LONDON – British Muslims have complained about falling victims to repeated follow-up calls, visits and questioning by MI5 agents trying to recruit them as informants in their Muslim communities.
“The psychology of the whole thing — it’s humiliating, it’s aggressive,” Ahmed, a Londoner native Muslim who requested his real name not be used, told GlobalPost on Friday, November 8.
“They try to make you feel as small as possible, that you’re a criminal.”
The misery of Ahemd started in 2006 when he was stopped for the first time as he was returning home from a trip to Jordan to study Arabic.
The native Londoner was questioned for nine hours about his travel history, family and mosque.
The interrogators, who identified themselves as agents from the domestic security agency MI5 and the national security police Special Branch, took fingerprints, photographs and an oral swab.
They even searched his luggage, confiscating his textbooks.
Ahmed’s unforgettable experience was done under a legal cover in the British law, known as Schedule 7.
The wide-ranging legal provision enables the authorities to stop virtually anyone at British ports of entry for up to nine hours with no evidence or even suspicion of involvement in crime.
Yet, for Ahmed, the stop was only the first in a series of incidents which followed among MI5 trials to recruit the young Muslim as informant.
Recalling his detention time, Ahmed said he was asked to consider “helping us out.”
A few months later, he was detained at another airport where the MI5 agent was more direct.
“There’s a lot of ways that we can help each other,” Ahmed recalled him as saying. The agent handed him a card with a phone number.
Despite keeping a clean record, Ahmed confirmed that the agent was more difficult to dismiss than his offer.
The young Muslim was asked to inform on other Muslims in which the agency had an interest, despite his assurances that he has never been involved in terrorism or extremism.
“If I know of a crime, I’ll be duty-bound to stop that crime,” he said.
“You don’t answer about other people,” he added.
The troubles increased when the agent began calling Ahmed’s parents’ home, where he was living at that time.
Agents even paid Ahmed's parents a visit to ask about him one day, though Ahmed was not there.Shortly after, Ahmed was returning home from a pilgrimage to Makkah with his family when he was stopped again for five hours of questioning.
This time agents also detained his mother, a step seen too far for Ahmed.
“I flipped,” he said.
“You keep hitting someone with a stick,” he said, “he’s gonna turn around and hit you one day.”
Ahmed’s case is not unique after several reports about the campaigns to recruit young Muslims as informers have surfaced over the years.
In 2009, five young Muslim men told the Independent newspaper they’d been pressured to work for MI5.
One of them, a community worker named Mahdi Hashi, was later taken into custody and stripped of his British citizenship while visiting family in Somalia.
He surfaced last December in a US court, where he faces terrorism charges, which he denies.
Michael Adebolajo, a suspect in the fatal stabbing of soldier Lee Rigby in London last May, was also recruited by MI5 months before the attack, a friend of his told the BBC. His trial is set to begin this month.
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