The official website of Mohammed Ansar
In February this year, Asim Qureshi and the human rights advocacy organisation CAGE held a press conference to detail their handling of the Emwazi case. They stated that before becoming “Jihadi John”, Emwazi suffered regular psychological intimidation and threats at the hands of UK and foreign intelligence. That mistreatment is said to have included illegal detention, travel restrictions, persistent harassment, coercion and pressurisation, breaking-off his engagement to his fiancée and physical abuse. It is claimed that Emwazi and his friends were stopped from going to Tanzania and harassed by UK police and security services. It’s crucial to keep in mind that at the time Emwazi was a 21 year old graduate and an entirely innocent man. He was interviewed by Asim Qureshi following his complaints of harassment by MI5, who were on an intelligence ‘fishing expedition’ and to recruit Emwazi.
From 2010 to 2013, Qureshi states that Emwazi was in the UK trying to clear his name and his situation, so that he could travel to East Africa. It is alleged that during this time, Emwazi was attacked by a police officer. A week after this last incident of harassment in August 2013, Emwazi went missing. It is an undeniable fact that MI5 knew Emwazi and tried to recruit him. CAGE and Qureshi claim that harassment by security agencies “almost definitely” contributed to Emwazi’s radicalisation.
Emwazi “disappeared” in August 2013. I believe that two months later, Emwazi had not only reached his destination in East Africa but now radicalised, he had joined Al Shabab. In October 2013, he releases the “Woolwich: Eye for an Eye” terror video calling for acts of terrorism on the streets of Britain, and for me and others to be attacked and killed. A ‘kill list’ was also issued alongside that video and disseminated through Al Shabab’s Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (HSM) social media sites. I was first informed by a friend of mine who is a television journalist and then within 24 hours intelligence officers and the police came to my home to inform me and my family. It was credible, I was shown the evidence. It was real. They were looking to launch attacks in the UK at high profile targets. The story was reported in the Guardian and there were the usual slew of interviews. From commentating on current affairs, to becoming the story; life was turned upside-down as my family and our home had to be protected. It really is a surreal (and frightening) thing to have your children needing security plans and briefings to leave the home and walk to school. Our neighbours had to be briefed about the police presence. Just as difficult were bigger questions I had to ask myself:
What do I do now? Do I stop speaking out against radicalisation and terrorism?
It’s one thing to put yourself in the firing line on ideological grounds, it’s quite another to place your family there. Your kids. It is not as if they had chosen to be there. I’d already put myself in the firing line and needed protection to tackle the domestic far right when I spent 18 months reaching out to the EDL, to convince their leader to stand down. I think I’ve always had something of a deep aversion to extremism. Looking back, it seems I was never built to tolerate prejudice and extremism. I sometimes think if I had, it would have been a far quieter and easier life. I’d never been able to put up with racism and abuse as a child growing up in leafy Hertfordshire. I despised it at my primary school and at the grammar school. I hated it on every occasion my parents had been physically attacked by racists. I detested it when I had to give evidence in court about the my father’s assault by a racist, when he was delivering groceries to a customer one night on the way home. I was unable to turn the other cheek in the workplace. I couldn’t stand witnessing prejudice and unfairness in our communities.
It seemed that even now, I still couldn’t. But surely you have to draw a line at some point? What happens when it means putting your wife and children in the firing line… what then?
There were a lot of sleepless nights. A lot of tears. A lot of tea drank. We talked it through, like we try and talk through everything. We tried to laugh about things and make light of it but there was no taking away from the fact we were surrounded by police, intelligence agents, alarms and more alarms, firearms officers, plans and more plans. For everything. So many plans. I had been asked, politely, whether I wanted to continue to speak-up about extremism in the public space, in the media. I refused personal protection for interviews and events. You can’t live a life in fear and I had to live by my beliefs. As people of faith, we believe that our births and deaths are pre-appointed – all we can do in the meantime is live a good life. When the bullet comes, you can’t dodge it. For me, that also meant not being silent on the rising tide of intolerance, of hate and of prejudice. We are in midst of a political and social crisis and we need sensible voices. I had a modest platform to speak-up and I should continue to do so. Even if that had consequences.
If it is the case that Emwazi aka “Jihadi John” was executed by US drone, he was a man who had threatened me and called for my killing. He was a direct threat to me and my family. In spite of this (and perhaps spite is the wrong term here), I don’t rejoice at his killing, nor can I feel even the slightest grain of satisfaction. It’s just not how I’m built.
None of us should celebrate someone’s killing. We cannot be a society that rejoices in murder, no matter how ‘evil’ we believe a person to be. We are not monsters and we must work to stop ourselves becoming monsters. Extra-judicial killings are a scourge and have to be stopped, other than those absolute case of clear and present immediate danger and requirement for self-defence: the ticking time bomb or gun at your head scenario. This wasn’t that. Pre-emptive strikes and the bypassing of the rule of law are wrong and are an existential threat to all of our ways of life. Arguably a larger threat than terrorism itself. People must be captured and put before the courts. Not only do we need to know what they know, intelligence and evidence needs to be gathered, scrutinised and put to them. Similarly, the families of victims are entitled to justice. This has always been recognised as facing the killer should they choose to, to have him stand trial to answer for his sins, for there to be absolution. Perhaps there is an argument to be had for the death penalty but that must be part of a broader democratic debate and not extra-judicial.
Extra-judicial killing gives no closure to anyone – especially not to the families of Alan Henning, and James Foley amongst others. Our thoughts are with them today.
“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
There are no evil people, just people who do evil acts. Today, neither me nor my family have any closure. We have more dead. The world is no safer. We are no nearer to peace. We are no nearer to reconciliation. The rule of law is weakened further. So the mindless cycle of violence and killing continues. As it does so, if we are not careful, we become less those of understanding and enlightenment and more the monsters we look to slay.