By Mark Townsend, home affairs editor
Saturday, July 14, 2012
A Muslim university student was held for seven days without charge as a suspected terrorist after police “made up” evidence against him.
Documents from the professional standards unit of West Midlands police reveal that officers fabricated key elements of the case against former University of Nottingham student, Rizwaan Sabir.
The highly controversial case generated a debate over the extent of Islamophobia within UK universities and also an international furore over academic freedom led by renowned US scholar Noam Chomsky.
Sabir was researching terrorist tactics for a master’s at the University of Nottingham in 2008 when he was detained under the Terrorism Act and accused by police of downloading an al-Qaida training manual for terrorist purposes.
The 27-year-old, however, had downloaded a manual from a US government website for his research which could be bought at WH Smith, Waterstones and Amazon as well as the university’s own library. After seven days and six nights in police custody, Sabir was released without charge or apology.
The incident so incensed the university’s sole terrorism expert Dr Rod Thornton, a lecturer at its department of Politics and International Relations that he published an article condemning the University’s handling of the arrest and treatment of Sabir.
In a paper prepared for the British International Studies Association, he alleged the university attempted to smear the student. Following publication of the article, Thornton was suspended by the university in Spring 2011 provoking an international outcry over academic freedom with an international coalition of professors and doctors, including Chomsky, demanding his “immediate reinstatement”.
The 67 figures, from universities around the world, said they were “deeply concerned” and called for an inquiry into the affair.
Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act also reveal that the arrests were mentioned in a report, cited and disseminated by the Home Office, called Islamist Terrorist Plots in Great Britain: Uncovering the Global Network.
Now, however, the results of the internal West Midlands police professional standards investigation into the affair following complaints by Thornton over the police’s handing of the case is complete. It found that officers effectively invented what Thornton, the university’s sole terrorism expert, told them about the al-Qaida training manual in a police interview.
During the interview Thornton said that he merely told police that Sabir was studying al-Qaida, but was never asked to discuss the manual. Thornton says that officers invented claims that he had concerns over the manual which he says are an apparent attempt to justify the arrest and police anti-terror operation, codenamed Minerva.
The findings of the force’s standard’s inquiry upheld Thornton’s claim that officers “made up what he said about the al-Qaida manual.”
It also states that the actual minutes of the Gold Group meeting of the detectives assigned to the case “incorrectly recorded” their conversation with Thornton.
Internal notes from the Gold Group meeting, dated May 17 2008, actually reveal police quoting Thornton as believing the manual was a “tactical document” and could not be considered relevant to Sabir’s academic research into terrorism.
Thornton has now referred the police treatment of him to the IPCC. The standards board, however, says that no officers will be investigated for misconduct.
Thornton, a former counter terrorism officer in the British army who earlier this year left his post at Nottingham University by mutual agreement, said: “The police were totally unprofessional. After their mistakes they tried to cover them up. I’ve seen some altered police notes, I’ve seen evidence made up. The whole thing seems to be a complete tissue of lies, starting from the cover up of their mistakes in the first place.”
Sabir, now a PhD student at The University of Bath, said: “I have known that the police lied and deceived in order to justify my arrest and treatment and this has now been proven.
“What should raise alarm bells is how and why the police think it is acceptable to make up information to send innocent Muslims to prison as terrorists. The onus is now on the IPCC to conduct a full and proper investigation into this matter.”
West Midlands police chief inspector Julian Harper, from the force’s Professional Standards Department, said: “While certain aspects of his complaint were upheld, investigating officers found there was no case to answer in respect of misconduct.
“As is standard practice, we advised the complainant that he could appeal this decision through the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
“As he has chosen to take this course of action, it would be inappropriate for us to comment any further.”
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[Image: Rizwaan Sabir. (© Rizwaan Sabir)]