British state terrorises Pakistani students

On 8 April, 12 young men were arrested in a high profile ‘anti-terror raid’. Their only ‘crime’ was to be students from Pakistan – the latest target of Britain’s imperialist war in the Middle East and Asia. Nicki Jameson reports.

The government claimed to have smashed a terrorist cell and prevented an ‘Easter bombing campaign’. The press was awash with headlines along the lines of ‘Al Qaeda terror plot to bomb Easter shoppers’ (Daily Telegraph). It quickly transpired that 11 out of the 12 were Pakistani nationals who had come to Britain on student visas. This in turn created its own furore: ‘Student Passport to Terror – Scandal of how Britain hands out thousands of visas to bogus students, including Al Qaeda fanatics’ (Daily Mail).

There was no bombing campaign and the students were not bogus. No amount of police interrogation, house raids and internet trawls could come up with any evidence to charge any of those arrested with anything. The Labour government and Association of Chief Police Officers have repeatedly argued to extend the length of time that people arrested on suspicion of terrorism can be detained, demanding anything from 42 to 90 days. However, neither the current 28-day period nor the previous limit of 14 days were necessary for the police to ascertain that there was not a shred of evidence against any of these young men. By 12 April one 18-year-old had been ‘released’ and by 22 April all 12 were ‘free’. ‘Released’ and ‘free’ are relative here, as in fact ten were not released but simply, as has happened to so many others in similar situations, handed over to the UK Border Agency to be detained under immigration law pending deportation on grounds of ‘national security’.

Bombs that never were
The big story of a bombing campaign that never was is nothing new. In 2000 the police warned that ‘dissident Irish Republicans’ were about to mount a ‘Christmas bombing campaign’. By 2005, Al Qaeda was supposedly planning to disrupt Christmas. Neither of these scare stories came to anything. However the scares assisted all those in Parliament and the police campaigning for yet more draconian legislation and powers.

In 2004, eight men, one woman and a 16-year-old boy were arrested in raids across the northwest of England involving 400 police officers. The Sun rushed to print the claim that a plot to bomb Manchester United football ground had been foiled – ‘Al Qaeda fanatics planned to blow themselves up amid 67,000 unsuspecting supporters...The Islamic fanatics planned to sit all around the ground to cause maximum carnage.’ There was no such plot against the football ground or anywhere else. The innocent people arrested were Iraqi Kurds with no interest in religion and little in politics, but quite a lot in football. They had been targeted out of sheer racism and the link made to Manchester United after a ticket stub was found in one of the flats raided.

In 2006 Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner Paul Stephenson declared that a plan to ‘cause untold death and destruction’ and ‘mass murder on an unimaginable scale’ had been foiled with the arrest of 24 people. ‘We believe that the terrorists’ aim was to smuggle explosives onto planes in hand luggage to detonate them in flight’, Stephenson alleged. However, within days it was clear that there was no such plan. No reservations had been made nor airline tickets purchased by any of those arrested.

The same year, in an operation costing £2 million, 250 police officers, armed and with many dressed in chemical protection suits, sealed off an area in Forest Gate, east London and raided the home of brothers Mohammed Abdul Kahar and Abul Koyair, who were supposedly manufacturing cyanide for a ‘dirty bomb’. They shot Mohammed Abdul Kahar at point-blank range, while Abul Koyair was wounded in the head. Both were arrested and detained for seven days before being released without charge. Nine other people, including a baby, were taken to Plaistow police station, held in the police canteen and ‘persuaded’ to give DNA samples and finger prints, with no access to solicitors. Again, there was no bomb and no plot.

Of the 1,471 arrests under anti-terrorism law which took place between 11 September 2001 and 31 March 2008, only 521 resulted in any kind of charge and only 340 in a charge related to terrorism (the majority of which charges were the specious ‘possession of an article for terrorist purposes’, ‘membership of a proscribed organisation’ and ‘fundraising for terrorist purposes’). Of those arrested just 13% have gone on to be convicted of any kind of terrorist offence.

Attacking students
Even after it was clear that none of those arrested in April were guilty of anything, the attack on the colleges that some of them had come to study at continued. On 21 May The Times headlined ‘Degrees of dishonesty’. A supporting article was called ‘Sham colleges open doors to Pakistani terror suspects’; the continued implication being that Pakistani students coming to Britain are generally terrorist sympathisers as well as ‘immigration cheats’.

This all fits in very well with Immigration Minister Phil Woolas’ current crusade against foreign students. On 1 April new measures came into force whereby all educational establishments accepting foreign students have to be vetted by the UK Borders Agency.

A climate of terror
It is no coincidence that, as Britain and the US shift the military focus from Iraq to Afghanistan and spread their operation across the border, those under attack are from Pakistan. British imperialist offensives are always accompanied by racism and criminalisation of anyone here who might be even slightly supportive to or identify with those under attack. The constant overlap between the use of anti-terrorism, criminal and immigration law and the accompanying endless media cacophony ensure that, even though repeated raids are revealed to have targeted the innocent, the community under attack will continue to be treated with suspicion.

Fighting back
Manchester RCG comrades have joined the Justice for the North West Ten campaign, which was set up in solidarity with these criminalised young men, who continue to be held in the high security wing of Strangeways prison. The campaign has been publicising the case and demonstrating regularly outside the prison. See www.j4nw10.org for more information.

FRFI 209 June / July 2009

 

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