CAGE – a group formed by former Guantanamo Bay detainees which claims to be a human rights organisation – has stepped back from a clear opportunity to disown comments made by their research director earlier this year, in which he called Mohammed Emwazi, better known as the ISIS executioner Jihadi John, a “beautiful”, “kind” and “humble” man.
In a pained evidence session in front of the British Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee yesterday, Dr Adnan Siddiqui, director of CAGE drew harsh criticism from the committee for offering up vague and contradictory answers to direct questions, and stated: “I accept that the concept of jihad is an important concept.”
Despite this, the committee was able to establish that Dr. Siddiqui did not condemn his colleague’s remarks regarding Emwazi; did condemn the government’s targeting of Jihadi John in a drone strike as an act of “vengeance”; and seemed to give his support to a suicide bombing in Aleppo which resulted in the escape of 300 prisoners.
Despite being established more than a decade ago, CAGE reached the peak of its fame in March of this year when, in a press conference, research director Asim Qureshi described Mohammed Emwazi, who he met repeatedly in 2012, as “such a beautiful young man […] He was the most humble young person that I knew. This is the kind of person that we are talking about.”
Committee chairman Keith Vaz immediately moved to challenge Siddiqui and his colleague Ibrahim Mohamoud, CAGE’s public relations executive, on Qureshi’s description of Emwazi, asking whether CAGE stood by the statement.
After some prevaricating, Mohamoud replied: “It was very clear at the press conference that the statement referred to what he was at the time, and in no way referred to what he became.”
The subject was revisited a number of times throughout the session, culminating in one of the most heated exchanges of the session when former barrister Victoria Atkins challenged him, demanding “Do you condemn it, yes or no?”
Faced with her onslaught Siddiqui finally owned: “I condemn what he is now, or was now.”
However, Siddiqui was moved much more quickly to condemn Emwazi’s death by drone strike, which he described as an act of “vengeance”, suggesting that he “should have been tried” instead. On this he was challenged by James Berry MP, who asked whether he knew the difference between stopping a continuing threat and seeking vengeance.
Siddiqui replied: “I think if you speak to security analysts, taking out Jihadi John made very little difference to the war on terror. He was not a commander, it was an act of vengeance.
“Why would they need to take him out rather than command and control? My personal opinion is that it was an act of vengeance because it made no difference to the war on terror or the war on ISIS.”
When asked by Ms. Atkins whether he stood by a statement he made applauding the suicide bombing by a British jihadist of a prison in Aleppo, Siddiqui responded: “I do, actually”.
Asked whether CAGE would stop apologising for terrorist activities such as that particular bombing, he responded bluntly “you call that terrorism?”
The bombing resulted in the deaths of dozens of people – and the escape of over 300 prisoners. At the time Siddiqui said that for the liberty of the prisoners the death toll was “a price worth paying”.
His laissez-faire attitude to the Aleppo bombing may go some way to explaining why CAGE did not release a statement following the Paris attacks.
At various points the lack of a statement from CAGE on the attack was blamed on the staff being at a restaurant at the time of the attack, on the organisation being “busy” that day, on their lack of resources, and on the government itself for closing CAGE events down. In truth, their organisation and its chief representative, Moazzam Begg, had been attending an extremist’s summit in Bedford.
Although he agreed that CAGE condemned the attack, he suggested that there would have been little value in his organisation releasing an official statement to that effect following the event as “we have nothing to say in respect to it. Our condemnation means little.
“Those people who expect us to condemn and are waiting for us to condemn, we don’t value their opinion because they’ll have another thing that they want us to condemn”.
However, he later suggested that Muslims were suffering following the Paris attacks, telling the committee that female advocates for CAGE had wanted to attend the session but were too afraid to travel in public for fear of retribution.
His repeated excuses and question-dodging finally led Chuka Umunna to urge “frankly, if I may say so, give – and this is coming from a bunch of politicians – give straight answers to straight questions!”