Police have charged former Guantanamo Bay detainee and self-styled ‘human rights’ activist Moazzam Begg with Syria-related terrorism offences.
West Midlands police have accused the 45-year-old – who founded the CagePrisoners organisation following his stint in Guantanamo Bay – of providing terrorist training and funding overseas terrorism. He is due to appear at Westminster Magistrates Court in London today.
A second suspect has been named as 44-year-old Gerrie Tahari. Both live in the Birmingham area.
In 2010, the human rights campaigner Gita Saghal was suspended from Amnesty International for questioning the group’s links to Begg’s organisation. She subsequently resigned, stating: “[Amnesty] have also confirmed that the views of Begg, his associates and his organisation Cageprisoners, do not trouble them. They have stated that the idea of jihad in self defence is not antithetical to human rights; and have explained that they meant only the specific form of violent jihad that Moazzam Begg and others in Cageprisoners assert is the individual obligation of every Muslim.”
Numerous British members of parliament and high profile public figures have leapt to Begg’s defence in the past. The former Gitmo detainee has shared platforms in the UK Parliament, and even been named in parliamentary procedures such as Early Day Motions.
Begg’s status at Gitmo was fought by numerous MPs in the House of Commons, such as Roger Godsiff (Lab), Diane Abbott (Lab), Oona King (Lab), and more. Begg was featured in an Early Day Motion (439) in 2009 which was signed by 46 members of parliament from across the political spectrum.
Begg, who has also written for the Guardian newspaper, stated in 2004, “I am a law-abiding citizen of the UK and attest vehemently to my innocence before God and the law of any crime–though none has ever been alleged. I have neither ever met Osama Bin Laden, nor been a member of al Qaida–or any synonymous paramilitary organisation, party or group. Neither have I engaged in hostile acts against the USA, nor assisted such groups in the same . . . I reiterate my intention to seek justice at every possible level available”.
Last year, Begg was due to attend the City University Islamic Society’s annual dinner as a special guest alongside the Islamist hate preacher Haitham al-Haddad. The Student Rights website also exposed Begg’s organisation’s intention to host a pro-jihadism event at a university campus, though the details were soon changed after the original reporting on the matter. Cageprisoners changed the nature of the event from being about jihad to being about ‘Islamophobia’.
Begg was arrested on Tuesday. Three other suspects arrested with him are still being questioned.
Begg was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 as an “enemy combatant” and was held by U.S. forces in Afghanistan and later sent to the U.S.-run prison camp in Cuba.
He was released without being charged in 2005 and has directed an advocacy group called CagePrisoners (now ‘Cage’).
UPDATE: The BBC reports that Begg appeared at Westminster Magistrates Court and denied the charges of providing terrorist training and funding terrorism overseas. He will next appear at the Old Bailey on 14 March.
AP contributed to this report