Mahdi Hashi was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, on 18 August 1989.
Within two years of his birth, the civil war on Somalia in 1991 began, resulting in his family’s life being under threat due to the general state of the conflict.
In 1995, Mahdi’s family chose to relocate to the UK as asylum seekers in order to escape the difficulties of their own country. Mahdi began school in London almost immediately, having been enrolled in Bell Lane Primary School, in Hendon.
In just over six months, the family relocated to Camden Town, where Mahdi was enrolled initially in Primrose Hill Primary School, but then soon after Rhyl Primary School where he completed his primary education.
In 2000, Mahdi began his secondary school education in Haverstock Secondary School.
On 16 April 2004, the family received news that Mahdi’s British citizenship had been granted. Somali law at the time required that as he had taken a foreign nationality, he was no longer a Somali citizen and his nationality had been rescinded.
That same summer he was able to go on his very first family holiday, first to Dubai, but then on to Somalia for the first time since he had left.
In 2005 he completed his GCSEs at the Haverstock Secondary School and rather than continuing his education in the UK, chose to leave with his family for Egypt in order to study the Arabic language.
Arbitrary detention by Egyptian security
In 2006, the Egyptian National Security police came to the students’ dwelling around 4pm requesting all the foreign students to show their passports. 4 months after this incident, the same security agents returned, however, on this occasion with the Egyptian army who came carrying heavy weapons including shotguns, machine guns and pistols. This raid took place at 4:00am and again they demanded to see the passports of all those who resided in the complex.
On the completion of the raid, the security agents decided to detain Mahdi, claiming that his visa had expired and so would be need to be interrogated. After spending the day in the hands of the security agency and being questioned by them, he was released. On his release, Mahdi went immediately to renew his visa knowing that he had still had another week for its renewal and was very much within the 2 week time period that was required by Egyptian law. He was not required to pay any penalties.
A short while later, he was again requested to return to the police station in order to answer further questions. The Egyptian police claimed the matter was extremely urgent and pushed him to come to them immediately, this was despite it being late at night. Mahdi arrived at the station a little after midnight, and was bundled into the back of a car after two hours of questions.
On the very day that this took place, Mahdi’s family informed the British embassy in Cairo who claimed that they had no official knowledge of his detention or whereabouts. They claimed that it was unlikely that he had been detained as usually if a British national is arrested, they are informed immediately of his location and the reason for arrest. They requested information as to whether or not Mahdi was a dual national and five days later they received official confirmation of his detention.
Mahdi was detained for a total of eleven days in Egyptian custody, in a cell that was roughly 3x3m. He shared this small space with five other foreign nationals, none of whom had been told the allegations against them.
During this period of arrest, Mahdi was never told of the reasons for his detention by the Egyptians, so he decided to go on hunger strike out of protest of his treatment. During this period, he personally witnessed a number of other detainees being abused and deprived of food and other necessities.
It was not until the British embassy spoke to him, that Mahdi had any inclining of why he was being detained. Speaking to Asim Qureshi from the NGO CagePrisoners, about his detention, he explained,
“So, when I was arrested [in Egypt], I was in prison for 11 days…That’s how I felt at the time, that they are trying to make me admit something, to make me say it first. I was speaking to the embassy they were trying to ask me why I was here, “The Egyptian authorities are telling us something else.” And when they actually realised that I was completely confused about the situation, bearing in mind I was only 16, they go to me, “Well, the Egyptian authorities are saying that you have links to Al-Qaida and other terror networks, specifically the Chechen mujahedeen and also the mujahedeen in Caucasus. I didn’t know what “Caucasus” was. They said that you’ve actually trained as well, you done training with them, extremist training.”[i]
After the eleven days of detention, the Egyptians claimed that his visa had expired and deported him back to the UK, banning him from returning to Egypt. At this time, Mahdi was still only sixteen years old.
On Mahdi’s arrival back to the UK, his family were waiting for him at the airport, having been provided the full flight details. All the passengers on the flight from Egypt made their way through customs, except Mahdi. After the family made an inquiry into his location, they were told that he had not boarded the flight, and were shown a passenger list which did not contain his name.
Worried and confused, the family made their way back home, when they received a call from a neighbour informing them that Mahdi had called from Heathrow airport and was waiting for them to pick him up. It turned out that the family had been lied to by airport staff, as he had been on the flight and should have been on the passenger list – Mahdi had been in the aiport – except he was being interrogated for three hours by security agents who took his fingerprints and DNA.
Questioning after studies in Syria
After almost a year from his detention in Egypt, Mahdi decided to continue his Arabic studies, this time choosing Syria. He remained there for about a year having no problems during that period. It was on his return that he was again subjected to harassment by the UK security agencies. According to Mahdi,
“When I came back, I came back at Heathrow airport. I was stopped by two police officers. They were asking questions like, “Why did you go there? Did you want to go to Iraq?” and “What do you think about…?” They asked me scholarly questions about religion and jihad and suicide bombing, for example, they would ask me about the Palestinians. Then afterwards they took my DNA and my fingerprints and they told me that we are putting this on a Terrorism Database, they had me under the Terrorism Act 2000, Sch 7.”[ii]
Kentish Town Youth Workers
On Mahdi’s return for Syria in 2008, he got involved with a local organisation known as the Kentish Town Community Organisation. Their aim was to assist young people who were having difficulties in their personal lives. The group of friends who all assisted in the project, went on to become victims of harassment by the UK security agencies.
More can be read about the experience of the Kentish Town Youth Workers in the CagePrisoners report, The Horn of Africa Inquisition.
Mahdi further started an engineering course at the College of Haringey, in Enfield. He wanted to gain further skills for his career and future. However, this did not impact on his activities within the community. By 2009, Mahdi had taken it on himself to become a care worker for a disabled man living in North West London.
Harassment in the UK and abroad
It was also in 2009 that Mahdi’s family received the unfortunate news that his grandmother in Somalia was very unwell. At the time it was felt that the best person within their family who could leave to care for her was Mahdi.
Having booked his flight through Gatwick airport for Somalia with a stop over in Djibouti, Mahdi left for the airport. As he made his way through security, he was stopped by two members of MI5 who said they wished to speak with him about some matters. They questioned him for a few hours, resulting in him missing his flight for which he was reimbursed by having another booking made seven days later.
When he returned to catch his flight, he was again detained. Speaking to CagePrisoners he said,
“While one was searching the other started asking questions. This time its direct questions, “What do you think of jihad, suicide bombings?” Questions about these people in mosques. [Then Richard] came over and goes, “Mahdi Hashi, Hi my name is Richard.” This is most likely the same guy that came to Mohammed Nur in his house. My name is Richard and I’m from MI5 and he showed me his badge quickly, the famous flash. He goes, “Listen to me, give it to me straight. We suspect that you’re going to Somalia for extremist purposes. You’re not going for your family and stuff. Because you have extreme associates.” And he mentioned Mohmmaed Nur, Abshir Mohammed and Abshir Ahmed, and others.
He goes, “Because of your extremist friends we suspect you’re an extremist yourself. We hope that we’re wrong, you know we hope so, but we have reason to believe that you’re extreme. We hope that we’re wrong.” After that he threatened me, “We warn you not to get on that flight for your own safety.” I’m like, “What you trying to say to me, what’s happened?” I’m thinking like he’s going to arrest me in Djibouti, and torture me, might wanna take me to Morocco like Binyam Mohamed, that story. So I’m like, “Are you telling me not to get on that flight?” He said, “I’m not telling you not to get on that flight but it would be better for your own safety if you didn’t. But it’s your choice mate.
I got to Djibouti when the police grabbed me. When I spoke to some of them properly on the level, he said, “We don’t know why you’re here but we’ve been told to keep you here. It’s coming from the government and it’s coming from your government.”[iii]
Mahdi was held in Djibouti for 16 hours before he was eventually deported back to the UK. On his return his plight had not ended as MI5 waited for him. After waiting with him to collect his luggage, he was taken to a private room. There he was accused of being a terrorism suspect. They opened a book which had the pictures of a number of Muslim men, and asked him to identify all those that he knew, some being from the community centre. They explained that they wanted his help, and that in doing so, his status as a terrorism suspect would be lifted. They claimed that this was the only way for him to prove his innocence.
Harassment of the Kentish Town youth workers
Having gone through this ordeal at the hands of the UK security agencies, MI5 finished the questioning by requesting that Mahdi continue to meet with them. He refused explaining that he had nothing to give them that would be of any benefit. Despite declining their offer, MI5 continued to harass him and his father, using any means to force him to work with them.
Mahdi was, however, not alone in this harassment by MI5. His friends and colleagues from the Kentish Town Community Organisation were also being targeted by MI5 in different ways. On speaking to one another about it one day, they realised that they had all fallen victim to the same tactics by the security agencies, and that a systematic approach was being used against them.
It was at this time that the mean approached their MPs, CagePrisoners and others in order to seek help. They were advised that they should go to the media and try and expose the tactics that were being employed against them. It was only after the media highlighted the difficulties these men were facing, that the harassment reduced significantly.
Mahdi’s move to Somalia
In 2009, Mahdi again attempted to go to Somalia in order to assist his ailing grandmother. On seeing her condition, he chose to increase his stay there, as he felt it would not be appropriate to leave her with her condition worsening.
In 2010 Mahdi met his future wife in Somalia and by 2011 they were married. The following year in February, they were blessed with a son.
Citizenship removal and detention
In mid 2012, Mahdi’s family in the UK were sent a letter by the Home Office, explaining that they must inform Mahdi that his citizenship had been revoked on the grounds of alleged extremism.
The decision to remove his decision has potentially left Mahdi stateless, as it is believed his Somali nationality had been rescinded when he was granted British citizenship, due to Somali law at the time.
By the middle of summer 2012, Mahdi’s family were informed that he had been detained in Djibouti. The family had no official confirmation of this, however, they were contacted by a man who claimed that he had been previously detained with Mahdi in a Djibouti prison. The man claimed that Mahdi was being interrogated by US authorities. The last piece of information the man gave, was that Mahdi was being mistreated and that he was consistently requesting assistance from the British embassy, unaware that he had already had his citizenship revoked.
The British have only told the family that as they have revoked his citizenship, they are unwilling to take any responsibility for his current plight.
The mother-in-law of Mahdi has attempted to find him by travelling to Djibouti and searching for him, but none of her family or connections have been able to find the location of his detention.
It is alleged that Djiboutian torturers forced Mahdi to watch an inmate being stripped to his underwear and hung upside down. Thereafter, they beat the sole of his feet, poured cold water on him and threatened to electrocute him.
He was then warned that he was to expect a similar treatment if he did not cooperate. He said he was himself stripped to his underwear, blindfolded and told he would be sexually abused.
American interrogators and secret rendition
After several weeks of mistreatment and arbitrary detention, he was handed over to American interrogators, only to be led to believe he would face far worse in case he did not want to cooperate. After that, he was made to sign a false confession as well as a disclaimer in which he agreed to waive his right to silence”.
Public pressure and reappearance
On 24 December 2013, after several weeks of public pressure led by Mahdi’s family in the United Kingdom, the US authorities admitted the young Londoner was in their custody.
His family was astonished to learn that on 18 October 2012, a New York court issued a secret indictment on terrorism charges.
On 14 November 2012, after four months of enforced disappearance, Mahdi was blindfolded and subjected to secret rendition to the US by the FBI, a practice Barack Obama had promised to put an end to. Thereafter, Mahdi was kept under the false name of John Doe for five weeks.
On 12 September 2013, Mahdi Hashi was allowed to call his family in the UK and inform them he had been in hospital for a week after he started a hunger strike to protest against his inhumane conditions of detention. He had started his hunger strike just after the month of Ramadan (around 8 August 2013). His condition had significantly deteriorated and he was diagnosed with jaundice.
After pleading guilty to avoid a lengthy sentence, Mahdi Hashi was sentenced to 9 years in prison on 29 January 2016.
This is despite the fact that the judge Gleeson referred to the case as "complicated" and accepted that Hashi had joined Al Shabab
not to engage in violent attacks but because he thought it could restore peace to war-torn Somalia.
"I believe you believe this organisation you joined was dramatically different than what you thought or hoped it would be," he said.
Likewise, prosecutors said no element to suggest Hashi engaged in violence before leaving the group.
During their sentencing, held separately, lawyers for Hashi's co-defendant described how the men were kept virtually naked in a cell with no mattress and no blanket for over three months in Djibouti where US personnel was present.
The defense lawyers went on to describe incidents of Hashi’s co-defendant being “hung upside down and beaten with computer cables so that other inmates could watch it”.
The disturbing revelations included reports that the men were forced to drink from a toilet, as the only means of sustaining themselves.
No one was held accountable for the torture they endured.
Appeal of citizenship deprivation
Reacting to the sentencing, British lawyer for Mahdi Hashi stated appeal against the deprivation of his British citizenship will be heard in October 2016 at the Court of Appeal.
I am restricted from saying anything about Mr Hashi’s case, due to the Special Administrative Measures imposed on him in prison,” he added.
Mahdi Hashi remains detained in solitary confinement under stringent restrictions (Special Administrative measures). It is not known what his fate will be after he served his sentence since he cannot return to the UK.
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)