A file picture taken in 2005, shows former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg (L) speaking outside Bow Street Magistrates court in London. – AFP Photo
A file picture taken in 2010, shows former British Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg speaking during an Amnesty International press conference in Berlin. – AFP Photo
BIRMINGHAM: Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg was among four people arrested in Britain on Tuesday on suspicion of terror offences relating to Syria, police said.
Begg, 45, who is now a human rights activist, was detained on suspicion of attending a terrorist training camp and facilitating terrorism overseas, said West Midlands Police.
He was held in Guantanamo Bay, the detention camp for terror suspects at a US naval base on Cuba, for nearly three years after being arrested in Pakistan in 2002.
The British citizen was released without charge in 2005 and has since become a speaker and activist for a prisoner rights organisation.
On Tuesday, he was among four people arrested at their homes in Birmingham, central England, “on suspicion of Syria-related terrorism offences.”
A 44-year-old woman and her son aged 20 were held on suspicion of facilitating terror abroad, as was a 36-year-old man at a separate address.
“We can confirm that Moazzam Begg was arrested,” a West Midlands Police spokeswoman said. “We are confirming this name as a result of the anticipated high public interest.”
“This is an arrest, not a charge, and... our naming does not imply any guilt.”
The three homes were being searched by officers from the West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit, while vehicles and electronic equipment were being removed for forensic analysis.
“All four arrests are connected,” said Detective Superintendent Shaun Edwards, the WM CTU head of investigations. “They were pre-planned and intelligence-led.”
The suspects were being held at a police station in the Birmingham area.
Concern over Syria-bound jihadists
European countries face a growing number of young people going to fight in Syria, where a civil war is raging involving President Bashar al-Assad's forces, rebels and Islamist fighters.
Britain has seen a major increase in Syria-related arrests in recent months. But Begg is the first former Guantanamo detainee to be arrested in Britain in connection with Syria.
Birmingham-born Begg admitted to briefly fighting in Bosnia in the 1990s and moved to Afghanistan with his wife and three children in 2001, where he insisted that he was only involved in charitable activities.
After the US-led invasion to topple the Taliban following the September 11, 2001 attacks, he took them to Pakistan.
However, he was detained in Islamabad as an “enemy combatant” in February 2002. He was taken to the Bagram prison in Afghanistan for about a year, where he said he was beaten.
US authorities suspected Begg at the time of recruiting people to join al Qaeda at training camps, and of donating funds to the group.
He was released along with three others in January 2005 and was allowed to return to Britain where he was arrested by the police before being released without charge.
Begg is now a director of campaign group Cage and an outspoken activist on detainee rights.
His Twitter feed in recent weeks has carried several posts downplaying the terror threat to Britain from people travelling to Syria.
British authorities say hundreds of its nationals are believed to have travelled to Syria to fight, while reports say security services are closely monitoring around 250 who have since returned home.
Immigration minister James Brokenshire said on Sunday that the issue was a “big problem” and that security forces were “vigilant” about those travelling between Britain and Syria.
Earlier this month British police searched a home in the southeastern town of Crawley as part of an investigation into reports that a man named as 41-year-old Abdul Waheed Majid was responsible for a suicide attack in Syria.