Sunday, 25 May 2008
The campus on Nottingham University is a peaceful place. Locals walk there, go boating on the lake, and take their children to play in the playground. It was alarming to hear on national radio of the arrest of two terrorist suspects.
The men weren't terrorists at all. One, Rizwaan Sabir, was a Ph.D. student - a Nottingham local - who had chosen to research Islamic terrorism. It seems a fairly important and relevant topic. I assume his research topic was registered with the university in the usual way - universities are very bureacratic places. It would be natural to list it in the university's submission for the Research Assessment Exercise earlier this year, since universities move up the rankings when they have a high number of research students.
Rizwaan Sabir thought that an Al-Qaeda training manual would be relevant to his research. He didn't download it from any old source. He went to a United States government website and downloaded an edited version, with anything judged to be dangerous edited out. He then contacted a friend, Hicham Yezza, who worked in the university and asked him to print it for him. Students do this kind of thing quite often. So do academics and people with temperamental printers or empty printer cartridges. But someone saw what the student's friend was reading and reported him to the police.
That's when the Counter-Terrorism Unit arrived. Both men were rushed off the jail and held for six days. They were questioned, their families were questioned and their homes were searched. Students at the university, in the middle of their exams, became rather nervous as police swarmed through the familiar buildings. Then, when the truth of the men's story became apparent, they were released.
But Hicham Yezza, a known peace activist from Algeria with a pending application for British citizenship, was immediately re-arrested. Someone had found a problem with his visa. This is very surprising. Universities are scrupulous in checking the immigration status of their students and employees. But I suppose most people make minor mistakes in completing complex forms.
Hicham Yezza - two weeks ago a trusted ex-student and employee of Nottingham University - is now in a detention centre pending deportation. He could be put on a plane and sent out of the country as early as Tuesday - and it's hard to do much on his behalf over a bank holiday weekend.
You may wish to write to your MP, asking him or her to contact Liam Byrne, the Immigration Minister, as a matter of urgency. At the very least, Hicham Yezza needs time to prepare his case. I can't help suspecting that this speed is an attempt to divert attention from two unnecessary arrests and the alarm they caused.
There's a fuller account and more helpful links in a recent post from Beeston Quakers - Beeston is a suburb of Nottingham which borders the Nottingham University campus. The Beeston Quakers post also considers further important questions raised by these events. (And it saves me the time I would usually take in researching and adding links.)