from severe illnesses and has been portrayed as the most dangerous criminal by the British media. He suffers from depression, chronic sleep deprivation, diabetes and other ailments.

 

Barbar Ahmed who is the only British national among the five men has raised concerns among legal experts and human rights advocates. He is accused of running terrorist-funding websites in the UK. The UK authorities agreed to extradite him despite the fact that his alleged crimes were committed in Britain.  British courts on the other hand declined to prosecute him due to lack of evidence. Ahmad has been in prison since 2004, and has been held without charge for longer than any other British citizen.

 

Prime Minister David Cameron said “I’m absolutely delighted that Abu Hamza is now out of this country. Like the rest of the public I’m sick to the back teeth of people who come here, threaten our country, who stay at vast expense to the taxpayer and we can’t get rid of them.”

 

On the other hand, Muslim groups reacted strongly against the extradition of the five men. Hizb at-Tahrir, strongly condemned it in a statement: “We are disgusted – but not surprised – at the travesty that has been described as a judicial process, ending with a decision at the British High Court, which then lead to the extradition of five Muslims from the UK to the United States.”

 

Islamic Human Rights Commission, an NGO based in the UK, also strongly condemned the extradition:  “The decision to extradite UK citizens Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmed is a display of double standards by the so-called British Justice System… IHRC has campaigned for the release of Babar Ahmed and Talha Ahsan continuously and has urged their supporters to do the same. However, it is clear now that the British judiciary is not in place to serve the British people, and in this case has acted in the interest of the US. We would have thought that the days of the UK playing poodle to the US had left us when Tony Blair left office.

 

This verdict tells the world that the British judiciary is inadequate to deal with cases and has to extradite suspects to the US.”