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Life sentence for 'tortured' Briton convicted of directing terrorism

The Guardian

A British man convicted of running an al-Qaida terror cell was jailed for life today, with the judge directing that he must serve a minimum of 10 years before he can be considered for parole.

Rangzieb Ahmed, 33, from Rochdale, was the first person to be convicted by a British court of the charge of directing a terrorist organisation.

He was also convicted of membership of al-Qaida, after the jury at Manchester crown court heard evidence that he ran a three-man terrorist cell that was preparing to commit murder.

The jury did not hear that three of Ahmed's fingernails had been removed, however, nor that he alleges they were torn out with pliers by Pakistani intelligence agents, shortly before he was interviewed by officers from MI5.

Ahmed's accusations echo those of a number of other British terrorists and terrorism suspects detained in Pakistan in recent years, who say they suffered brutal mistreatment at the hands of the country's notorious Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency before being questioned by British intelligence officers.

Ahmed's lawyers are planning to appeal against his conviction and launch a civil action on his behalf, accusing British authorities of failing in their duty of care to protect him during the 13 months that he spent in Pakistani custody, after being detained in August 2006.

The prosecution did not rely on anything that was gleaned during his interrogation, however, and the case was based largely upon surveillance evidence gathered in Dubai and the UK before he was detained in Pakistan.

Warning Ahmed that he would be released only when he was no longer a danger to the public and had forsaken his radical views, Mr Justice Saunders said: "The prosecution case accepted by the jury was you were not one of the leaders, but a recruiter and organiser of smaller terrorist cells throughout the world to work for al-Qaida. You were a not insignificant member of al-Qaida - a terror group that is prepared to kill and maim innocent people indiscriminately to achieve their aims.

"I am satisfied you are dedicated to the cause of Islamic terrorism. You are an intelligent, capable and superficially reasonable man who is involved in terrorism. That makes you an extremely dangerous man."

One of Ahmed's accomplices, Habid Ahmed, 29, a Manchester taxi driver, who is not related, was jailed for 10 years, after being convicted of being a member of al-Qaida.

Rangzieb Ahmed's allegations against MI5 surfaced during a court hearing before his trial, at which his lawyers unsuccessfully argued that the case against him should be dropped because of the way he had been treated in Pakistan.

A photograph showing his injuries, which was produced in open court, was obtained by the Guardian despite attempts by the Crown Prosecution Service to prevent it being made public. The CPS had considered arguing that it should not be released because the copyright was owned by Greater Manchester police, and even contemplated asking that a court hearing on the issue of copyright should be heard "in camera", with the media and public excluded.

During the pre-trial hearing, Ahmed said that after being detained by the ISI in August 2006 he was beaten with sticks, whipped with electric cables, sexually humiliated and deprived of sleep. During one interrogation, he said, he was forced to the ground after refusing to answer questions about his contacts in Lahore, and held down by several men. One interrogator sat on the floor beside him, he said, and forced the jaw of a pair of pliers beneath the left side of his small fingernail. He then slowly prised the left hand side of the nail upwards.

"I was saying: 'I will tell you everything, I will tell you everything. Leave me and I will tell you everything.' It was very painful, I was crying out, I was screaming. I said 'leave me, please God', but they were not listening."

Ahmed said that his interrogator moved next to the right hand side of the nail, and began slowly raising that side, all the time asking the same questions. Next, the pliers were placed under the middle of the nail, and the entire nail slowly raised and removed. The whole process, Ahmed said, took between four and eight minutes.

Then, he says, he was lifted onto a stool and a man in western clothes came into the room and gave him a painkilling injection in his left forearm. Ointment was applied to the wound, which was wrapped in plastic and bandaged. He was blindfolded and hooded again, led to his cell and allowed to sleep.

The next morning, he said, it started all over again: this time the nail on the ring finger of his left hand was removed while he was asked questions about Shehzad Tanweer and Mohammad Sidique Khan, two of the suicide bombers who murdered 52 people in the July 2005 attacks on London's transport network. Again, he says, he was given a painkilling injection before being returned to his cell.

On the third day, according to Ahmed, the nail on his middle finger was removed while he was being interrogated about an alleged plot to attack the US, and was again given a painkilling injection at the end of the process.

Ahmed's barrister, Michael Topolski QC, argued that because of his treatment in Pakistan, it would be an abuse of the court's process for his trial to go ahead. He said that agents of the British state, "the security services and also the police condoned or connived in his torture by providing his torturers with questions", that the conduct of the state authorities had failed to uphold the administration of justice, and that to proceed would put Britain under a clear breach of its obligations, under international law, to suppress and discourage torture.

The question of exactly when Ahmed's fingernails were removed was central to the hearing that took place before his trial began. The Crown submitted evidence suggesting that they had been removed while he was a prisoner in an Indian jail in the 1990s, after being detained in Kashmir; the defence submitted evidence suggesting that this could not be the case, while the Crown's own pathologist said that at least one injury appeared to be just months old when the photograph was taken in September 2007.

The judge rejected Ahmed's claim that they were removed early in his detention in Pakistan, shortly before being interviewed by two MI5 officers. MI5's own response to the allegation that it had colluded in his torture was heard in camera . Part of the judge's ruling is also being kept secret, so it remains unclear what he had to say about Ahmed's treatment while a prisoner in Pakistan, or whether he commented upon MI5's conduct.

Whatever lies within the secret ruling, Ahmed's lawyers believe there are grounds to appeal and to launch a civil action for damages against MI5. It is not disputed is that MI5 and Greater Manchester police passed questions to the ISI to be put to Ahmed during his interrogation. Nor is it disputed that MI5 officers questioned Ahmed while he was in ISI custody, while consular officials at the British High Commission in Islamabad did not see him until moments before he was deported after 13 months in custody.

Helen Rawlins, head of the consular section, told the court that she took up the post in March 2007, and it was May 2008 before she learned of Ahmed's detention. By that time, he had been in custody for nine months, with the full knowledge of MI5.

More Information

British Pakistani detained in Pakistan - SACC report, 16 August 2007