In this interview CAGE’s Research Director Asim Qureshi speaks with Abu Nasser the father of Muthana Nasser who appeared in a video linked to ISIS, a group currently fighting in Iraq and Syria. Abu Nasser touches on the harassment he’s faced from police much of which has not been reported in the mainstream press.
The emergence of Cardiff resident Nasser Muthana in a video linked to the group ISIS has raised more questions than it provides answers. Prior to his younger brother Aseel, he travelled to Syria at the end of 2013. Aseel, three months later, managed to evade both the scrutiny of his own family and that of the security agencies to make his way to Syria, under what can only be described as dubious circumstances.
On 4 November 2013, Nasser had informed his family that he was attending an Islamic course in Shrewsbury. The family did not suspect anything because he was leaving a stable job with Cardiff council and was about to start a biomedical sciences degree.
Nasser and his friends flew from Gatwick the following day, with the family only realising once he had arrived in Syria. Nasser called his younger brother, explaining that he had decided to join the aid efforts in Syria, and that he had no attention of returning home. Their father, Abu Nasser, expressed his shock at hearing the news,
“I was shocked, what do you expect? I was in a complete state of shock. My wife…she just collapsed on the floor.”
Confused about which path to take, Abu Nasser contacted the mosque the family would frequent, seeking guidance on how to pursue his son’s leaving. The mosque contacted their local PREVENT authority in Wales, explaining that Nasser had left. Over the next two days, the PREVENT officials took detailed statements from the family, often prying into aspects of their lives unconnected with their son’s disappearance.
Things began to escalate for the family as they came under suspicion of the counter-terrorism police in the UK. According to Abu Nasser,
“They then got the North-West Counterterrorism police on the Tuesday, 12 November 2013. Eight of them came to see me! They came with a warrant to search the house from the magistrates court. They didn’t raid my house, they just knocked on the door and provided us with the notice of the search. They stayed in the house from 5pm – 10pm at night. They only really just searched his room, giving a cursory glance over the rest of the house. They have kept his laptop – they took mine as well – but have returned it back to me.
North-West Counterterrorism arrived with a medical doctor and psychiatrist, I am almost certain this was because they wanted to see if we would lie to them about how much we knew. I kept on explaining that I had no idea of what Nasser was going to do. When I asked if I needed legal advice, they explained to me that I did not need it, they said that they are not against us, and they were only there to support us.
They asked me a lot of questions about the local mosque, and whether I suspected that they had any involvement in my son deciding to leave for Syria. I told them that I attend the mosque myself, and I have never heard them encouraging anyone to do such things. They were asking many questions about the whole community and who was in contact with whom. I told them I knew nothing about the friends really, just their names and that I thought they were good boys.”
It took about four days for the family to have their names cleared by the counter-terrorism police, but they were specifically called to say that there was nothing of concern in relation to them. At that time, Abu Nasser took the decision to confiscate the passport of his younger son, Aseel, hiding it with a friend who lived close by,
“As soon as I heard of Nasser going to Syria, I immediately confiscated Aseel’s passport and hid it with my friend. Just in case Asseel had any intention to act like his brother. It came as a huge surprise with on 21 January 2014, CID came to my home at 9 o’clock in the morning asking me where Aseel’s passport was. I explained that it was with me, and they said no. I immediately ran to my friend’s house to retrieve that passport to show them that I still had it. We compared the passport numbers, and the police officer laughed and said that Aseel was in Cyprus.”
For Abu Nasser, of great concern, was that despite having informed counter-terrorism to specifically ensure they did not permit Aseel to follow his brother, that he was still able to have another passport made in order to travel.
Abu Nasser’s narrative of CID’s informing him is in congruence with information independently verified of Aseel’s whereabouts. On 25 January 2014, CAGE received word from a contact, that Aseel had been contacted by Special Branch and that they were going to meet him on Wednesday 29 January on the border between Turkey and Syria. At the time Aseel maintained that his only concern was that of being an aid worker, and so was worried about why Special Branch may want to speak with him.
Aseel’s concern over his desire to understand his rights in relation to Special Branch betrayed his anxiety over not being seen to have committed any kind of offence. Even before he left his home in Cardiff, he left a note in a bag that was found by the youngest brother, explaining to the police that he had no ill intent and that his family should be left alone. The note said, “I am going to help the needy and orphans, please leave my family alone. I have no intention to come back to the UK.”
Despite the cooperation of the family and the surrounding community, they continued to be harassed and surveilled by the authorities. Abu Nasser explained how until this very day, he is placed under unwarranted scrutiny,
“While I have been largely left alone by the police now, I still see the same people watching me and the house wherever I go. I still see the same cars over and over again, it seems to be quite obvious. I think they want me to know they are keeping an eye on my family. Once I was quite unwell, and I was not able to pray the morning prayer in the mosque. One of the officers called me and said what is the matter, you don’t go to the mosque these days? I explained I was unwell, but it was surprising they rang during this period when I had not been able to attend for a couple of days. You never know, someone could be praying next to you but they could be a non-Muslim spying on the community.
One incident was quite funny. There was one non-Muslim female police officer, and I know she is not a Muslim. I saw her going to pray in the upstairs of the mosque and I could see from her eyes behind the veil that we recognised one another. Later on she said to me you very nearly said who I was out loud. I told her I did not want to say anything because I did not want to get involved.”
The presence of Nasser Muthana in an ISIS video raises a great many questions about the role that the UK security agencies have played in this entire incident. Did they allow Aseel to travel to Syria in the first place? Were the two brothers harassed by the security services prior to their departure? Did Special Branch meet with the brothers in Turkey, and did they threaten them in a way that alienated them from the UK and their family? Without more transparency over the way in which the security services operate, it will be impossible to understand how and why individuals such as the Muthana brothers choose to join groups like ISIS.
(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.)