On 2 June 2006, newspaper headlines screamed the news of a dramatic raid at an address in Forest Gate, East London connected with the alleged threat of a terrorist attack involving chemical weapons. Two men, brothers Mohammed Abdul Kahar and Abul Koyair were arrested and detained at Paddington Green Police Station. One of the men, Mohammed Abdul Kahar, was shot in the chest by police.
Such raids have made front line news with alarming frequency over the past five years. The outcome of this raid was also predictable – both men were released without charge following eight days in police custody and a painstaking search of the home, which left it uninhabitable.
According to statistics prepared by the Islamic Human Rights Commission, 950 people have been arrested in Britain under the Terrorism Act 2000 since 2001. Of those, only 148 were charged; of those charged, only 27 were convicted. (See ‘This will lead to violence’, The Guardian, 8 June 2006)
The difference this time is that the story didn’t disappear from the front pages of the newspapers before the dust settled on the raided house. The second innocent victim of the Metropolitan Police’s newly-resurrected ‘shoot to kill’ policy, launched following the London bombings in July 2005, has lived to tell the tale. As a result, the excessive violence and the stunning lack of intelligence behind the raid has been laid bare for all to see.
The Forest Gate story
At a press conference following their release, brothers Kahar and Koyair gave an emotional account of the terror they experienced on 2 June 2006.
Kahar described standing at the top of the stairs of the home he shared with his brother, mother and sister. He saw a man dressed in black, who he believed to be an armed robber, and who at no stage identified himself as a police officer.
Without warning or identification, a shot was fired that hit Kahar in the chest. Slumped on the ground and fighting for breath, he was then hit in the face by police guns, kicked about the body and finally dragged down the stairs, his head banging on the steps as he went. Only on being dragged out of the house and seeing the emergency vehicles did Kahar finally realise that his attackers were in fact police officers.
In his words: “I believe that the only crime I committed is being Asian and having a long length beard. He looked at me straight away and shot. As soon as I turned the steps and we both had eye contact he shot me. All my life I just wanted to work and feed my family and support my mum and dad. I work over 50–60 hours a week and for them to come into my house like that, to shoot me in my chest, and then to say that I am a terrorist – that really hurts.” (Quoted in ‘He looked at me and shot. As soon as he had eye contact, he shot me’, The Guardian, 14 June 2006)
The raid was a major operation involving 250 officers, conducted by Metropolitan Police working in conjunction with MI5. The large numbers were allegedly needed because of the specific threat of chemical weapons, which, if disturbed or activated during the raid, would require swift and urgent evacuation of the surrounding houses.
Besides the two brothers, the raid resulted in the arrest of the men’s sister and mother and of two men living in a separate neighbouring property. All were released without charge.
The press conference given by the latest victims of the ‘war on terror’ at home forced an apology of sorts from the Metropolitan Police. Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman acknowledged that the raid had caused “disruption and inconvenience” and apologised for the “hurt caused”. (‘Police say sorry for Forest Gate terror raid’, The Times, 13 June 2006)
Fending off fast-mounting criticism necessarily involves raising the spectre of a future terror attack on British soil. Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) President Ken Jones commented that communities “do not need the further unease and distress which can be created by a desire by some to rush to judgment. Moreover, we need to guard against the very real risks of encouraging those we are confronting”.
As Islamic Human Rights Commission spokesperson Massoud Shadjareh correctly pointed out, the intention of such pronouncements is to silence criticism, using fear as the gag. “He is saying innocent people, by standing up for their rights, are encouraging terrorists.” (‘Police leader and mayor back Met chief’, The Guardian, 13 June 2006)
The police apology, weak as it was, was shown to be completely disingenuous when it was not backed up by any attempts to repair the damage done to the family of the arrested men.
In an attempt to tarnish the family’s name, the police: leaked that they had found a large sum of money found at the property, ignoring the legitimate explanation offered by the family; alleged criminal records of the men; and alleged that one of the men had attended an ‘extremist’ demonstration. All this ‘information’ was designed to create the impression that something was amiss at the Forest Gate home that may have justified the completely excessive, humiliating and terrifying treatment the men received.
Speaking for the family, Humeya Kalam accused police of a wish “to believe the worst of my family and ensure that the slur reaches the wider audience”. (‘Terror raid family accuse police of slur’, The Guardian, 16 June 2006)
Almost a month after the raid, the family were still unable to return to their home. Damage was described by a lawyer for the family as extensive: “Holes have been drilled in all of the walls, tiles have been lifted and cavities searched. There is a sense that what was once a family home is now a forensic scene. It is a very eerie scene.” (‘He looked at me and shot …’, op cit)
Repairs to the family home were still awaited, financial difficulties created further stress and the family had been unable to move on with their lives. “Every single thing that they would need to get on with their lives – passports, keys, insurance documents – were taken. We have asked the police to return these things … But they are just not responding.” (‘Terror raid family accuse police of slur’, op cit)
As the events of 2 June remained in the public eye, more and more details confirmed the stark lack of credible intelligence behind the devastating raid, which could easily have resulted in another death of an innocent man at the hands of police.
It was revealed that the family had been under surveillance for two months prior to the attack. Plenty of time, you might have thought, to avoid the need for a “rapid armed response” .
The 250 officers were needed, we were told, because the “intelligence” had specified a threat of chemical weapons. However, it emerged that the risk to the public had been considered “very low” , according to the Health Protection Agency, who were in close liaison with police and security forces in the run up to the attack. (‘Men in gas masks, a broken window, then a single shot’, The Guardian, 3 June 2006)
Later, it emerged that the police never anticipated that surrounding streets could in fact require evacuation, as they only expected to find a “trigger or mechanism, not all the compound to make a chemical weapon” . The large numbers and extravagant performance can only therefore have been for the benefit of the viewing public.
Concerns about the quality of the information leading to the raid had led to officials in the Cabinet Office being alerted of the situation in advance of the raid. The Observer reported that the police had voiced concerns over the credibility of the sole informant who had provided the ‘intelligence’ that prompted the raid. Clearly, the political implications factored highly in the decision to go ahead with the raid on less than reliable evidence. It is possible that those political considerations ultimately tipped the balance in favour of continuing. (‘Yard told MI5 of terror tip doubt’, The Observer, 11 June 2006)
Terrorism laws target the innocent
In numerous other raids, the ‘intelligence’ has also been provided by single informants and later found to be false. According to Scottish human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar, “often informants are people who are facing threats of deportation or jail or are being given financial assistance. The pressure they put informers under produces misinformation and they will often tell them what they want to hear to stay in the country or stay out of jail.” (‘Raided, arrested, released: the price of wrong intelligence’, The Guardian, 12 July 2006)
As a result, the vast majority of the victims of terror at home in Britain are those innocent individuals woken violently from their beds in the middle of the night by armed men, separated from their families and interrogated for days on end, subject to control orders and cut off from their communities through home detention orders, or wounded, damaged, destroyed and shot dead.
All this is made possible by the vague and all-encompassing provisions of the Terrorism Act 2000, in which ‘terrorism’ is defined to include “the use or threat of action [serious violence/damage/risk to health and safety/disruption to electronic system] … designed to influence the government or intimidate the public … for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause” , while a ‘terrorist’ is anyone who a police officer reasonably suspects of committing an offence under the Terrorism Act (including membership, support, fundraising, collecting information “likely to be useful” to a terrorist) or who has been involved in the “commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism” .
As has been shown by Forest Gate and the many previous examples of false raids, the terrorism laws allow the police and security services a free hand to act indiscriminately and excessively with devastating consequences and little or no comeback. Just before the anniversary of his death, the CPS announced that no individual officer will face charges for the killing of Brazilian national, Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell Tube Station on 22 June 2005.
Meanwhile, as we go to print, in another (unsurprising) whitewash, the Independent Police Complaints Commission has found that Abdul Kahar was shot “accidentally” during the Forest Gate raid, the officer in question having “not realised” that he had discharged his weapon! In a departure from standard protocol, the charged officer was not interviewed by the complaints commission but was left to prepare his own statement. The commission has announced it will not be passing the case file to the CPS for evaluation of possible criminal charges.
The reams of British ‘anti-terror’ legislation are clearly ineffective in preventing or apprehending an attack on British soil, neither are they required for this purpose. The real purpose behind such laws is clear – to create a climate of fear and suspicion within which British imperialism can conduct aggressive wars abroad for control of resources and markets; to intimidate, isolate and scapegoat certain communities, currently the muslim community; to silence criticism of British imperialist activities abroad; to intimidate and prevent unity among workers and oppressed people in Britain, including the immigrant population, against imperialism and war; to allow the state to gather unlimited information about political opposition at home.
These aims must be defeated through solidarity with victims of the war on terror at home, and through continuing to expose the dirty role of imperialism in Iraq and countless other places across the globe.