“I told them I was feeling intimidated. They continued to suggest I should work with them, that they could help with my training, money and employment. I refused.”
In this installment of the Human Voices of the War on Terror, we share the story of a man who tells of how his life was made intolerable after the security services crossed his path. We have deliberately omitted the name of the person to protect his privacy.
I was born in the Koyama Island in Somalia. My early years were marked by fleeing my homeland to neighbouring Kenya as the civil war engulfed the country. My family later returned, only to then leave Somalia due to the continued unrest and economic instability. We moved to Yemen where for a short period of time before I made the decision to seek a better life elsewhere.
I traveled to the UK, arriving at Dover aged only 17 in the summer of 2003. I subsequently claimed asylum, and it was granted to me the following year. I enrolled in English language and Maths courses to improve my prospects and I managed to secure employment for myself in warehouses and catering.
I was a very active young man, travelling to different areas of the UK, meeting new people and wishing to contribute to society. In 2008, I traveled to Kenya to get married and meet my family. I was blessed with a daughter who is now eight years old.
In the year preceding my marriage I grew closer to my faith as a result of a number of difficult circumstances I was going through. I found solace in adhering closely to Islam. I would begin to frequent different mosques and socialise more with members of the community, from all walks of life.
I crossed the paths of many people, some I would learn later travelled abroad to take part in the conflict in Somalia. My acquaintance with them was fairly limited. I knew them from the mosque I would occasionally pray at and from a regular football session that was open for all.
At that point in time I was unaware that this would be the reason I would become a person of interest for the security services. It was only in 2009/2010 when I began the process of applying for British citizenship that I noticed a strange pattern arise. At this point I was suffering from depression for a few years. The delay in the Home Office’s response to my application had an adverse effect on my mental health. So when I received a response rejecting my application on grounds of ‘bad character’ I was devastated. I had no criminal record and the lack of explanation in the reply was perplexing.
Shortly after this refusal I received a phone call from a man who introduced himself as ‘George’ from ‘an agency that helps people with passport issues’. We arranged a meeting at a London hotel where I assumed they would help my citizenship application.
On the arranged day I entered the hotel and after a short wait a slim, tall white man approached me and identified himself as ‘George’ from the phone call. I was escorted into a room with a large round table filled with snacks. He offered me tea and coffee while another man with Mediterranean features was already seated in the room. I found this setting more strange and unsettling when they apologised and said they were from MI5 and that their job was ‘to protect people in the UK’.
“You know people we are interested in,” George said. He then mentioned their names.
I admitted I knew these people, but I was feeling anxious and fearful for my safety, so I requested a lawyer.
“Trust me – we can do anything, we can help you with your passport and bring your daughter over to the UK,” he said.
I told them I was feeling intimidated. They continued to suggest I should work with them, that they could help with my training, money and employment. I refused.
George handed me £100 for ‘my fare’.
I left the room extremely scared and shocked. I was sweating profusely. The following day at 10am I received a phone call from them asking me to meet again. I quickly directed them to my solicitor. They no longer contacted me anymore, which was good but that would be the start of my troubles.
Read more: What to do when MI5 comes knocking for you
The police raided me twice, at two separate addresses. These raids are extremely disruptive and caused great pain and anxiety. After one particular raid I was taken to Paddington Green police station, where I was held for four days.
During this arrest, I informed the police that I was claustrophobic, this was ignored. I soon had a panic attack and fainted in the cell. Despite being released with no charge, these experiences, mentally, set me on a downward cycle.
The last time I left the UK was in 2012 to Mekkah in Saudi Arabia. I performed the Umrah rituals and ended up befriending a man there. On my return to the UK I maintained friendship with this man until suddenly he stopped responding. I later learned that he was approached by the Saudi authorities, which I believe were under instruction by the MI5 and they warned him against communicating with me.
During this time my situation deteriorated. My extended family in Kenya also noticed a change. Whenever they would travel the authorities would ask them about me.
I am now too fearful to return to Kenya. My daughter lives in the UAE and they do not accept travel documents, so I have been unable to see her. My life was perfectly normal until MI5 showed up. I now suffer from lengthy depression and see mental health practitioners to help me overcome the emotional distress I experience.
I tried to apply for citizenship again in 2013 but I’ve yet to receive a response due to ‘additional checks’. What raised my suspicions that this delay was not due to normal administrative reasons, was the length of time it took to reply: 3 years despite repeated letters from my lawyers to the Home Office. Also during this period of time I successfully applied for a Security Industry Authority (SIA) security badge, and was found fit and proper to work as a security operative. I found it confusing how the SIA, which reports directly to the Home Secretary, found me fit to guard sensitive institutions and buildings, yet I did not even receive a reply for my citizenship application due to ‘additional checks’.
MI5 should stop destroying people lives. I’ve never had issues here or abroad. I feel my life is on hold. I truly feel that their intervention in my life was the beginning of all my problems.
I could not speak to anyone about my experiences because no-one had the experience and knowledge to help me. It was at CAGE that I found help and a way to bring about some legal redress to my situation.
I strongly believe that the way in which the security services seek to recruit young Muslims is counterproductive. In one hand you are given then opportunity to join them voluntarily, but if you refuse, they will make your life difficult. This approach fuels resentment and unfortunately pushes people to their very edge. I hope they reconsider their tactics and change their policies when it comes to the Muslim community.
(CC image courtesy of Lynn Friedman on Flikr)
(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.)