World

02.26.14

Former Guantanamo Detainee Moazzam Begg Arrested Following Compensation Payout

By David Barrett, Home Affairs Correspondent, and Miranda Prynne

A former Guantanamo detainee who won a huge compensation payout from the British taxpayer after suing the government has been arrested on suspicion of Syria-related terrorism offences.

Moazzam Begg was one of four people arrested by counter-terrorism officers in Birmingham on Tuesday morning.

Begg was being questioned on suspicion of attending a terrorist training camp and facilitating terrorism overseas.

The 45-year-old Briton was originally held on suspicion of being an “enemy combatant” and a “confirmed member” of al-Qaeda after a raid in Pakistan by FBI agents and local police.

He was transferred to Bagram detention centre in Afghanistan then to Guantanamo Bay, but was released without charge in January 2005 after the British government intervened.

Begg later sued the government for damages claiming Britain had been complicit in mistreating him during his detention.

Kenneth Clarke, then justice secretary, announced in November 2010 that Begg and others would receive an undisclosed amount of compensation, adding that the pay-out was necessary to avoid “protracted and extremely expensive litigation” expected to cost between £30m and £50m.

Land Registry records show that three months after the pay-out was announced, Begg and his wife paid £395,000 for a house in Hall Green, an affluent area of Birmingham. The property was where Begg was detained by police.

Two other men and a woman from the West Midlands were also taken into custody, a spokesman for West Midlands Police said.

A man aged 36 from Shirley, Solihull, and a 44-year-old woman and her son aged 20 from Sparkhill, Birmingham, were detained on suspicion of assisting terrorism overseas.

All four were being held at a police station in the West Midlands area.

Late last year it was reported the Home Office had confiscated Begg’s passport after he visited Syria.

He claimed he was stopped at Heathrow airport on a return trip from South Africa and told his passport was being taken as it was “not in the public interest” for him to travel.

In December Begg, a father of four, used his blog to describe how he made multiple visits to Syria in 2012 and said he had met British fighters there.

He also challenged how British Muslims who were travelling to Syria were being arrested and questioning by police.

He wrote: “Instead of trying to learn and engage why is this country bent on criminalising people going to Syria?”

A female family member who answered the door at the address of Begg’s father Azmat, 74, in nearby Sparkhill, said: “He’s unfairly marked because of his past.”

One of Begg’s neighbours said he recently went away for six months and his wife Sally Siksek, 42, had told her he had gone “somewhere that was having a war.”

The suspects’ homes were being searched by officers from the West Midlands counter-terrorism unit, and vehicles and electronic equipment were removed for forensic analysis.

Asim Qureshi, research director of Cage, an organisation which supports Muslim prisoners and which Begg is a director, said his arrest was “politically-motivated”, adding: “We are disgusted that Moazzam Begg is being retraumatised with the same guilt by association accusations that resulted in his unlawful incarceration in Guantanamo Bay.”

A classified US Defence Department document, passed to The Telegraph by Wikileaks in 2011, showed Begg was suspected of being “affiliated with three extremist organisations, including al-Qaeda”.

Dated November 2003, the document added that he had admitted attending several training camps and alleged he was an “instructor” at another “al-Qaeda supported terrorist camp”, and an “al-Qaeda facilitator”.

It concluded he was “of significant intelligence value to the United States” and a “high threat” to the US and its allies.

Begg has admitted spending time at Islamic training camps in Afghanistan and knowing people linked to terrorism but has always denied the rest of the allegations.

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