25 Feb 2014

Moazzam Begg arrested on terrorism charges

Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg is one of four people arrested on suspicion of Syria-related terrorism offences. But police stress that confirming his name does not imply guilt.

Mr Begg, 45, from Hall Green, in Birmingham, who was held in the US-run military prison in Cuba for nearly three years, is suspected of attending a terrorist training camp and facilitating terrorism overseas, West Midlands police said.

A 36-year-old man from Shirley, in Solihull, and a 44-year-old woman and her 20-year-old son, both from Sparkhill, in Birmingham, have also been arrested on suspicion of facilitating terrorism overseas.

All four are being held at a police station in the West Midlands, while their three home addresses are being searched. Vehicles and electronic equipment are being removed for forensic analysis.

I was at a conference where I saw Mr Begg two weeks ago and we spoke, writes Home Affairs Correspondent Darshna Soni. He told me that the Home Office had confiscated his passport. He told me he had been stopped at Heathrow Airport on a return trip from South Africa and told me his passport was being taken as it was "not in the public interest" for him to travel.

Mr Begg was held by the US government at Guantanamo for nearly three years after being arrested in Pakistan in February 2002 suspected of being a member of al-Qaeda. He was released without charge in January 2005. Channel 4 News spoke to him exclusively on his release.

Mr Begg has previously written about trips to Syria as part of his work as outreach director for the organisation CagePrisoners, saying that he was investigating allegations of British and American complicity in torture.

He described in December how he had been going there with the blessing of MI5, who assured him he could continue to go.

However, he said that his passport was seized under royal prerogative amid concerns that the trips may have been linked to terrorism.

“In October 2012, I was called by an MI5 officer who said they wanted to talk to me about my views on the situation in Syria after having read my article,” he said.

“I told them that they must be aware that I was investigating several leads regarding British and American complicity in redition and torture in Syria.

“They called back after consulting with their lawyers and said they understood that and would still like to meet. I agreed to speak to them and meet at a hotel in east London. Both MI5 and me had our lawyers present.”

‘Nothing to worry about’

Mr Begg said that MI5 had concerns over the threat to national security posed by Britons who went to Syria, became radicalised, and returned to the UK.

He told them that Britain had “nothing to worry about, especially since British foreign policy, at the time, seemed in favour of the rebels”.

He continued: “At the end of the meeting I was assured by MI5 that my proposed return to Syria to continue my work would not be hindered, and it wasn’t. Subsequently, I travelled to Syria without incident.”

While there, he said, he visited refugee camps and saw victims of the Syrian civil war.

In December, he said, he was “met upon arrival at Heathrow by officials who served me with a notice to seize my passport under the ‘royal prerogative’ stating that it was assessed my previous visits to Syria had constituted involvement in terrorism. No explanation other than that was given.”


CagePrisoners said it was “outraged” by the arrest of Mr Begg.

“Moazzam has been very open about his international travel and his objectives, including importantly exposing British complicity in rendition and torture,” said Cerie Bullivant, media officer of Cage.

“The timing coincides with the planned release of a Cage report on Syria and a major news piece that was due to be televised soon.”

West Midlands police said in a statement: “We can confirm that Moazzam Begg was arrested this morning.

“We are confirming this name as a result of the anticipated high public interest to accredited media.”

The statement added: “This is an arrest, not a charge, and … our naming does not imply any guilt.”