Scotland’s first Islamic ‘terrorist’ walks free


Charlene Sweeney


The Government’s terrorism watchdog is to review the controversial legislation
that resulted in the acquittal yesterday of “wannabe suicide bomber”
Mohammed Atif Siddique.

Lord Carlile of Berriew, who was appointed to review anti-terror law in 2001,
told The Times that the Siddique case and its implications would form
part of his annual review. The case has raised concerns about whether
Section 57 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which seeks to strike a balance
between civil liberties and state security, has tilted too far in favour of
defendants in terrorist cases. Mr Siddique was acquitted of the principal
charge against him after his counsel successfully argued that, although he
had examined terrorist-related material, he had not intended to commit a
crime.

“As a result of this decision I will be looking at Section 57 with these
issues in mind,” Lord Carlile said. “I will look carefully at the issue
because a very senior court in Scotland criticised the law.”

For a conviction under Section 57 a defendant must be shown to have had the
intent to commit a crime, rather than simply accessing terrorist-related
material to satisfy his curiosity.

Mr Siddique, 24, from Alva, in Clackmannanshire, was released after
prosecutors said that they did not intend to seek a retrial.

Supporters clapped as the student, who was in prison for almost four years,
emerged from the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh, flanked by his
family and his lawyer, Aamer Anwar. In a statement read out by Mr Anwar, Mr
Siddique suggested that he had been targeted because of his Islamic faith.

“Our law should bring to account those who plan acts of terror and not
criminalise young Muslims for thought crime and the possession of
propaganda,” he said.

“I have always maintained my innocence, but they took my liberty, destroyed my
family’s reputation and labelled me a terrorist, but I never had any bombs
or plans to hurt anyone.

“In court it was said I was a wannabe suicide bomber, but I have always said I
was simply looking for answers on the internet.”

The case prompted wider questions about Britain’s terror laws, with claims
that they are too complex and vague.

Bill Aitken, the Scottish Conservative spokesman on justice, said: “There are
too many counter terrorism laws and these laws are too complicated.”

Osama Saeed, chief executive of the Scottish Islamic Foundation, said: “There
needs to be a clearer explanation by police and line between someone looking
at things on the internet, and having the possibility of being talked away
from extreme ideas, and the point at which they move into criminality.”

Mr Siddique, a shopkeeper’s son, was the first person to be found guilty of
Islamist terror charges in Scotland. His trial in September 2007 was told
that he sympathised with al-Qaeda and wanted to be a suicide bomber.

It also heard how he had frightened fellow students at Glasgow Metropolitan
College by showing them images of beheadings being carried out by
terrorists, and threatening to blow up the city.

After being convicted of two charges under the Terrorism Act 2000, one charge
under the Terrorism Act 2006, and a breach of the peace, Mr Siddique was
sentenced to a total of eight years in prison. Six years of that sentence
related to the most serious charge, which alleged that he possessed material
that could be used for the “preparation, instigation or commission” of an
act of terrorism.

However, during his appeal last July, Donald Findlay, QC, for Mr Siddique,
said that this material was no more than propaganda.

At a hearing two weeks ago, appeal judges said that Mr Siddique had been a
victim of a miscarriage of justice. They ruled that the original trial
judge, Lord Carloway, had misdirected the jury and criticised the way he had
explained the Terrorism Act 2000.

Guidance on this area has since been issued by the House of Lords but it was
not available to the judge at the time of the trial.

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