Editor’s note: Karin Friedemann is a TMO Columnist. Any opinions expressed here are her own.
A lack of funds has forced the United Nations to stop providing food vouchers for 1.7 million Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, the World Food Programme (WFP) said on December 1. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed
Mohammed Ahmed and Yusuf Sarwar, both 22, were arrested at Heathrow Airport in January 2014 as part of a government crackdown on “radicalized jihadists.” These days, this term could mean anyone who went to Syria including for humanitarian reasons. In May, the two pled guilty to one count of engaging in conduct in preparation of terrorism acts contrary to Section 5 of the Terrorism Act. Ironically, the Guardian reports that police did not know the men had travelled to Syria, where they spent eight months, until one of their mothers contacted detectives in May last year, shortly after the pair had left, reporting her son missing. She had found a note written by her son saying he had gone to fight and wished to “die as a martyr.” Instead of receiving help in locating her son, police raided her home and arrested her son when he tried to return home.
The mother of Yusuf Sarwar, in a press release distributed by CAGE, insisted that her son had “not committed any offenses, killed anyone or fought against any armed forces. He has simply secured areas, dug graves, fasted and given food to areas which were in need of dire help… I feel prison is not the answer, neither is my son radicalized neither is he a terrorist.” Farooq Siddiqui, of the Prevent programme, is calling for the UK to stop criminalizing young Muslims who travel to Syria to fight against Bashar al-Assad. Mr Siddiqui asked why the government has threatened to arrest British Muslims who return from Syria while it allows young people to fight for Israel and other countries with impunity. And yet there is no enforcement of prison for those British that join IDF.
“They willingly, enthusiastically and with a great deal of purpose, persistence and determination embarked on a course intended to commit acts of terrorism,” Judge Michael Topolski said. “Both of these defendants are fundamentalists who are interested in and deeply committed to violent extremism.”
In an interview with Sky TV, former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg said the pair had been branded “terrorists” despite having “no intention of harming anyone.” He also believes the two appear “bewildered by their situation” and that they probably went to Syria out of a feeling of moral duty to help. In the end, Begg said that they came back because they were frustrated by all the infighting amongst the rebel groups.
“I spent several months in prison with these two men and I do not consider them to be a threat to the British public in any way, just in the same way the police that arrested them said they posed no threat whatsoever,” Begg stated in the interview. He also questioned Ahmed and Sarwar’s sentence and accused the judge of maintaining a double standard when handling cases involving Muslims and terrorism. “How can it be that former soldier Ryan McGee, who was found with a bomb with 187 pieces of shrapnel and evidence of a hate ideology was given 2 years and described as a misguided teenager, while these men have been given over 12 years and branded as terrorists despite them having no intention of harming anyone,” asked Begg, who has demanded that the case be appealed.
British security forces have stepped up surveillance and arrests of terrorism suspects in recent months, and lawmakers are set to toughen anti-terrorism laws in a bid to stem the flow of Britons joining Islamic State (IS) jihadists fighting in Syria and Iraq. An estimated 500 Britons are reported to have travelled abroad to become jihadists and officials fear the return of battle-hardened and radicalized fighters.
The controversial anti-terrorism powers, which are being widely used to harass and gather intelligence on Muslims traveling to and from the UK, are being challenged by several human rights organizations. Schedule 7, which forms part of the Terrorism Act 2000, allows police to hold someone at a UK port for questioning for up to nine hours about whether they have been involved with acts of terrorism. Anyone detained must “give the examining officer any information in his possession which the officer requests” or face arrest. Police need to have no reasonable suspicion to stop, interrogate or detain anybody.