With parental roots in Pakistan, Moazzam Begg was born in 1968 in Sparkhill area of Birmingham to a middle-class family. He, first attended the Jewish King David School, Birmingham and later attended Moseley
With parental roots in Pakistan, Moazzam Begg was born in 1968 in Sparkhill area of Birmingham to a middle-class family. He, first attended the Jewish King David School, Birmingham and later attended Moseley Secondary School. During high school, he became a member of the Lynx Gang, a Birmingham street gang. The group was mostly Pakistani, but also included Algerian, Asian, Afro-Caribbean and Irish youths.
They banded together to fight persecution by far right anti-immigrant groups. Moazzam said ‘we did things that no good Muslim should, but stated he rarely did anything violent. He appeared in court for taking part in a fight with skinheads. Moazzam Begg also attended Solihull College, and University of Wolverhampton.
After a visit to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in his late teens, Moazzam became interested in religion. In late 1993 he returned to Pakistan, and crossed the Pak - Afghan border with the leader of the Lynx Gang Syed Murad and some fellow young Pakistanis near the city of Khost. Moazzam said he met with nationalist and Islamic rebels (mujahedeen) and spent two weeks in a training camp run by either the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance or a Pakistani group (run by Jamat-e-Islam) fighting for the Kashmir cause. People were being trained to use Kalashnikovs and handguns, and in mountain tactics and guerrilla methods. Moazzam later wrote of his time at the training camp: ‘I had met men who seemed to me exemplary in their faith and self-sacrifice, and seen a world that awed and inspired me’. He says he did not participate in the training.
Inspired by the commitment of the mujahedeen, Moazzam said he travelled to Bosnia in the early 1990s to help the Muslims during its civil war. He said; he was terribly affected by some of the stories of the atrocities taking place there, and supported militant Muslims. In 1994 he joined a charity that worked with Muslims in Bosnia. He states; he very briefly joined the Bosnian Army Foreign Volunteer Force. He said; in Bosnia, I did fight for a while. But later thought, this is not for me.
Moazzam also tried to travel to Chechnya during its struggle with Russia. While he thought that fighting wasn't out of the question, he states he did not participate in the armed struggle. He gave financial support to the Muslim fighters.
Moazzam was arrested in 1994 charged with conspiracy to defraud the Department of Social Security. His friend and fellow Lynx Gang member Syed Murad was also charged, pleaded guilty, and served 18 months in jail. The fraud charges against Moazzam were subsequently dropped.
A search of his home by anti-terrorist police reportedly found night vision goggles, a bulletproof vest, and extremist Islamic literature. Other items included a flak jacket for protection against shrapnel from mines in Bosnia (one of the most heavily mined countries in the world), and a hand-held night vision lens, to help navigate Bosnian streets that lacked electricity. He denied owning any extremist Islamic literature and noted the items seized were no different from what many aid workers operating in conflict zones might carry. His father said Moazzam had been collecting military paraphernalia as a hobby since childhood.
In 1995, Moazzam married. He and his family moved to Peshawar, Pakistan in early 1998. Moazzam notes that he visited a second Afghan training camp, near Jalalabad, for two or three days during that time. He states it was run by Iraqi Kurds, not by al-Qaeda. They were training to use improvised incendiary grenades to fight Saddam Hussein. He donated a few hundred British pounds to that camp and a third training camp. A Pentagon spokesman said Moazzam spent five days in early 1998 at Derunta, an al-Qaeda-affiliated Afghan training camp. Defence Department officials said that Moazzam's sworn statements state he trained at Derunta and two other Afghan camps. He denied saying that, but acknowledged signing some documents while in custody because he feared for his life.
Moazzam returned to Birmingham in 1998, opening an Islamic book and video store. The Maktabah Al Ansar bookshop in Sparkhill, Birmingham, became a gathering place. Some of the patrons were on British and US government watch lists. MI5 first raided it the following year. A former employee of the bookshop and co-worker of Moazzam, identified only as D, was an Algerian illegal immigrant who was placed under a control order on 18 December 2001. D had previously been convicted in France for membership in the terrorist organisation Groupe Islamique Armé, and was alleged to have been in contact with numerous individuals convicted of terrorist offences, including Djamel Beghal, Brahim Benmerzouga, Baghdad Meziane, and Abu Qatada.
In 1999, Moazzam through his bookstore commissioned and published a book by Dhiren Barot about his experiences in Kashmir, entitled ‘The Army of Madinah in Kashmir’. Barot had undergone training in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and joined the insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir against India. He was later referred to as bin Laden's ‘UK General’. He was convicted in Britain of being an al-Qaeda terrorist and sentenced to 40 years in jail. Barot wrote the book under the alias Esa Al Hindi. The book was used as evidence against Barot at his trial for planning a ‘dirty bomb’ attack on London, in which he was convicted.
In February 2000, dozens of Special Branch and MI5 officers investigating Islamic terrorism raided the bookshop, took away books, files, and computers, questioned staff, and arrested Moazzam under British anti-terrorism laws. They found the bookstore offered titles such as ‘The Virtues of Jihad’ and ‘Declaration of War’. Moazzam was released without charge. His father said the British government retrieved encrypted files from his son's computer, and ordered Moazzam to open them, but he refused. A judge ruled in Moazzam's favour. Moazzam's home in the UK was raided by anti-terrorist police in the summer of 2001. They took his computer and some related materials, but did not press charges.
Moazzam with his wife Zaynab and three young children moved to Kabul, Afghanistan, in late July 2001. At the time, the Taliban ruled Afghanistan. Moazzam considered it as a low-cost place to raise a family, and one where his wife and children would not be harassed for their race. He wrote in his autobiography that by 2001 the Taliban had made some modest progress in social justice and upholding pure, old Islamic values forgotten in many Islamic countries. Moazzam has since criticised the Taliban for its human rights abuses.
Moazzam says that he moved to Kabul because he was moved by the plight of the Afghan people living under the Taliban regime and to fulfil his dream of being a teacher. Moazzam says while still in the UK, he had begun sponsoring a school for basic education, providing books, teaching materials, and classroom and playground equipment. He says he was in the process of starting the school, and was going to be a charity worker at it. He intended it to teach both boys and girls, although the Taliban regime opposed education for females and had not given him a license. He states he also intended to build wells.
In his book Enemy Combatant, Moazzam recalls telling two US agents who visited him in his Guantanamo Bay cell that: I wanted to live in an Islamic state, one that was free from the corruption and despotism of the rest of the Muslim world. I knew you wouldn't understand. The Taliban were better than anything Afghanistan has had in the past 25 years.
The Allied attack on Afghanistan began in October 2001, and following the Taliban's defeat, a US Justice Department dossier on Moazzam indicates that he joined their retreat to the Tora Bora Mountains. The Pentagon asserts that he was prepared to fight in the front line against allied forces. While, in Afghanistan, he bought a rifle and handgun. He said that he and his family evacuated to Islamabad in Pakistan for safety. He became separated from his family for three weeks. He and several other men were guided over the mountains in western Pakistan, and he reunited with his family by mid-November.
Al-Qaeda's Derunta training camp, 15 miles (24 km) from Jalalabad, was captured in November 2001. In the camp were found al-Qaeda training books, sketches of bombs, bomb-building manuals, lists of potential targets, and a photocopy of a wire transfer moving funds from the Habib Bank AG Zurich to Moazzam Begg in Karachi. United States and Pakistani officials did not yet know who Moazzam was. Moazzam maintains that he is unaware of such a transaction, and that no one has shown him the document.
In February 2002, Moazzam was arrested at his rented home in Islamabad, by Pakistani police officers on suspicion of links with the Taliban or al-Qaeda. His family maintains it was a case of mistaken identity. After several weeks, the Pakistanis transferred him over to United States Army officers. He was taken back to Kabul by car.
Moazzam Begg was held in extrajudicial detention by the US government in the Bagram Theater Internment Facility and the Guantanamo Bay detainment camp, in Cuba for nearly three years after being arrested in Pakistan in February 2002. He was arrested by the police from his home and was transferred to the custody of US Army officers, who took him first to their detention centre at Bagram, Afghanistan.
The Pentagon has claimed Moazzam Begg was an enemy combatant and al-Qaeda Member, who recruited, provided money for their training camps, and trained at their camps to fight US or allied forces. Moazzam acknowledged having spent time at two camps and has given financial support to fighters, but denies that he was directly involved in terrorism.
Moazzam says that he was abused by guards at Bagram, and saw two detainees beaten to death. After a military investigation in response to other reports of abuse, in 2005 United States officials charged seven American guards at Bagram with homicide and criminal assault.
The United Kingdom government intervened with the United States on behalf of its citizens detained at Guantanamo and most were released in 2004. President George W. Bush had Moazzam released without charge on 25 January 2005. The Pentagon, CIA, and FBI objected. Moazzam and other British citizens who had been detained at Guantanamo sued the British government for complicity in their alleged abuse and torture while held in US custody. In November 2010, the British Government announced an out-of-court financial settlement with several men, including Moazzam.
After his release, Moazzam Begg became a media commentator on issues pertaining to the UK Muslim community, and UK and international anti-terror measures. He toured as a speaker about Guantanamo and other detention facilities. Moazzam co-authored a book, and has written newspaper and magazine articles. He was interviewed in Taxi to the Dark Side, (2008), a documentary about the torture of prisoners held by Americans.
In 2005, after Moazzam's detention at Guantanamo became public knowledge, the US Justice Department alleged he had received extensive training in al-Qaeda terrorist camps since 1993. Pentagon officials said that Moazzam trained at three terrorist camps associated with al-Qaeda. While at the training camps, he reportedly trained to use handguns, AK-47 rifles, and RPGs and to plan ambushes. The statement identified Moazzam as a member of al-Qaeda and affiliated organisations, who was engaged in hostilities against the United States and its coalition partners in Afghanistan and said he provided support to al-Qaeda terrorists, by providing shelter for their families while the al-Qaeda terrorists committed terrorist acts.
Moazzam was held at Bagram Theater Internment Facility for approximately a year, from February 2002 to February 2003. He states he was tortured at Bagram, hog-tied, kicked, punched, left in a room with a bag put over his head (even though he suffered from asthma), sworn at, and threatened with extraordinary rendition to Egypt.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said at the time, there was no credible evidence that Moazzam was ever abused by US forces, and US intelligence officials insisted Moazzam exaggerated the harshness of his treatment. The Department of Defence conducted three investigations, and found no evidence to substantiate his claims.
In a July 2004 letter, Moazzam wrote of threats of torture, actual torture, death threats, racial and religious abuse, cruel and unusual treatment, and that documents were signed under duress. He also wrote; this culminated, in my opinion, with the deaths of two fellow detainees, at the hands of US military personnel, to which I myself was partially witness. Moazzam stated that while at Bagram, he saw two other detainees (Dilawar and Habibullah) being beaten so badly that he believed the beatings caused their deaths. At the time Department of Defence (DoD) denied his account. In an investigation whose results were reported in May 2005, the DoD confirmed Moazzam's account of the deaths of two Afghan detainees, and said they had been murdered via mistreatment by American soldiers.
Moazzam was transferred on 2 February 2003 to United States military custody at Guantanamo Bay detention camp. In a February 2003 editorial in Gulf News, Linda Heard reported that Moazzam had told his parents in a letter that he did not know what he was accused of and was beginning to feel hopeless and depressed. He later confessed to being part of a plot to spray the Palace of Westminster with anthrax, a plan which seemed to security experts to be beyond his level of expertise.
Moazzam was held in Guantanamo Bay for just under two years, often in solitary confinement. The US government considered Moazzam an enemy combatant, and claimed that he trained at al-Qaeda terrorist camps in Afghanistan. He was not charged with any crime and reportedly was not allowed to consult legal counsel for the majority of the time he spent there.
In a memo, dated 9 October 2003, summarising a meeting between General Geoffrey Miller and his staff and Vincent Cassard of the International Committee of the Red Cross said that camp authorities did not permit them to have access to Moazzam, due to military necessity. This exception is allowed by the Geneva Conventions.
In a July 2004 letter, Moazzam said he was not tortured in Guantanamo, though the conditions were torturous. Later in 2004, Clive Stafford Smith (a British-born lawyer working in the US) visited Moazzam and said he heard credible and consistent evidence from Moazzam of torture, including the use of strappado.
Moazzam's American lawyer, Gitanjali Gutierrez of the Centre for Constitutional Rights, received a handwritten letter from him, dated 12 July 2004, addressed to the US Forces Administration at Guantanamo Bay. It was copied to Moazzam's lawyers, and the US authorities agreed to declassify it. Its full text was passed to his British lawyer, Gareth Peirce. He insisted; I am a law-abiding citizen of the UK, and attest vehemently to my innocence, before God and the law, of any crime though none has even been alleged.
Following the United States Supreme Court decision in Rasul v. Bush (2004), in which the court ruled that detainees had habeas corpus rights and could challenge their detention, the US government quickly developed a system of Combatant Status Review Tribunals, Administrative Review Boards, and military commissions to provide the detainees with an impartial tribunal for reviewing their cases. Detainees could not call counsel, could not review the evidence against them, and had allegations made that were dependent on hearsay evidence. The British government protested subjecting their citizens to the planned Guantanamo tribunals, because due process rights were severely curtailed.
On 11 January 2005, the British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw announced that, after intensive and complex discussions between his government and the US, the remaining four British nationals in Guantanamo Bay would be returned within weeks. While they were still regarded as enemy combatants by the US government, it had brought no specific charges against them. Bush released Moazzam as a favour to Prime Minister Tony Blair, reported The New York Times and CNN.
On 25 January 2005, Moazzam and the three other British citizen detainees (Feroz Abbasi, Martin Mubanga, and Richard Belmar) were flown to RAF Northolt in west London. On arrival they were arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 by officers from the Metropolitan Police and taken to Paddington Green Police Station for questioning by anti-terrorist officers. By 9 pm on 26 January, all four had been released without charge.
Bush released Moazzam over the objections of the Pentagon, the CIA, and the FBI overruling most of his senior national security advisers, who were concerned that Moazzam could be a dangerous terrorist. In 2006, the Pentagon still maintained that he was a terrorist.
After Moazzam's release, Bryan Whitman, a Defense Department spokesman, described Moazzam as follows: He has strong, long-term ties to terrorism as a sympathizer, as a recruiter, as a financier and as a combatant. Whitman added, quoting from a single-spaced eight-page confession that Moazzam made while incarcerated, that Moazzam said:
I was armed and prepared to fight alongside the Taliban and al-Qaeda against the U.S. and others, and eventually retreated to Tora Bora to flee from U.S. forces when our front lines collapsed. I [Moazzam] knowingly provided comfort and assistance to al-Qaeda members by housing their families, helped distribute al-Qaeda propaganda, and received members from terrorist camps knowing that certain trainees could become al-Qaeda operatives and commit acts of terrorism against the United States.
Moazzam maintains the confession is false, and that he gave it while under duress. Evidence gained under torture or coercion is not considered admissible in a court of law. Whitman said Moazzam was trying to recant his confession, and US intelligence officials maintain that Moazzam's statement is accurate. The Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) investigated Moazzam's claim that the FBI forced him to sign his confession. The OIG concluded that the evidence did not support the allegation that [FBI agents] coerced Moazzam into signing the statement.
In February 2005, British Home Secretary Charles Clarke refused to issue Moazzam a passport. He did so based on information obtained while Moazzam was in US custody. He said there are strong grounds for believing that, on leaving the UK, [Moazzam] would take part in activities against the United Kingdom or allied targets.
On 9 December 2005, Moazzam made a video appeal to the Swords of Righteousness Brigade, the Iraqi kidnappers of four Western peace workers, asking for their release. There was an inter-faith effort calling for the men's release. A detainee held in Britain also appealed for release of the men. In early March 2006, the body of the American hostage, Tom Fox, was found in Baghdad. A week-long military operation led by British forces secured the release of the remaining three hostages that month; one from Britain and two from Canada.
Moazzam co-authored a book released in March 2006 about his Guantanamo experiences. It was published in Britain as Enemy Combatant: A British Muslim's Journey to Guantanamo and Back (ISBN 0-7432-8567-0), and in the US as Enemy Combatant: My Imprisonment at Guantanamo, Bagram, and Kandahar (ISBN 1-59558-136-7). It was co-written with Victoria Brittain, a former associate foreign editor of The Guardian. The book followed a play that the two co-wrote, entitled Guantanamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom, which played in London, New York, and Washington, D.C.
The book received mixed reviews. Publishers Weekly described it as a fast-paced, harrowing narrative. Much of the Moazzam Begg story is consistent with other accounts of detention conditions in both Afghanistan and Guantanamo, said John Sifton, a New York-based official from Human Rights Watch, who interviewed former Guantanamo prisoners in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Muslim News called it an open, honest and touching account. Moazzam earned the distinction for Published Writer Award for the book, at the annual Muslim Writers Awards in March 2008.
In April 2008, Moazzam and other former Guantanamo detainees filed lawsuits at Britain's High Court against the British attorney general, Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary, MI5, and MI6, accusing them of unlawful acts, negligence, and conspiracy in their abduction, treatment, and interrogation, and seeking millions of dollars in damages. The government denied the charges, but stated that MI5 had interviewed some detainees and in some instances supplied questions that they wished the prisoners to be asked.
The security service undertook this role because, as the UK agency with the most experience of running intelligence-led counter-terrorist investigations in the UK, it was best placed to understand and utilise the information received about threats against the UK, or involving British nationals.
In 2009, Moazzam was a technical advisor, and was slated to appear as himself, for the Scottish software company T-Enterprise in the development of a video game entitled Rendition: Guantanamo, for Microsoft's Xbox 360. The game would have put the player in the place of the detainees. Moazzam was to do three days of sound with the company, and then be 3D-rendered into the game.
Moazzam had a financial stake in the game. He said; this game will not demean the reality of Guantanamo, but will help to bring those issues to people who would not usually think about it. T-Enterprise hoped to earn £3 million on its £250,000 investment, targeting the Middle East market.
Conservative pundits such as The Weekly Standard's Tom Joscelyn and radio host Rush Limbaugh reacted negatively to the game and Moazzam's involvement. The company received numerous complaints via e-mail about the game. T-Enterprise did not complete the game due to US press coverage, which it described as inaccurate and ill-informed speculation, many conclusions were reached that have absolutely no foundation whatsoever.
As Director for the prisoner rights organisation, Cageprisoners, Moazzam has appeared in the media and around the country, lecturing on issues pertaining to the UK Muslim community, such as imprisonment without trial, torture, anti-terror legislation and measures, and community relations. He has appeared as a commentator on radio and television interviews and documentaries, including the BBC's Panorama and Newsnight shows, PBS's The Prisoner, Al-Jazeera's Prisoner 345, Taking Liberties, and Torturing Democracy, and National Geographic's Guantanamo's Secrets. He has authored pieces which have appeared in newspapers and magazines.
He has toured as a speaker about his time in detention facilities, calling the British response to terrorism as racist, and disproportionate to anti-terror measures and legislation during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. In January 2009, Moazzam toured the UK with former Guantanamo guard Christopher Arendt, in the Two Sides, One Story tour.
Moazzam campaigned against US wartime policy with human rights organisations such as Reprieve, Amnesty International, Centre for Constitutional Rights, PeaceMaker, and Conflicts Forum.
In 2010, Gita Sahgal, then head of Amnesty's gender unit, publicly condemned her organisation for its collaboration with Moazzam because of his association with Cageprisoners. She said its counter terror with Justice Campaign constitutes a threat to human rights. In a letter to Amnesty's leadership, she said; to be appearing on platforms with Britain's most famous supporter of the Taliban, whom we treat as a human rights defender, is a gross error of judgment.
Moazzam filed a complaint with the Press Complaints Commission and notified his attorney to pursue legal action against The Sunday Times for publishing Sahgal's comments. Amnesty International posted a response by Widney Brown, Senior Director for International Law and Policy, on its blog LiveWire.
The noted writer Salman Rushdie was among those who criticised the association. MP Dennis McShane and journalists, including Christopher Hitchens, Martin Bright and Nick Cohen, also strongly criticised Amnesty's endorsement of Moazzam. Sahgal was suspended and ultimately resigned from Amnesty International.
In November 2010, the British Government announced that it had reached a financial settlement with a number of individuals, including Moazzam. The British Government said there was no evidence that British officials participated directly in the abuse of prisoners; however, a Public Inquiry was conducted to determine the matter. Similar suits have been filed against the governments of Canada and Australia by former citizen detainees who returned to those countries. Canada settled with Maher Arar in January 2007.
Guantanamo files leaked in 2011 reveal that the Department of Defence had secretly concluded that Moazzam was a confirmed member of al-Qaida and that he had been an instructor at the Derunta training camp, as well as having attended the al-Badr and Harakat aI-Ansar training camps.
On 25 February 2014, Moazzam was arrested by the West Midlands police on suspicion of attending a terrorist training camp and facilitating terrorism overseas. West Midlands Police said; this is an arrest, not a charge, and our naming does not imply any guilt.
On 1 March 2014, Moazzam was charged with providing terrorist training and funding terrorism overseas, regarding Syria, and appeared at Westminster Magistrates' Court, entering a plea of not guilty. He appeared along with a woman, Gerrie Tahari, 44, from Sparkbrook, Birmingham, also accused of funding terrorism overseas. He was scheduled for a plea hearing on 14 July 2014, provisionally followed by a trial at the Old Bailey on 6 October 2014. On 1 October 2014, it was announced that the seven Syria-related terror charges against him had been dropped, and that he would be released from HMP Belmarsh the same day. In the coverage of his release a CPS spokesperson stated, if we had been made aware of all of this information at the time of charging, we would not have charged.
Since his release, Moazzam has stated, he is against attacks such as 9/11 and that he supported those fighting against British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He founded the non-profit organization and advocacy group Cage-prisoners, where he currently is the director of outreach, to represent those detainees still held at Guantanamo, as well as help those who have been released to get services and integrate into society. He has travelled on speaking tours, and worked with governments of countries to persuade them to accept former detainees for resettlement.
Following the 2014 Peshawar school massacre, in which over 130 pupils and teachers were killed by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Moazzam wrote a comment on Facebook which was reported in his home town's main newspaper, The Birmingham Post. Moazzam stated that it is time to stop this cycle of uncontrolled rage and internecine violence that will only drive us to the pits of hell. Incessant calls for revenge each time need to be tempered with reflections on the consequences of what that means. There are no winners in this.
Moazzam interviewed the al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki, a former imam in the United States, after the latter was released from jail in Yemen in 2007. Al-Awlaki was invited to address Cageprisoners' Ramadan fundraising dinners in August 2008 at Wandsworth Civic Centre, South London (by video-link, as he is banned from entering the UK), and August 2009 at Kensington Town Hall; the local authority told the group it could not broadcast al-Awlaki's words on its property. Cageprisoners has material about and by al-Awlaki on its website.
After his release, Moazzam appeared in the video 21st Century CrUSAders (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wam3CdhhLfw), saying that the War on Terrorism is really akin to a war against Islam. The British government considers possession of this film to indicate possible radicalisation.
In July 2014, Moazzam was charged by the British government with terrorist activities related to his alleged actions in the Syrian civil war, including attending a terrorist training camp. During this time he was held in Belmarsh, the British high-security prison. All charges were dropped and Moazzam was released in October 2014. According to The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/01/moazzam-begg-freed-prosecutors-drop-terror-charges), the case against Moazzam was dropped after documents were disclosed to the court before trial showing that MI5 had been aware of and consented to his travels to Syria. Moazzam's car had been bugged for a year by MI5.