As part of our Human Voices of the War on Terror series, we talk to ‘Abu Muhammad’, who tells his story of how he endured being stopped at the airport, raided and arrested, then released after police found nothing to prosecute him.
I come from a stable religious, caring family. Growing up, I began to explore my environment as a young person would. I was involved with the ‘wrong crowd’ but I had never been on the wrong side of the law, nor was I ever arrested.
I believe my family instilled in me virtuous values, which helped keep me safe despite the temptations around me at the time.
It was only after a major trauma in my life, which placed me in a coma, that I entirely reformed my life. It took me 2 years to make a full recovery and rebuild.
I managed to start a profitable business and developed a very close relationship with my family. My life is made up of my parents, wife and daughter.
So it was extremely upsetting to go through what I did. It was a massive shock for someone who has never been stopped and searched or arrested by the police to find himself raided and arrested on a terrorism charge.
I was aware of the work of CAGE, but I never informed myself of my rights. I never thought that I would be targeted. Unfortunately I was unaware of what to expect.
How it all began
The last few years have been extremely busy for me. Running the business has taken over my life, and I rarely have time to spare.
But I had managed to take a well-earned break to see my in-laws in Morocco. It had been four years since my wife had last seen her parents. To say we were excited and happy travelling to Morocco is in an understatement.
We arrived at the airport and checked in with nothing out of the ordinary happening. But when we were due to board the flight, I noticed two plain clothed figures in the distance standing in the tunnel leading to the plane. As I drew closer to them they called my name and asked to check my passport and tickets once again.
I found this strange as my passport and ticket had just been checked moments ago at the gate. My wife and daughter were with me, but these two men, who identified themselves as officers, were not concerned with them. The focus was on me.
I had a sense of unease with them, despite remaining courteous and obliging. They began to ask me bizarre questions relating to my work sector, about prices of products and the effects of inflation. I asked myself how is this line of questioning related to security?
Their tone was very patronizing and aggressive. They then asked me about where I was going and some details about my travel arrangements.
“Why am I being stopped?” I asked them.
They turned red with embarrassment before telling me it was ‘random’.
This was extremely humiliating. The plane was full of tourists and only I and my wife, both visibly Muslim, were being held as people walked past and entered the plane. Eventually we were allowed to board.
I was followed by security services in Morocco
My impression of Morocco and its people is a very positive one. People are very friendly where my wife’s family live.
However this holiday was different. About a week into my break I began to feel I was being followed. I dismissed these thoughts until my brother-in-law also noticed that I was being followed. I did not allow this to affect my life and continued as normal, until I was visited.
A community figure known locally knocked on the door of my in-laws’ home and asked for me. To his surprise my father in-law, who was a respected official, came out to speak to him. This man apologized profusely and said he was ordered by the DST (Moroccan security services) to investigate my whereabouts.
In the course of his discussion with my father-in-law, he let slip that the British intelligence services were the ones behind the request. According to him, the British authorities were concerned I would not make the connecting domestic flight in Morocco.
The conversation ended with this community figure saying he’s satisfied I’m ‘okay’ as they’ve ‘seen me’. That was the end of all the following but they left behind a feeling of unease.
Half an hour to get through customs
My return to the UK was relatively uneventful. Once we landed in London, we waited normally to be processed through customs. My wife went first and passed through in a matter of seconds. It’s worth noting that my wife is not a British national, which is made all the stranger when compared to what I had to endure as a British national.
It took the person at the customs desk about half an hour to process me. I was asked to turn to my side, remove my glasses make strange movements as though I was being asked to pose for a mug shot. Eventually after a lengthy wait I was allowed to pass. It was the first time I experienced excessive identity checks.
I left thinking that this was a consequence of flying while Muslim. Nothing could have prepared me for what happened next.
Police raid my home and arrest me in front of my family
I hadn’t slept much the previous night; I was still exhausted from my travel. After Fajr (dawn) prayers, and around 6:25am there was a violent knock on the door. I quickly told my wife to put on her scarf, and at that moment my father opened the door and police officers stormed in screaming my name.
I repeated the Islamic remembrance:
حسبنا الله ونعم الوكيل
Allah (Alone) is sufficient for us, and He is the Best Disposer of affairs (for us)
إنَّا لِلَّهِ وَإِنَّا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعُونَ
Indeed, to Allah we belong and to Him we shall return
I prepared myself for what was to come. The officers swiftly put me under arrest and moved my entire household into a single room. Even my ill elderly grandmother was moved, but the officers allowed her to return out of compassion. We were all in complete shocked, and it took a while to register what was happening.
The police were extremely aggressive; they wouldn’t allow us to communicate with each other. They looked like members of a far right organization. The only difference was that they had police badges.
I was arrested on suspicion of funding terrorism. They allowed me to clean myself and dress up before I was escorted out.
Despite their foul behavior towards my family and me I never felt any ill feeling towards them. I wish good for them, even now.
One particular officer was markedly better than the rest. When it was time for me to be cuffed, this officer approached me and requested if I would like asking my daughter to leave the room. This officer also covered my hands when I was led out of my home so neighbors and onlookers don’t see me in cuffs.
Two other officers then came along and were extremely hostile. They insulted me and my mother, who as you can imagine was crying seeing her son led away like a criminal.
I told them that this time was not an ideal time. I had just retuned from a holiday the night before. Nevertheless I was placed in the police vehicle, where another round of abuse commenced. The officers made jibes about eating pork, joking that it may be idolatrous. I responded when I could, but the whole experience was overwhelming.
News came in through the radio that there had been a bombing in a religious building in the fareast. One officer asked if there had been any Brits among the dead, but there had been none.
“That’s alright, it doesn’t matter,” one officer said.
I then thought to myself: do only British lives have value? Is this the attitude that police officers should have to human lives? It was an appalling response.
A book about my rights, which said I had none!
The officers remained in my house for a number of hours as they conducted their search. They were aggressive towards my wife and attempted to question my young daughter about my work. I felt they were attempting to use my family against me.
They confiscated all the electronic devices in my home including my daughter’s iPad. When my wife pleaded with them, an officer sharply responded “No!”
“This case is different isn’t it?” they added.
My wife was asked to surrender the password to her phone, which she did.
At this moment I was in the police station, completely oblivious to what was happening at home. I also had no idea what my rights were.
Funnily I was given a booklet which was meant to inform me of my rights, except that it caveated that those rights were not applicable to terrorism cases.
I then threw it away, and requested a Quran. I asked Allah for comfort and resolve and began to recite the Quran, but now the verses I read had a completely new resonance with me. It was as though I was reading it for the first time. I then called upon Allah for assistance for myself and my family.
I prostrated to Allah and my heart was filled with tranquility. This verse came to my mind:
فَأَنزَلَ اللَّهُ سَكِينَتَهُ عَلَىٰ رَسُولِهِ وَعَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ
But Allah sent down His tranquility upon His Messenger and upon the believers
In such situations, alone and captive, you only have two options:
– To educate yourself about your rights.
– To use this time to connect with Allah.
Released on Bail
I was released on bail later the same day at around 10pm. It was a relief but soon it dawned on me that the number of restrictions I had placed on me ensured I was kept in near virtual imprisonment.
I was losing money on a daily basis as all of my business documents, including important contact details with suppliers had been saved on the devices the police had taken away. Furthermore I could not visit certain areas and my home was the only address I could remain in overnight.
I was also waiting on the results of a tumor I had removed and was anxious that there would be no further complications. In addition my passport had been confiscated and my wife’s visa was ending soon. Without my passport I couldn’t possibly extend her stay.
It was an extremely stressful time that was only further exacerbated by the extremely restrictive police bail conditions.
This continued for six months as the police carried out their investigations. Then without warning the case was dropped and in an instant I was free again.
MI5: “We think there’s something there”
A week or two after my case was dropped, I began to receive unsolicited calls from individuals saying they were calling from a government department. They insisted on arranging a meeting. I ignored the calls.
Then they contacted my home and asked my parents for me. But my response again was to ignore the calls.
When I did speak to them, they were using passive threatening language. They said “we think there’s something there”, despite the police having found no evidence of wrongdoing against me. They wanted me to feel vulnerable so that I would cooperate with them.
On one occasion, I was approached in the street by a male and a female agent who wanted to sit and talk with me over coffee. I said if they did not refrain from approaching me I would sue them for harassment.
As this began to escalate, I got in touch with CAGE and thankfully, I followed their advice and the harassment stopped.
Despite these interactions being limited, knowing that the MI5 is pursuing you makes you feel extremely insecure.
We tell ourselves that they “know everything”, which is an intimidating thought. But the reality is that this is an exaggeration. Only Allah knows everything and He is the one who is in control and above us all.
Be patient and smart
What this taught me is that we can challenge this type of harassment. We can do something and that ultimately there is nothing to worry about. We must have patience and console ourselves with the stories of the prophets who were tested.
It is only through turning to Allah with certainty that we can hope for His aide and assistance.
We must also take advantage of the resources available to us. We should educate ourselves and spread awareness of these issues amongst our communities. Importantly, such experiences mustn’t dissuade us from continuing our work and support for the needy across the world.
My wife is now expecting our second child, and praise be to Allah, my affairs are coming back together. I’m optimistic for the future and hope that my story empowers others and sheds some light on an important issue.
In any eventuality we must accept the decree of Allah and do as much good as we can.
(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.)