In this instalment of the our Human Voices of the War on Terror series, ‘Ibrahim’, a hard working Muslim aid worker, becomes the subject of intelligence services harassment. This is the story of how it began, his attempts to identify who it was and how he eventually brought it to an end.
I am a 29-year-old British citizen living near Manchester. I used to be a volunteer for a charity. Since I started getting more involved with the charity work, I started getting contacted.
I received a call on my mobile phone from a ‘No Caller ID’ a couple of months ago. It was a male. He told me he was calling me from the Greater Manchester Police and Ports department and that there’s nothing to be worried about.
I said that I had never heard of it, but I asked how I could help.
He said that I had been flagged up on his system due to the amount of times I had been stopped whilst travelling. He said there was something called a Port Report and he just wanted to ask me a few questions with regards to my travels.
I told him that it was a little strange because I had never been stopped whilst travelling. He ignored that and then started asking questions about my travels and even mentioned a few places, which were all correct.
At first, I thought it was a hoax call, but at this point, I got really worried. I had heard of stories, from local people volunteering for charities, or people with a standing in the community, of being approached in this way by counter terrorism. I felt at this point this might be happening to me.
Is it a crime to care?
He knew that I was travelling for aid work. He was right, but I didn’t really want to go into too many details, because I didn’t really know who he really was.
He then went on to speak about what was happening in the media etc and that they were only trying to help people like myself who were volunteering for charities. He asked me if I ever had any issues with any people when I travelled. I said I have never had any issues with anyone anywhere, and that I didn’t think I could help him any further.
I told him I appreciated what they were trying to do, but not all people who are involved in charity work are bad people. He said he agreed and that’s why they wanted to help those who were good and find out where they were going wrong.
I explained that at the time I was only a volunteer and if he wanted to know about charities it would be better to speak to the charities directly and not the volunteers, since we do not possess all the knowledge about the charities.
I called the landline, but there was nobody there by his name
He then said it would be nice to meet up and I sounded like I could help him. He said he could meet me wherever I wanted and even gave examples like a café or police station.
I refused, and I asked for his details and told him I would get back to him if I got the chance. He told me his name was Mark Harrop or Harold, I couldn’t hear him properly as the line was all of a sudden really fuzzy.
He gave me a number and said I should just ask for him, and that I could get through. I requested a mobile number in case I wanted to get in touch with him personally.
I then called him back on the mobile number to confirm if it was really him and asked him for his ID and pretended that I had forgot to take it on our first call. I did this to make sure the phone number was really his.
He told me the ID number he gave me wasn’t a normal police ID as he was an internal staff member or something along the lines, which I found strange. We ended the call there.
I then called the landline number he had given me to confirm if he was a genuine police officer. They told me that the information I had given them did not match any officers and the lady even went through all the Marks they had with the surnames starting with the letter H and none of them sounded anything like Harrop or Harold.
She told me not to worry and that it might have been a prank etc. I found it very strange that this prankster knew all my details and everywhere I travelled etc. Anyway, I left it at that.
But I was very concerned and at this point, quite anxious.
Two plain clothes police officers came to my work
About a month or so later I was at the office, and a white male and white woman approached from across the road.
I was busy with some paperwork, and I saw them through the window as they walked up to the office door. They were walking in a purposeful way. They were both dressed casually in plain clothes.
I was on a work-related call, which I ended so I could attend to the man. The woman stayed outside. He came in and shook my hand, and he said my name and asked me to confirm if that is who I was. I replied: “Yes, how can I help?”
He flashed a small leather wallet open very quickly, I only managed to read the word Detective on it. I didn’t have a chance to see or read anything else. I was a little taken back and didn’t know how to react. I said, again: “How can I help?”
He said, don’t worry its nothing to worry about. He handed me a small yellow sticky note which read Paul and had a mobile number on it.
The first chap that contacted me wouldn’t tell me what it was all about, but this guy was very adamant that we should meet. Even though we only spoke briefly, it was quite intense.
I was conflicted about whether I should call the number or not, as I really had no idea what it could be about.
Later that same day, I gave this number a call. A male answered the call. I said that someone left this number and that they wanted to speak to me. He confirmed that he was Paul, and that he had left the number.
I then realised that this mobile number was the same number that the first guy had given me.
He was adamant that we had to meet up, but refused to come to my office
I told him on the phone that I couldn’t meet him until he told me what it was about. He then went on to say the same thing the first guy had said.
He said, “We can meet wherever you like, even a police station, then you will know I am a real police officer”.
I said: “If you want to meet me so badly, why don’t you come back to my workplace like you did before?”
He couldn’t answer.
They were being very shifty. It wasn’t the usual kind of police communication where things are clear and procedural. It really was not what you expect from the police.
He then became a little threatening. He kept saying he didn’t want me to regret not meeting him.
I said: “Please come back to my office.”
Then he said: “It won’t be me that comes to your office; it’ll be my colleagues.”
I asked him what that was supposed to mean.
He wouldn’t say. I kept asking him what it was about. We just went around and around.
Eventually, he said: “If I tell you one thing, you can’t ask me anything else.”
I said okay.
Then he said: “It’s about your associates.”
Someone contacted my solicitor and put a voice on, then hung up
I didn’t want to go through anything more by myself, and I didn’t want this to affect my family. I didn’t want to become one of those people who just suffer in silence.
Also, I am not so good at writing and communication, so I needed to find people who were. I wanted to nip it in the bud. I asked around about what to do, without going into details. I got a list of lawyers.
The following day, I called a solicitors firm for advice. I explained everything, and the solicitor told me she also found everything a little strange, and she asked for the number that I had been given.
Later, she said she had called them but couldn’t get through, so she had left them voicemail.
The following day, I received a call from the solicitor telling me that she had received a strange call from someone who sounded like they were trying to put a voice on. All they said was: “Are you a solicitor?” She had replied yes, and then they had hung up.
I was very concerned, and I thought: what is going on now? I wondered whether these guys were really police, or not.
At first the police denied knowing anything, then later they said I must meet them
We agreed to wait and see if we heard anything else. Meanwhile, the solicitor also checked to see if the ID number I had been given by the second man was genuine, and she said it wasn’t coming up as a genuine police ID.
On Monday, I contacted the Greater Manchester Police (GMP), and I reported what had happened because I was very concerned, and I really wanted to know what was going on. They told me it all sounded a little strange too, but they would find out what was going on.
At that point, I knew that the people were contacting me were not the police. They were something else, or they were a part of the police and the police didn’t know what was going on either.
But then later that day I received a call from GMP. They told me that they had been in touch with the number I had provided, and that they could confirm it was the number of a genuine police officer and that I should meet him.
I asked them why I had been approached the way I had been, and what they wanted to meet me about, and the GMP said they couldn’t say.
At this point, I was really stressed and I thought something might happen to me. I live at home alone with my mum, and I didn’t want to tell her as I didn’t want to worry her.
But I told my sister and the charity I was volunteering for. I didn’t want any rumours going around so I only told the people who were close to me.
I wanted them to know that I hadn’t done anything wrong. I said: “In case something happens, you have to know that I did nothing wrong.”
They backed off and said something about “community relations”
The last time I spoke to the GMP I told them clearly that if there was going to be any further communication from those people or themselves then it would have to be through my solicitors.
Not long after I met with the solicitors, I went to CAGE. We formulated a really good letter of complaint, and the case worker posed some really good questions.
Most importantly, I asked the police if they have any information on me that I should know about and that I could challenge.
After that I received a call, and now I’ve received a letter, saying that they won’t be contacting me again. They said something about “building community relations”.
But they didn’t answer my question about whether they have any information on me that I should be aware of or that I can challenge.
They said I have to go through some sort of special paperwork for that.
But when the man called me and said: “community relations”, I really had a go at him. They had caused me so much worry. I told him we live in a day and time when you don’t have to do anything as a Muslim, to feel like you have done something wrong.
There’s still a loose end, but I feel better now I have others on my side
Most importantly, they have said nothing about why the second man had said they were concerned about my “associates”. I associate with nobody at all that could be problematic.
When I asked the last man about the reference to my “associates” – he said he couldn’t answer.
So, there is still that, which has me wondering. It isn’t right; they should just present the evidence and then I could answer their questions or rectify the situation.
But now, there’s still that loose end at the back of my mind. There is also the fact that I have to go through a whole paperwork process to see what information they have on me that caused them to behave like that towards me.
I told the man that if they approach Muslims like this, like we are big-time criminals, thinking the worst of us, then you wonder why community relations are so bad. I told him they had worried me severely.
Recently, our office was broken into. Every time my phone rings, I am still worried.
It’s a good thing I got the solicitors involved, because up until then I could have been scared or pressurised. I believe they were trying to recruit me or use me in some way.
My advice to others who might be going through the same thing is: don’t stay quiet. You must get legal advice, contact CAGE, and make a lot of noise about it.
The best advice I was given is that if it can be challenged, then challenge it. That should be written in gold.
(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.)