The Ordeal of Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan

Fathers of Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmadon day of extradition

Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan have been in jail for 10 years and 8 years respectively. For most of that time they have been held without charge in high security prisons in Britain. They were extradited to the US in October 2012, where they were finally charged with terrorism offences. Having filed guilty pleas in a deal with prosecutors, the men have been given sentences that mean they will very soon be home.

British citizen Babar Ahmad has been given a 12½ year sentence by a US federal court in Newhaven, Connecticut for providing and conspiring to provide material support for terrorism. He pled guilty last December following a deal with US prosecutors. His case is one of the most controversial in legal history.

The sentence was handed down by Judge Janet Hall on 16 July. Babar Ahmad will be given credit for 10 years already served pre-trial, most of it in high-security British jails while fighting extradition to the US. With further credit for good behaviour, he could be out in less than a year.

Prosecutors had asked for a 25-year sentence, claiming on scant evidence that Babar Ahmad had links to al Qaeda. In passing sentence, Judge Janet Hall rejected these claims. She appears to have found much of the prosecution presentation to be unreliable.

Expert evidence provided by Evan Kohlmann conflated al Qaeda with the Taliban and portrayed the 1992-95 conflict in Bosnia – in which Babar Ahmad was involved – as a springboard for al Qaeda penetration of Europe and the US. Kohlmann is a serial prosecution witness with a reputation for sloppy scholarship. On this occasion his report was comprehensively trashed in expert reports obtained by the defence lawyers. The prosecution elected not to use it.

Babar Ahmad's co-defendant Talha Ahsan, who had accepted a similar plea bargain, was sentenced to the 8 years he has already served pre-trial. Like Babar Ahmad, he served most of this time in high-security British jails while fighting extradition. He will now return home to his family in London. Prosecutors had asked for a 15-year sentence, claiming that the fact that he had received an unsolicited letter containing classified information about the US navy had sinister implications. Judge Janet Hall appears to have largely rejected this claim too.

Her decision should raise awkward questions about the conduct of the British and US authorities, and especially about their dogged determination to ensure that Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan were tried in the US rather than Britain, even though the men's supposedly criminal conduct took place in Britain and virtually all of the evidence against them was gathered in Britain.

It ought also to raise questions about the role of British courts, the CPS and the police in turning convicted British shoe-bomber Saajid Badat into a "supergrass". He was a key prosecution witness in these cases. His testimony seems to have been of no particular importance, and to have contributed to the general confusion of the prosecution case.

As often happens in the US, these cases ended not with a trial but with a plea bargain. This means that the proposition that the activities that the men were supporting amounted to terrorism has not been tested in court. That is a pity, because the evidence assembled by their legal teams to show that their offences were not at the most serious end of the scale might have gone a long way towards showing that their actions were not criminal at all.

Long prison sentences are commonplace in the US legal system. Prolonged solitary confinement is routine in US prisons. For people convicted of terrorism offences, years of solitary confinement in ADX Florence supermax prison in Colorado are virtually automatic. Those who refuse a plea deal and are then convicted are likely to receive much harsher treatment than those who agree. In 2013, just 3% of cases dealt with by US District Courts went to trial. For the innocent and the guilty alike, the stakes attached to a not-guilty plea are just too high.

It was in the interests of justice for the cases against Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan to go to trial. But arguments in their defence would have ventured into poorly charted legal waters. It would have been crazy for them to risk it.

Talha Ahsan’s crime was to provide what his lawyers call “marginal assistance” over a period of 6 months – or perhaps 18 months according to prosecutors – in the running of a website, Azzam.com, that published information about armed jihad in Muslim countries. Talha Ahsan was about 20 years old at the time of his involvement with the website, which ended in August 2001.

He was never an administrator of the website, and never edited, proof-read or contributed to the material on the website.

The Azzam.com website had been launched by Babar Ahmad in 1997. It closed temporarily in late September 2001, went back online in November, and then shut down for good in July 2002.

Azzam.com described itself as providing "independent media organization providing authentic news and information about Jihad and Foreign Mujahideen everywhere." It also said: "it does NOT support, financially or otherwise, terrorist acts against innocent citizens, in ANY country in the world."

Genocide in Bosnia

The website covered the 1992-1995 conflict in Bosnia, the associated genocide of Muslims there and the ongoing conflict in Chechnya between Muslim separatists and Russian forces. It also gave a small amount of coverage to the conflict in Afghanistan between the Taliban – then the de facto government of the country – and the Northern Alliance.

In the words of Talha Ahsan’s lawyers, the website “reported on the plight of Muslim populations around the world.” This is not just spin.

The break-up of Yugoslavia and the creation of the new state of Bosnia were the fruit not only of the national aspirations of those who lived there, but also of international power-play. Effective military intervention by the European powers and the US was fraught with difficulty and did not occur.

The civilian Muslim population in Bosnia fell victim to acts of genocide and other large-scale atrocities carried out by Serb forces, including starvation, torture and mass rape. A degree of relief was provided by humanitarian aid organised by the global Muslim community, and also through military assistance provided by Muslims from around the world who participated in the conflict as part of a jihad.

srebenica_memorial.jpg

Srebenica genocide memorial
Srebenica genocide memorial
Michael Buker

On the day that Babar Ahmad was sentenced, a civil court in the Hague found that Dutch UN troops had acted unlawfully in handing over to Serb forces Bosnian Muslims who had taken shelter in their compound in Srebenica in July 1995. 300 men and boys from this group were then massacred by the Serbs. Around 8000 more Bosnian Muslims, who had taken refuge in the supposed UN safe haven of Srebenica but not within the UN compound itself, were murdered in the same incident.

Babar Ahmad's audio cassette In the Hearts of Green Birds was released in July 1996, to mark the first anniversary of the Srebenica massacre. The cassette set him on the path that later led him to set up Azzam Publications and the Azzam.com website. Both were named after the Islamic scholar Abdullah Azzam, who had been a key figure in the struggle against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

The catastrophe that befell Bosnia's Muslims is well documented. US State Department reports on it were included in submissions by Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan's legal team. Media reports on the case have largely ignored this material in favour of a video that depicts the murder of a captured Russian soldier by Chechen mujahideen.

The conflict in Chechnya is less well documented than the conflict in Bosnia because of Russian censorship. But there is no doubt at all that torture, disappearance and murder at the hands of Russian forces were widespread and systemic during and after the war. And there is no doubt these abuses were on a far greater scale than abuses by mujahideen.

Talha Ahsan's lawyers say that the definition of jihad used in his indictment is the definition used by al Qaeda, rather than the meaning understood by most Muslims, or by Talha Ahsan himself.

His legal team provided the court with a report by Karen Armstrong, a leading expert in the history of religion and contemporary religious affairs. The report (included in this compilation of expert reports) explores the broad concept of jihad as a commitment to internal and external struggle, and the complex history of armed struggle as a form of jihad. It draws attention to the constraints that Islamic scholarship places on this form of jihad, for example to provide protection for non-combatants and prisoners.

Karen Armstrong says "it is not axiomatic that an Islamic approach to war inevitably collides with a contemporary secular one." She draws attention to the problems created by "the erroneous underlying assumption" amongst non-Muslim commentators that "jihad is terrorism essentially by definition."

She also notes that non-Muslim commentators often "deploy a concept of terrorism, that does not countenance the possibility that non-state actors could use violence in a legal manner." She might have added – though she did not – that this concept is at odds with UN resolutions that recognise the right of armed resistance to oppression.

Babar Ahmad played a more important role than Talha Ahsan in the running of the Azzam website and other related websites. Besides his involvement with the websites, he also admits to having raised funds for the Taliban, and to having arranged to provide “personnel” and equipment.

Babar Ahmad worked as an IT officer at Imperial College, London. Prosecutors claimed that instructions for the manufacture of explosives were found on a computer hard drive recovered from a common room in the area where  Babar Ahmad had his office. But Judge Janet Hall ruled that there was no evidence to connect this document with Babar Ahmad, and noted that there was no other evidence to suggest that Babar Ahmad had any interest in explosives.

Prosecutors also uncovered an elaborate system intended to provide secrecy for personnel sent to Afghanistan. Judge Janet Hall took the view that this did not necessarily imply illegal activity. 

Babar Ahmad now says that he regrets his actions in support of the Taliban, and wishes that he had restricted his websites to coverage of Bosnia and Chechnya. He takes the view, according to a submission by his lawyers, that "the Taliban was not engaged in a defensive jihad against invaders – it was fighting other Muslims in a civil war."

He also accepts that "in failing to hand over bin Laden and his fighters, the Taliban enabled al Qaeda to engage in terrorism."

No offence under British law

But at least until the Terrorism Act 2000 came into force in February 2001 – in other words for most of the lifetime of the Azzam website – there were no provisions in British law that would have made it illegal for British people to travel to Afghanistan and obtain military training there. The situation after the act came into force is less clear.

It is also unclear whether any offence would have been committed by British citizens fighting with or alongside Taliban forces against the Northern Alliance. Max Hill QC, in expert evidence (included in this compilation of expert reports), stated that he had found no record of any UK prosecutions of individuals who fought in Bosnia. He was not asked about the legality of fighting in Afghanistan.

In the years before the US assault on Afghanistan in October 2001, many people in Afghanistan and elsewhere saw the Taliban as the best hope of establishing the rule of law across the country in place of the rule of warlords that had followed the successful struggle against Soviet occupation. For some, the fact that the Taliban were attempting to build an Islamic state made them the subject of particular interest and sympathy.

For their part the Taliban were in desperate need of whatever help they could get. Their problems were exacerbated by the imposition of sanctions against them by the UN Security Council in October 1999. These circumstances fuelled the continued existence of a system of training camps that had come into being in pre-Taliban days during the struggle against the Soviet Union.

The camps were operated by a variety of different militant groups with complex and differing relationships to the Taliban. According to an expert report provided to the US court by Felix Kuehn, Leah Farrall and Alex Strick van Linschoten, (included in this compilation of expert reports) the Taliban recognised 14 such groups.

Al Qaeda was one of these groups. The authors of the report say that it had a “unique anti-American program and ideology.” They say that Al Qaeda and the Taliban “did not share the same ideology or worldview” and that “some senior Taliban figures did not support al-Qaeda’s presence in the country.”

According to the report, most of the foreigners who travelled to Afghanistan for training did so “with the intent of seeking training for participating in combat at an ‘open front’ of jihad, such as the conflict in Chechnya or Bosnia, or on the Taliban’s front against the Northern Alliance; or they arrived solely for the purpose of obtaining training.” The latter group saw military training as a duty in itself, without necessarily intending any particular application of it.

The report says that most foreigners did not arrive with the intent of joining al Qaeda.

Support for the Taliban, and participation in military training arranged by the Taliban or other militant groups in Afghanistan, therefore by no means implies support for al Qaeda or for the kinds of acts that al Qaeda encouraged.

Babar Ahmad's activities were just a small part of a wider movement amongst young British Muslims. Evidence on the number of people involved is unreliable. Expert witness Usama Hasam is a senior researcher at the Quilliam Foundation and a veteran of the jihad against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. In his testimony he estimated that a total of “a few thousand” British Muslims went to training camps overseas (including Afghanistan) in the 1990s 1.

The passage of time has made it fairly clear that these former fighters and trainees are on the whole no danger to anyone. That is more than might be said for British troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, some of whom have gone on to commit racist crimes.

Babar Ahmad was 22 years old when he set up the Azzam.com website in February 1997. He had recently returned from fighting in defence of Muslims in Bosnia, where he had been wounded.

Talha Ahsan travelled to Afghanistan in 1999, at the age of 19, in order to receive military training. He did not speak Arabic, or any other South Asian or Afghan language, at that time. But he was already a scholarly young man, and suffered from Asperger's syndrome. He might be thought an unlikely military recruit, and so it proved.

He did not fit in at the training camps, and was a poor student. At one point he was taken with a small group of other foreigners to visit the front line in the conflict between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. He did not participate in the fighting and was positioned some distance behind the front line. But an unexpected advance by the Northern Alliance forced his group into chaotic retreat. One of the passengers on the truck that Talha Ahsan was travelling on was hit by gunfire and died.

Talha Ahsan subsequently enrolled on an Arabic course at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. He returned to Afghanistan in the early summer of 2001, intending to learn more about the groups from central and east Asia that he had previously met in the training camps. He fell ill and returned home as soon as he was fit to travel. According to his lawyers, he "essentially did nothing on his second trip to Afghanistan." Other testimony corroborates this.

"Jihadist intent"

In the spring of 2001 a US sailor named Hassan Abu-Jihad sent Azzam Publications an unsolicited letter that contained classified information about a naval battle group operating in the Persian Gulf and nearby waters. The letter was sent to the Azzam Publications PO Box. It was Talha Ahsan's job to collect letters from the PO Box, fulfil orders for Azzam material, and create digital copies of correspondence. Accordingly he typed out the contents of the letter and stored it as a Microsoft Word document. Unsurprisingly for an Asperger's sufferer (though his lawyers seem not to have made that point), he made some corrections for spelling and clarity.

Prosecution and defence agreed that the letter was totally unsolicited and that nothing further had been done with it. Yet the prosecution claimed that the fact that the letter had been received and electronically saved "clearly evinces the jihadist intent of Azzam Publications." The prosecution seem to intend the word "jidahist" to be understood as "terrorist."

Talha Ahsan's involvement with Azzam.com ended in August 2001.

Following the terrorist attacks of 11 September that year, Azzam.com posted several articles blaming the attacks on a Zionist conspiracy. It also posted an article entitled "Rules of Jihad Forbid Killing of Innocent Civilians." And in anticipation of a retaliatory attack on Afghanistan, it posted an article on "The Islamic Ruling on Defending Muslim Land under Attack" and another entitled "Urgent appeal to Defend Afghanistan." Towards the end of the month, shortly before the website went down, it published an article offering condolences "to the innocent victims of Zionist terrorism on the events of 11 September 2001."

In interviews conducted by expert witness Marc Sageman (see Marc Sageman's report) in March 2014, Babar Ahmad said that by the end of 2001 he had come to accept that the 9/11 attacks had been carried out by al Qaeda and Usama bin Laden, and that he was sorry to have been mistaken at the time.

Babar Ahmad was arrested at his London home in December 2003, suffering injuries that eventually led the Metropolitan Police to settle his lawsuit against them with a substantial payout. His lawyers say that he still suffers post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the police assault.

He was released without charge a few days later, but was re-arrested in August 2004 in response to an extradition request from the US. Talha Ahsan was arrested in July 2006, also in response to an extradition request from the US.

Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan carried out all of their supposedly criminal activities from Britain. The US claims jurisdiction solely because one of the websites was hosted for a brief period on a server located in Connecticut. Virtually all of the evidence against Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan was obtained in Britain. It includes material seized by the Metropolitan Police from their homes and from Babar Ahmad’s workplace. It also includes problematic and potentially tainted testimony provided, in Britain, by British terrorist “supergrass” Saajid Badat.

None of this evidence has ever been examined by a British court, because the Extradition Act 2003 removed the need for any prima facie evidence to be submitted in support of extraditions to the US. British prosecutors refused to bring a prosecution of their own against Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan, which would have effectively halted the extradition proceedings. They claimed at first that they had insufficient evidence to prosecute, and later that they had had no chance to review the evidence, as it had been sent directly to the US authorities.

These circumstances naturally give rise to a suspicion that the British and US authorities shared a belief that their evidence was less than solid and that it would be easier to convict Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan in the US than in Britain.

Both the men opposed extradition, saying that they wished to be tried in Britain. British extradition law gave them no opportunity to challenge the evidence against them, so their appeal focussed on human rights concerns, particularly over the near-certainty that they would be subject to prolonged and torturous solitary confinement in the US.

In the course of their long struggle against extradition, they and their families made a lot of friends. The campaign became the widest ever conducted within Britain's Muslim community against the unjust processes institutionalised by the so-called “war on terror.”

Criminalising Muslim activism

To a lot of Muslims, the incarceration and attempted extradition of Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan looked like what it was perhaps intended to be – a sign of the criminalisation of a whole world of Muslim political activism that was rightly unsupportive of British and US foreign policy.

The campaign reached well beyond the Muslim community. Babar Ahmad’s father and wife spoke at meetings and demonstrations around Britain, some of them organised by the Stop the War Coalition.

When the G8 met at Gleneagles in Scotland in July 2005, Babar Ahmad's wife received a standing ovation at an alternative conference organised by activist groups in Edinburgh.

Babar Ahmad and his supporters made history again and again. In July 2010 he provided an interview from jail for the Independent. In April 2012 he was taken from the high-security prison in Worcestershire where he was being held to the BBC studios in London to be interviewed for TV.

In 2011, over 140,000 people signed an e-petition created by Babar Ahmad's father calling for Babar Ahmad to be prosecuted in the UK. The petition led to a full Parliamentary debate on Britain's extradition arrangements, and eventually to legal and procedural changes that came into effect shortly after Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan had been packed off to the US.

Talha Ahsan's family, traumatised by his arrest, was initially reticent about public campaigning. But Talha's younger brother Hamja eventually turned himself, in his own words, into an "accidental human rights activist" and constructed an extraordinary support network that reflected the outlook of both brothers. It spanned cultural and artistic figures, families of disparate individuals facing extradition, campaigners against solitary confinement and many others who found that they shared common values.

The long, grim incarceration took its toll on both families. Babar Ahmad's wife divorced him in 2009, the strain having become too great for their marriage. Nevertheless, she submitted a supportive letter to the US court.

Talha Ahsan had been a poet long before he was arrested, and continued to develop his poetry in prison. A selection was published in a little book called This Be the Answer produced by Radio Ramadan Edinburgh in 2011. The poems won praise from writer A L Kennedy, who read some of them at the book's launch.

A poem called Grieving, that had not been included in This Be the Answer, was awarded the Koestler Trust’s Leopold de Rothschild Charitable Trust Platinum Award in 2012.

The appeal against extradition by Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan in the meantime came before the European Court of Human Rights, along with similar appeals by several other terrorism suspects. Their appeals were largely based on the likelihood that, if convicted in the US, they would face long-term solitary confinement at ADX Florence supermax prison. Supermax-style solitary confinement is virtually absent from European prison regimes. A growing body of international opinion holds any form of long-term solitary confinement to be unacceptable.

"Travesty of Justice"

Nevertheless, the court ruled on 10 April 2012 that the extraditions could go ahead. An article in the Independent said that decision “indicates the first green light for US top-security prisons.” Scottish human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar called it a "travesty of justice."

The European Convention on Human Rights provides a safeguard for this kind of situation. Cases may be referred to the court’s Grand Chamber – a panel of 17 judges – if they involve a serious question affecting the interpretation or application of the Convention, or a serious issue of general importance.

Despite the far-reaching implications of the decision on Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan, the judges refused to refer it to the Grand Chamber. The European Court of Human Rights had buckled under political pressure.

In 2012 Britain was in the vanguard of moves to limit the court's authority, as part of a long-term process of reform of the court that is still continuing. Shortly before giving judgment on Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan, European Court judges and US Supreme Court judges met for the first time in history. At an international conference held in Brighton just after the judgment, Britain agreed to changes that were much more modest than it had been expected to press for. The message to the court could not have been clearer.

A chaotic High Court hearing on the men's extradition was held in London at the start of October. It was remarkable mainly for the frankness with which the judges showed their hostility to the appellants. The appeal was of course rejected. Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan were put on a waiting US Department of Justice plane almost as soon as the proceedings closed.

"Supergrass"

Prosecutors in the US used as their star witness a British man called Saajid Badat. He was arrested at his Gloucester home in November 2003. He confessed in a police car to having a shoe-bomb hidden in the house. The bomb was discovered by police shortly afterwards, in the place that he had indicated. Badat told police that he had been given it in Afghanistan and that there had been a plan for him to use it to blow up an airliner in December 2001, as Richard Reid had attempted to do. He said that he had changed his mind in the days before the planned operation.

He pled guilty in 2005 to a single charge of conspiracy to destroy a passenger aircraft whilst in flight. At a sentencing hearing on 22 April he was given a 13-year jail sentence. The light sentence was said to reflect his change of heart. It was later revealed that it was also intended to reward him for agreeing to provide information to the authorities. A further court hearing was held in secret in 2009, after new legislation (the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act) came into force that allowed for what amounted to "supergrass" agreements with convicted criminals. Badat was given an additional discount on his sentence, and in the end served about 5 years in prison.

The secret court hearing (but not the details of the "supergrass" contract) was made public in April 2012, when it was announced that Saajid Badat was to give testimony for the US trial of a man called Adis Medunjanin, on terrorism charges. Saajid Badat has subsequently given evidence for the prosecution in a number of other trials in the US.

There is a live US indictment against Saajid Badat, charging him with having played a part in Richard Reid's shoe-bomb plot – something that he was not charged with in Britain. He will almost inevitably at some point become the subject of an extradition request. In the meantime he is likely to be arrested if he travels to the US. He has therefore provided his testimony to US courts by video.

In testimony in some of these cases he said that he did not completely abandon terrorist aspirations in December 2001, but merely declined to take part in the shoe-bombing plot. This is in conflict with what the judges at his 2005 trial and the 2009 secret hearing had been told.

In December 2005 Saajid Badat was added to the UN Security Council Al-Qaida and Taliban Sanctions list, at Britain's request. He was in jail at the time, serving a light sentence that had been handed down on the basis of assurances that he had given up terrorism. Either the assurances were misleading, or the British authorities were misusing the UN list to increase the pressure on Saajid Badat to cooperate with them more fully.

Saajid Badat was removed from the list on 29 December 2011, again at Britain's request. This was a few months before his first testimony at a US trial.

Saajid Badat is very dependent on the goodwill of the US and British authorities. It is hard to understand how any reliance can be placed on his testimony. But US prosecutors saw him as a key witness in the case against Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan. He was cross-examined in Britain, and a video of his testimony was provided to the court in Newhaven, Connecticut.

In an evidential hearing on the day before sentencing, Judge Janet Hall commented that Saajid Badat's manner on the video was as if he was "reading from a script." The US prosecutors and the authorities in Britain have frequently remarked on Saajid Badat's exceptional memory. In the circumstances, this is hardly a recommendation.

Saajid Badat testified that he had been inspired by audio cassettes distributed by Babar Ahmad. He assisted with Babar Ahmad's activity in London, and then in 1999 travelled to Afghanistan. He says this was for training and also to act as Babar Ahmad's representative there. He also says that in Afganistan he "received" Talha Ahsan, who arrived there after him.

Unlike Talha Ahsan, Saajid Badat spoke fluent Arabic. Expert testimony obtained by Talha Ahsan's lawyers shows that Saajid Badat opted for training linked to al Qaeda, whereas Talha Ahsan did not.

There is a wide gap between the way that prosecutors presented Babar Ahmad's conduct, and the way he and his legal team presented it. It is the kind of gap that ought to be dealt with at trial, not at a sentencing hearing. The prosecution accused Babar Ahmad of lying. It appears that Judge Janet Hall on the whole preferred his viewpoint to theirs.

The judge's decision was a humane one. It will be greeted with relief by Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan, and by their families and all of us who see ourselves as their friends. Both men have already spent far too long in prison on any reasonable interpretation of their actions. Babar Ahmad may continue to be held for some months under conditions of unacceptable isolation.

Regrettably, the sentences are the best that the men could expect, given the long determination of the authorities to make examples of them, and the political implications of their case.

Security states in the dock

Some kind of linkage between al Qaeda and the Taliban is central to international acceptance that the US-British invasion of Afghanistan was at least semi-legal. Expert witnesses at the trial of Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan trashed any easy tabloid conflation of al Qaeda and the Taliban.

What remains is the US position, accepted by Babar Ahmad, that "in failing to hand over bin Laden and his fighters, the Taliban enabled al Qaeda to engage in terrorism." It is perhaps not a great step from this, in US eyes, to argue that a country that fails to hand over suspected terrorists, even in the absence of evidence or due process, renders itself a terrorist regime. That is a step we should all resist.

Despite being manoeuvred, like so many other people in the US, out of their right to a trial, Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan have managed to put the US and British security states in the dock. The result has been a welcome flowering of commentary calling for a greater understanding of the concept of jihad in Muslim culture.

But the persecution of Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan was driven by something stronger than cultural misunderstanding. Since 9/11, the British and US governments have been pursuing their interests in the Middle East and elsewhere in the Muslim world with even more vigour than usual.

Their interests are not those of the mass of the US and British population, but rather of global businesses located in our countries, along with the interlinked fortunes and influence of the people who make up the upper echelons of government.

Our governments are willing to use military force in pursuit of these interests wherever they think it likely to succeed, regardless of international law or the death and destruction that is bound to occur.

They are also willing to do whatever it takes to secure the support, or at least the acquiescence, of the sections of the British population that are linked by religion, culture or family to the target countries. "Whatever it takes" includes legal repression, racist and Islamophobic scapegoating, and favours for anyone willing to advocate for Britain's foreign policy within the Muslim community.

Until all this changes, we can expect to see many more injustices.

Richard Haley is Chair of Scotland Against Criminalising Communities and has been campaigning for many years in support of Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan. The views expressed here are his own.

Photos

Fathers of Talha (right) and Babar (left) on day of extradition © Aisha Maniar;
Srebenica Memorial © Michael Buker;
Demo against extradition © Riffy Powerz

Documents

  • Transcript of sentencing hearing
  • Syed Talha Ahsan's memorandum in aid of sentencing, submitted by Talha Ahsan's legal team
  • Babar Ahmad's memorandum in aid of sentencing, submitted by Babar Ahmad's legal team
  • Various expert reports - includes Karen Armstrong's report on the Muslim religion and the concept of jihad (page 2); Darryl Li's report on the Bosnian jihad (page 31); expert evidence and personal testimony by Usama Hasan (Quilliam Foundation) (page 121); expert advice on UK law from Red Lion Chambers (Max Hill QC) (page 138); report by Felix Kuehn, Leah Farrall and Alex Strick van Linschoten on training camps in Afghanistan (page 148)
  • Report by Marc Sageman on material from a computer hard drive, and interviews with Babar Ahmad. Involves a critique of the expert report by Evan Kohlmann. Extracts from Kohlmann's report have been redacted, presumably because the prosecution chose not to use Kohlmann's report.
  • 1. Usama Hasan based this estimate on a report in the Guardian that quoted intelligence sources as saying that at least 1000 British Muslims went to fight in Bosnia, augmented by his own claim that JIMAS (of which he had been a member) had sent "dozens" to Kashmir and Afghanistan, and  "at least a hundred" to Bosnia, coupled with the fact that several other groups were doing something similar. Usama Hasan (who makes a living from counter-extremism work) might be thought to have an interest in establishing a generous figure for the number of British Muslims involved in military activity overseas, as might the intelligence sources quoted in the Guardian.