Five British Muslims went on trial in Aden, Yemen, on January 26, accused of planning to bomb the city’s main hotel, the British consulate and a church. The five are Malek Nasser Harha, 26, Shahid Butt, 33, and Nasir Ahmed, 21, of Birmingham, Ghulam Hussein, 25, of Luton, and Mohsin Ghalain, 18, of London. A French-Algerian who was arrested with them is also on trial. They were arrested on December 24, and signed confessions after being tortured. They have subsequently withdrawn the confessions and deny all allegations.
The Yemeni authorities have also requested the extradition from London of Imam Abu Hamza Al-Masri, a Yemeni alim who is leader of the Supporters of Shari’ah group in Britain. Mohsin Ghalain, one of those arrested in Yemen is Abu Hamza’s step-son, and his full son, Muhammad Mustapha Kamil, is also wanted in Yemen. He is in Yemen, but went into hiding after the other five Britons were arrested.
Abu Hamza is close to the Islamic opposition in Yemen. He is a British citizen, and Britain does not have an extradition treaty with Yemen. However, the British government, which recently passed
stringent new ‘anti-terrorist’ legislation designed to crackdown on the Islamic movement, has said it will consider the extradition request.
The case takes place against the backdrop of the arrest of Abu Hassan, a senior Islamic activist in Yemen, in December. He was arrested following the kidnapping of 16 western tourists in Aden, apparently in a symbolic protest against the US and British bombings of Iraq. Kidnappings are not unusual in Yemen, and the victims are usually released unharmed. However, in this case three Britons and an Australian were killed during a shootout when the Yemeni army attempted to rescue them. The circumstances of their deaths are not clear, but the incident caused a diplomatic row between Yemen and Britain.
Abu Hamza is an associate of Abu Hassan. Yemen has long protested to the British government about Abu Hamza’s presence in London, and his Islamic activities against the Yemeni government. It has been suggested that the allegations against the six Britons, two of them related to Abu Hamza, may have been partly intended to put pressure on him. It is also possible that the charges against the British citizens (who had been arrested before the kidnappings took place) were emphasised to deflect British criticism of the Yemeni handling of the kidnapping. They say they were in Yemen to study Arabic, and that one of them was due to get married.
Members of the families of the five Britons flew to Yemen on January 24 to be there for the beginning of the trial. They categorically deny that the five men have any connection with military groups, and have been extremely critical of the British government’s response to their plight. While white Britons arrested abroad are supported by the government and pressure put on foreign governments to release them regardless of the circumstances of the case, the British government has been very reluctant to help these Muslim families. The British press ignored the families’ situation until it was pointed out that the wife of one of the arrested men was a white English convert to Islam.
Massoud Shadjareh, Chairman of the Islamic Human Rights Commission in London, says that the case raises a number of vital issues concerning the position of Muslims in western countries, including their right to hold political views contrary to those of their countries’ governments, and their right to support opposition movements in other countries. The progress of this case and the British government’s performance in supporting the five Britons involved will, he says, be a test of western claims to treat all citizens the same regardless of colour, religion or political affiliation.
Muslimedia: Feb.1-15, 1999