27 Feb 2015

Security services and the road to radicalisation

Africa Correspondent

It has been commented on that – like the Woolwich killers the British security services had a file on Mohammed Emwazi. Here, Channel 4 News Africa reporter Jamal Osman describes his own experiences.

Clearly there is no way of justifying the violence against civilians and beheadings for which “Jihadi John” has become the poster child.

But it is worth noting that several of the men who have joined Islamist groups like al-Qaeda and Islamic State had previously complained about alleged harassment and abuse at the hands of the British spies to whom they were known.

Several years ago Mohammed Emwazi contacted Cage, an advocacy group that campaigns for those affected by the “war on terror”, claiming he was repeatedly detained at airports, deported, barred from entering countries and even allegedly assaulted by officers.

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After he was refused to travel, “Jihadi John” told Cage: “I never got onto the flight, what was the point, I said to myself: ‘I’ll just get rejected’.

“I had a job waiting for me and marriage to get started. But now I feel like a prisoner, only not in a cage, in London. A person imprisoned and controlled by security service men, stopping me from living my new life in my birthplace and my country, Kuwait.”

Cage, which provided assistance to Emwazi when he claimed he was being harassed, has been criticised for describing him as “extremely kind, gentle”.


In the past few years as a journalist for Channel 4 News, I have met dozens of men with similar stories. Some eventually left Britain to fight for Islamist groups like al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda branch in Somalia.

Sheikh Abdulqadir Mumin, who featured in this story in 2012, is one of them. He was a religious preacher with radical views but no history of violence. He claimed that he was harassed and threatened by British authorities and he says had no choice but to flee Britain.

Other young Muslims feel that having a strong opinion about foreign policy makes them a suspect. They fear they will be added to a watch list. Security services will get involved and then it begins.

My story

I know what it is like to be at the receiving end of British spies. Although I haven’t encountered them for almost a year now, they have in the past threatened and harassed me.

For over a five-year-period, I was detained and questioned almost every time I passed through Heathrow airport.

I was initially offered incentives ranging from a “handsome salary” or a “nice car” to a “big house”.

When I declined all these offers, the psychological battle began. I was told how easy it would be for them to take away my British passport and destroy my career – and even my life.

It was terrifying. My supposed crime was refusing to spy on my community. I told them that I just want to remain a journalist – doing his duty to inform the public.

Their treatment made me very angry, frustrated and at times made me feel unsafe in this country. What helped me was that I had support and a platform to express my frustration. For many others, it is never-ending.

Meeting death while fighting for Islam is better than living in humiliation and fear in Britain. Islamist fighter

Asim Qureshi, research director of Cage, said: “We now have evidence that there are several young Britons whose lives were not only ruined by security agencies, but who became disenfranchised and turned to violence because of British counter-terrorism policies coupled with long standing grievances over Western foreign policy”.

This happens to many Muslims – it’s a common experience but very few react badly to the anger. A tiny minority who feel life in Britain has become unbearable, look for an alternative. And groups like Islamic State and al-Qaeda willingly offer them hope and sanctuary. They then begin the next stage of their journey becoming more extreme and desperate for revenge.

As one Islamist fighter who left the UK once told me: “Meeting death while fighting for Islam is better than living in humiliation and fear in Britain.”

The security services owe it to the families of Alan Henning and David Haines that their actions play no role in radicalising young British men in the future.