There is ample evidence that the British State spies on Muslims under the excuse of countering terrorism. But has this covert infiltration been a success in winning the war on terror? Or has it made the general public lose its confidence in the British police and MI5 for gratuitously targeting the whole Muslim community rather than the extremist groups? In 2007 when the UK troops were bogged down in the quagmire of Iraq and Afghanistan, the government put into place the counter-terrorism strategy called Preventing Violent Extremism - Prevent in short. In 2010, the strategy gained momentum to aggressively confront Islamist ideology. This allowed the State to freely go around, intercept, investigate or scrutinize anybody they wish based on the fine grain of intelligence that they may pose a likely threat to the State national security. This way in today’s UK, the innocent people who have had no involvement in terrorism fall victim to intrusive surveillance, deportation or incarceration without charge or trial.
TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00
Narration: The evidence is overwhelming: the British state is spying on Muslims. Undercover police and security officers are infiltrating mosques, communities and homes and are aggressively seeking to entrap.
SOUNDBITE [English], Zulaikha Farooqi, Munir Farooqi’s Daughter: “My sister was five years old when her father was snatched away from her. If it wasn’t for these two undercover cops we wouldn’t have to go through this torture.”
Narration: But how does this covert infiltration work? What tactics are the police and MI5 using?
SOUNDBITE [English], Shaheeb Sher, Manningham Human Rights Center: “It’s always this push for information. And yes of course we use recording devices which are often placed within a mosque or an environment of worship.”
Narration: I’ve been researching the British Muslim community – on and off – for the past 15 years. I want to know if the police and MI5’s tactics can ever be justified. Are they gratuitously targeting a whole community or are they winning the war on terror?
SOUNDBITE [English], Roshan Muhammed Salih, Host: “So we’re on our way to Manchester from London to meet a Muslim family who were targeted by undercover police officers who pretended to be Muslims. At the end of around a year-long investigation the head of the family, the father, was sent to jail for terrorism offences”
Narration: This is the family home of Munir Farooqi, who was convicted of terrorism in 2011. He’s currently serving an 18 year prison sentence after being found guilty of trying to recruit people to fight British soldiers in Afghanistan.
Undercover policemen pretending to be Muslims spent a year frequenting this home, accepting the family’s hospitality and asking them questions about Islam. But all the time they were wearing secret recording devices and were filming what was being said.
SOUNDBITE [English], Zulaikha Farooqi, Munir Farooqi’s Daughter: “He loves to do daw’ah, to tell people about Islam and to speak to a lot of non-Muslims and reverts and help them in every way possible. He spent a lot of his free time basically distributing free literature about Islam, Quran in English translation, and helping as many people as he could in the community.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Munir Farooqi: “The Quran is saying that we have all the answers. Challenge me the Quran is saying. Ask me the questions; we have all the answers in the Quran.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Haris Farooqi, Munir Farooqi’s Son: “He’d always go that extra mile to fulfill whatever you need, not just for family members but even people outside the family - that was just part of his character, his nature. I mean it was his warm-hearted hospitality that was used against him to frame him.”
Narration: Munir Farooqi can be seen here at his Manchester street stall spreading information about Islam. It’s estimated that he converted around one person a week during the 10 years that he ran the stall.
SOUNDBITE [English], Haris Farooqi, Munir Farooqi’s Son: “There were about three, four tables, that’s where all the literature that was distributed to the non-Muslims and the Muslims. It’s not really isolated from the rest of the community and it’s pretty blatant what he was doing. There was nothing to shy away from, there was only one message and that was preaching Islam which has nothing to do with terrorism. The officers, they pretended to show an interest in Islam and within a month or two of their deployment, albeit after their regular visits to the house, they decided to embrace Islam - one embraced in our house and the other at the local mosque. And that’s where the trust just grew.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Zulaikha Farooqi, Munir Farooqi’s Daughter:“They were really intruding into privacy and into family life. It would obviously upset me but nobody actually doubted the fact that they would be undercover officers. In this footage Farooqi can be heard allegedly encouraging jihad against British soldiers in Afghanistan. These remarks proved to be his downfall.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Munir Farooqi: “Jihad is not just go and give your life away, no. If we’re going to go there we’ll make sure we take at least forty, fifty people with us.”
Narration: But his family feels that he’s the victim of entrapment and will be released on appeal. And the manner of his conviction still leaves a bitter taste in their mouths.
SOUNDBITE [English], Zulaikha Farooqi, Munir Farooqi’s Daughter: “My sister was five years old when her father was snatched away from her. She’s lost her childhood because of these two men. My daughter is growing up without her grandfather.”
TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00
SOUNDBITE [English], Haris Farooqi, Munir Farooqi’s Son: “I think it’s pretty sick to … not just to pretend that you’re a Muslim but to pretend that you’re part of any faith. It’s not a crime against a person; it’s a crime against God.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Roshan Muhammed Salih, Host: “Do you have problems now trusting other people because of what happened to you?”
SOUNDBITE [English], Zulaikha Farooqi, Munir Farooqi’s Daughter: “Yeah definitely, to the extent that even when we got raided my husband – he’s a new Muslim, he’s English - and I couldn’t even trust him because I thought maybe he’s an undercover officer.”
Narration: After a four month trial at Manchester Crown court Farooqi was convicted of preparing acts of terrorism, of soliciting to murder and of disseminating terrorist publications. The judge called him a very dangerous man, an extremist, a fundamentalist with a determination to fight abroad. But Manchester police didn’t stop there. They’ve now applied to seize the family home of Munir Farooqi because they say his offences were committed there. The family and human rights groups say that this is collective punishment and criminalization of innocent family members. The 9/11 attacks on the United States alerted Britain to the danger that so-called Islamic extremists might be planning to attack its own soil. And after the UK joined the US in invading and occupying two Muslim countries – Iraq and Afghanistan – that perceived threat only increased. At home, foreign nationals were targeted for detention without charge or trial, and kept in prison indefinitely. They were also targeted for deportation. Then the July 2005 London bombings realized the authorities’ worst fears. The bombings were swiftly followed by draconian anti-terror legislation which allowed for terror suspects – whether foreign or British - to be placed under house arrest on mere suspicion alone.
SOUNDBITE [English], Roshan Muhammed Salih, Host: “In 2007, with UK troops still bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan the government came up with an anti-terror strategy called Prevent which mainly consisted of funding Muslim organizations to turn the community away from radicalization. The idea was that so-called moderate Muslims – who weren’t overly-preoccupied with British foreign policy – would defeat the radicals in the court of Muslim opinion. But by common consent Prevent was a failure.”
Narration: Rizwan Sabir was arrested in 2008 after his university tipped off police that he was reading an al-Qaida manual. It later turned out this was purely for legitimate PHD research.
SOUNDBITE [English], Rizwaan Sabir, Counter-Terrorism Expert: “Unless you address the systemic injustices that one is actually involved in on a domestic front and on an international front, the reason why people want to use maybe armed violence or armed action against the British state continues to flourish.”
Narration: With the advent of a new coalition government in 2010, Prevent was updated with a new emphasis on targeting young people at risk of radicalization. It also stressed the need to aggressively confront Islamist ideology.
SOUNDBITE [English], Rizwaan Sabir, Counter-Terrorism Expert: “The government’s Prevent strategy is focused predominantly on countering ideology and ideas of what they consider to be the enemy, in this case Muslims who believe in a politicized form of Islam. What that essentially is, it’s a carte blanche approach for the state to go around intercepting, investigating or scrutinizing anybody they so wish based on a series of indicators that the state has created.”
Narration: According to some estimates, at least 8 thousand British Muslims are under surveillance, especially young people in schools, colleges and universities. Internet activity, especially, is being closely monitored. Community leaders are also being targeted because of the belief that they can control their followers. And women too are the focus of attention because of their perceived influence in the home. In 2010 hundreds of security cameras began appearing in the Sparkbrook and Washwood Heath areas of Birmingham. What did these areas have in common - their residents were around 90% Muslim of course.
SOUNDBITE [English], Roshan Muhammed Salih, Host: “When the police were challenged over the cameras they were very evasive and they pretended that is was a big scheme to combat traffic and anti-social behavior. But then they were rumbled and it emerged that the money for the cameras had come from a counter terrorism fund and the intention was to target the Muslim community as a whole.”
TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00
SOUNDBITE [English], Steve Jolly, Civil Liberties Campaigner: “And we discovered that the position of these cameras formed a ring around two Muslim communities and it seemed to be not about community safety or untaxed vehicles or anti-social behavior, which is what we were told when we asked, it very much looked like it was about spying on Muslims.”
Narration: Birmingham resident Steve Jolly ran a campaign to uncover the truth about the cameras in the face of police denials and stonewalling.
But eventually his tenacity bore fruit – the police admitted they had misled, apologized and took down the cameras.
SOUNDBITE [English], Steve Jolly, Civil Liberties Campaigner: “It was a pretty amazing outcome because a lot of people said you’ll never achieve those objectives, you can’t take on the police and the government, particularly if it’s national security, so even my fellow campaigners was doubtful that we would win but we did. You’re not going to get the community to talk to you if you declare that everyone is a suspect.
SOUNDBITE [English], Roshan Muhammed Salih, Host: “Are the police still spying on Birmingham Muslims now?”
SOUNDBITE [English], Steve Jolly, Civil Liberties Campaigner: “I believe so; I just don’t think they’ll do it in the same way. They won’t get caught out this time.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Roshan Muhammed Salih, Host: “The spy camera scandal has left a bitter taste in the mouths of Muslims in Birmingham. The cameras themselves may well have been taken away but the suspicion remains that the community is being spied upon, victimized and targeted.”
VOX POPS [English], Local People: “Male speaker 1: It’s a bit of an intrusion on your privacy, you feared it, you know you don’t see special circumstances for other communities in regards to that. You know you do feel a little bit branded but you know there’s two ways to it and as long as you aren’t doing anything I don’t feel you really have anything to worry about yourselves.
Male speaker 2: We most definitely live in a Big Brother state bit ultimately as ordinary citizens there not a lot of power that you have. This kind of like camouflage of choice or power that the individual has, it’s all an illusion.”
Narration: But despite the controversy, Birmingham Central Mosque says that relations with the police are still good and that the Muslim community is overwhelmingly peaceful and law-abiding. The mosque does not believe Muslims are being targeted.
SOUNDBITE [English], Abdul Rashid, Birmingham Mosque Treasure: “They are targeting the extremist people in all communities, people who want to create problems.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Roshan Muhammed Salih, Host: “So if the police comes inside this mosque and places spies inside this mosque, places cameras inside this mosque, acts with deception and subterfuge you have no problem with that?”
SOUNDBITE [English], Abdul Rashid, Birmingham Mosque Treasure: “Acting with sort of deception and subterfuge I would have a problem with that because I’m absolutely open if the police want to come to talk to us about anything we are here.”
Narration: It’s clear though that many Muslims in Birmingham – and especially the youth – believe that Birmingham mosque leaders are out-of-touch.
SOUNDBITE [English], Nasir Zameer, Birmingham Resident: “It’s left a stain and a pain in the community here. It’s going to take many years for the community here, not just the Muslim community but the entire community, to bring that trust back into the policing.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Roshan Muhammed Salih, Host: “We were just in Birmingham mosque now and the mosque treasury spokesman said that ultimately if you’ve got nothing to hide then you’ve got nothing to worry about.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Nasir Zameer, Birmingham Resident: “I think that’s a lame answer to give. If you want to fit 270/80 cameras around Birmingham and a lot of them hidden, covet cameras then they need to be in public and spread across the entire of Birmingham, otherwise we want them down.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Roshan Muhammed Salih, Host: “We’re learning more and more about covert police surveillance of the Muslim community but we haven’t got the full picture yet, in fact far from it. But we do know that it’s probably modeled on US surveillance of so-called dissident groups over the few past decades and indeed British surveillance of similar groups during the same time period. So I’ve come here to a small bookshop tucked away in an east London side street to meet a guy who knows how it all works.”
Narration: Activist Andy Meinke says he’s been targeted by the police over many years because of his work with the environmental movement. This includes being followed by police at demonstrations and harassment at his home and workplace.
SOUNDBITE [English], Andy Meinke, Freedom Press Bookshop: “You’ll get things like, you’re pulled over and searched and someone will say to me ‘give us your name and address’ and I’ll say ‘well there’s no legal power in this country to demand name and address in the street’ and they say ‘oh go on Andy you’re gonna tell us that you live at 34 Chaucer Rd aren’t you?’ They know everything about hundreds of people; they have a database of literally about 15,000 protestors in the radical left. Two people that I would have regarded as close friends later turned out to be police officers - Mark Kennedy and Jim Sutton. I would have completely trusted them, I told those lots of personal things about my life and I think frankly knowing other of my friends who have actually had relationships with them that I got off very lightly”
SOUNDBITE [English], Roshan Muhammed Salih, Host:“So they’re basically going around having sex and having children with women under false pretences.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Andy Meinke, Freedom Press Bookshop: “Andy answer: Yeah”
Narration: Meinke says that the police and MI5 are deliberately exaggerating the threat of terrorism because huge government resources which are there to be won. The Muslim community is the obvious target.
SOUNDBITE [English], Andy Meinke, Freedom Press Bookshop: “This shop is based in Whitechappel which has a very high Muslim population and we just walking the streets see every day the regular harassment of young Muslims and that is having a devastating effect on those people’s confidence on how society works. The government, and the state, big business, genuinely doesn’t want those problems solved, they’re quite happy with this kind of high tension situation because it’s at the end of the day a money making business.”
Narration: Many believe that British police tactics are based on the American COINTELPRO program - a series of covert FBI projects aimed at monitoring, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting political organizations.
SOUNDBITE [English], Jedgar Hoover, FBI Director: “The Communist Party of the United States is a fifth column if there ever was one. They are seeking to weaken America, just as they did in their era of obstruction when they were aligned with the Nazis. Their goal is the overthrow of our government.”
Narration: Allegedly, tactics included discrediting targets through psychological warfare; smearing individuals in the media; harassment; wrongful imprisonment; and illegal violence, including assassination. Targets included communists, the civil rights movement and other so-called subversives. All in the name of protecting national security, preventing violence and maintaining social and political order.
SOUNDBITE [English], Roshan Muhammed Salih, Host: “After September 11, COINTELPRO tactics were transferred to the Muslim community. The New York Police Department’s counterterrorism efforts focused on spying on Muslim neighborhoods, infiltrating Muslim-owned businesses and cataloging mosques. More than a dozen colleges in the north-east were a focus of the program which would monitor websites and Muslim student associations.”
Narration: Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg believes those tactics have been transferred to the UK.
SOUNDBITE [English], Moazzam Begg, Director, Cageprisoners:“These individuals, these agents provocateurs in particular were coming into the community and talking about and asking young, impressionable individuals perhaps things about would you like to go to Afghanistan. What do you think we should do in Iraq? What do you think is the best way to respond to all of these things, don’t you think that Islam says that we should fight jihad against the enemy and so forth? And putting into the minds of these people, these individuals, ideas that they wouldn’t have had had they not come across these men, these provocateurs. In the United Kingdom and elsewhere they have a plethora of anti-terrorist legislation, they already can hold people without charge or trial having done so already for decades on end. They have laws the likes of which they’ve never had even during the height of the IRA campaign when they were bombing right across the United Kingdom. So the arguments that this is all in the interests of national security simply don’t wash.”
Narration: Shaheeb Sher admits to being an MI5 spy between 2000 and 2003. A former youth worker, he says he was blackmailed and threatened into spying on Muslim leaders and youth in the northern English city of Bradford. This involved planting bugs in mosques, secretly recording conversations and encouraging talk of jihad in an attempt to entrap.
SOUNDBITE [English], Shaheeb Sher, Manningham Human Rights Center: “Occupying a position of responsibility within the community there’s an access to that community. It was impossible to say ‘no’ to them. They blackmail for financial reasons, they blackmail with threats of imprisonment, incarceration, they allude to your own personal health.”
Narration: Sher says he doesn’t know what was done with the information he passed on but that it was probably used to blackmail others. He says he deeply regrets this now.
SOUNDBITE [English], Shaheeb Sher, Manningham Human Rights Center: “I do very much feel that I’ve betrayed my community, not least because this was the community that provided the home and the environment to support our family from when we first arrived in this country.”
Narration: Aside from combating terrorism, MI5’s intention – according to some academics - is to divide the Muslim community against each other and prevent a united voice emerging. And disturbingly, Shaheeb Sher says MI5 spying isn’t simply a one-way street. He believes that many Muslim leaders are in fact M15 assets who’ve sold the community out for financial or other reasons.
TIME CODE: 20:00_25:00
SOUNDBITE [English], Rizwaan Sabir, Counter-Terrorism Expert: “If you are fighting on point of principle and reason then I think it’s very important to keep a clear boundary over who your partners are and who you partner with. Negotiation, discussion and communication is very important – especially between two warring sides or two sides that are at the opposite ends of the spectrum – but fighting one day and them becoming best friends the next day, it just shows a hypocrisy”
Narration: Shaheeb Sher says he’s sure that MI5 is still spying on Bradford’s Muslims. In fact, he thinks the spying has increased over the last decade. He says his own contact with M15 stopped abruptly in 2003 but resumed seven years later when he was summoned to a police station under false pretences. This time, however, the attention wasn’t welcome. Deeply ashamed and guilt-ridden over his previous role, he’s now made a complaint against MI5 for threats, blackmail and harassment. But he’s not hopeful of a positive result as he says the security services are nearly untouchable.
SOUNDBITE [English], Roshan Muhammed Salih, Host: “Should we draw a red line as a community, no contact with the security services?”
SOUNDBITE [English], Shaheeb Sher, Manningham Human Rights Center: “Absolutely, we must be very firm with this because what we essentially have here is an organization that is unregulated, unscrutinised, with no oversight at present from a parliamentary committee. The best option I feel is to have some kind of a community consensus and a community avenue where the community leaders can address these things collectively in concert.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Roshan Muhammed Salih, Host: “But the community is very divided isn’t it?’
SOUNDBITE [English], Shaheeb Sher, Manningham Human Rights Center: “Yes.”
Narration: The MI5 building in London is only a short walk from parliament, although few passers-by would have any clue about what exactly goes on behind these walls. We certainly attracted suspicion when we started filming outside. Two policemen checked our identities before allowing us to continue. It would probably have been a lot worse if we’d entered the building itself. But just for the record, and even though they wouldn’t say it to me, MI5 does deny harassing Muslims.
On its website it says it doesn’t investigate any group or individual on the grounds of ethnicity or religious beliefs. And it says it only carries out investigations if there is a clear national security reason for doing so. MI5 then goes onto say that the main area of its work is focused on countering the threat of extremist groups like Al Qaida who commit terrorist attacks.
SOUNDBITE [English], Roshan Muhammed Salih, Host: “So the police and MI5 stand accused of spying, infiltrating, disrupting and entrapping. Serious accusations you might think. Now MI5 don’t make public statements but you would have thought the police might want to rebut those accusations, to call them ridiculous. Well I contacted them, they didn’t even bother replying.”
Narration: But I still wanted to understand how it works from the police perspective. So I went to meet former London commander Ali Dizaei - once perhaps the most prominent Muslim police officer in the country but also the subject of MI5 surveillance.
SOUNDBITE [English], Ali Dizaei, Former London Police Commander: “If there is any threat to the national security of this country there will be a need to carry out some level of surveillance. However, the key word in all of this is proportionality. Just because you have a fine grain of intelligence which says someone may be a threat to national security that does not give you a license to carry out phone taps, intrusive surveillance, tracker surveillance and everything else.”
Narration: Dizaei says that some police/MI5 tactics are clearly unethical. And he believes the power to decide who gets investigated by undercover officers and who doesn’t should be decided by a judge and not by the police itself.
SOUNDBITE [English], Ali Dizaei, Former London Police Commander: “Any profiling of any community, particularly the Muslim community or whoever, it has to be based on real, substantive intelligence and not on the basis of innuendos and just in substantive belief that just because someone is Muslim and goes to Pakistan it’s likely to be a terrorist threat.”
Narration: It seems pretty clear that the authorities aren’t listening to the concerns of the Muslim community. So in all likelihood the spying, infiltration, entrapment and disruption will continue. But where does that leave the average Muslim who might fall victim to these tactics? Does he or she have any redress? Does the community have to play the role of passive victim?
SOUNDBITE [English], Rizwaan Sabir, Counter-Terrorism Expert: “One can have an impact on policy if we have ideas. If we have views and writings and ideas, we need to set up institutions and organizations that are responsible for trying to coordinate some coherent response for the Muslim community, but the problem with the Muslim community is that there are so many rivalries and factions and internal disputes that we can’t unite on one front.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Moazzam Begg, Director, Cageprisoners: “They may be watching us but we watch them right back. We may think that they’re not on our side but it doesn’t matter because it’s being documented, and once somebody knows they’re being watched, just like us, they become much more careful.”
SOUNDBITE [English], Roshan Muhammed Salih, Host: “I’ve been looking at counter-terrorism policy since 9/11 so I did know that the Muslim community was being monitored. But what I’ve found out during the course of this documentary has truly shocked me. Yes there is a threat from so-called Muslim terrorism but actually that threat is quite small, but the resources thrown at that threat are completely disproportionate. The result is the Muslim community feels stigmatized and targeted. Yes the authorities might catch a few bad guys but what they lose in return, in terms of public confidence, far outweighs any gains they’ve made.”