Ex-Guantánamo detainee Moazzam Begg held in Birmingham terror raids

A man arrested in terrorism raids in Birmingham on Tuesday morning is Moazzam Begg, the former Guantánamo detainee, the Guardian has learned.

West Midlands police said those arrested were connected to alleged Syria-related terrorism offences.

Begg, 45, was arrested in Hall Green, Birmingham, and is suspected of attending a terrorist training camp and facilitating terrorism overseas.

He was previously incarcerated by the United States in Guantánamo Bay before being released without charge. In recent years he has been a campaigner with the group Cageprisoners, which campaigns for those it says are unfairly targeted by the west’s “war on terror”.

Police said three men and a woman had been arrested on suspicion of terror offences connected to the conflict in Syria.

A man aged 36, from the Shirley area of Solihull, and a 44-year-old woman and her 20-year-old son, both from Sparkhill in Birmingham, were also arrested on suspicion of facilitating terrorism overseas. The offences are all Syria-related, the force added. All four are being held at a police station in the West Midlands.

The West Midlands police counter-terrorism unit confirmed to the Guardian that Begg was one of those arrested.

Police stressed that arrest does not imply guilt. Police said: “We can confirm that Moazzam Begg was arrested this morning.

“We are confirming this name as a result of the anticipated high public interest to accredited media. We would take this opportunity to remind you of the requirement to report responsibly, that this is an arrest, not a charge, and that our naming does not imply any guilt.”

Detective Superintendent Shaun Edwards, head of investigations for the regional counter-terrorism unit, said: “All four arrests are connected. They were pre-planned and intelligence-led. There was no immediate risk to public safety.

“We continue to urge anyone planning to travel to Syria to read the advice issued by the Foreign Office.”

Police were searching Begg’s home in Hall Green and addresses linked to the three other people arrested. They said vehicles had been removed and taken away for forensic examination, along with electronic equipment. The scouring of computer hard drives taken from suspects is a standard counter-terrorism investigative measure.

Massoud Shadjareh, chair of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, said: “As someone who knows Moazzam on a personal level and as a fellow campaigner and activist I am shocked by his arrest. He is far from an extremist and takfiri. As a matter of fact he has always a been a vocal critic of sectarian and takfiri elements.”

Takfiri is a term used to describe Sunni extremists who view as apostates all those who do not follow their austere interpretation of Islam.

Begg had written about meeting MI5 in October 2012 to discuss his trips to Syria and said he believed the UK’s domestic security agency had no objection.

He wrote about visiting Syria that year and said he was researching “several leads regarding British and American complicity in rendition and torture in Syria”. He was stripped of his UK passport after visiting Syria.

Begg said he was stopped by police at Heathrow airport in 2013 and told that his passport was being confiscated as it was “not in the public interest” for him to travel.

A Home Office order given to him at that time stated that he had been assessed as being involved in terrorist activity because of an earlier visit to Syria.

Begg wrote that the removal of his passport was politically motivated: “I am certain that the only reason I am being continually harassed – something that began long before any visit to Syria – is because Cageprisoners and I are at the forefront of investigations and assertions based on hard evidence that British governments, past and present, have been wilfully complicit in torture.”

In January Begg condemned Britain’s approach to Syria and the alleged criminalising of those who go out to fight there. He wrote: “It is not hard to understand why Muslims would want to go out to Syria to help. Scores of them go every month on humanitarian aid missions and face endless questioning at ports by British police under schedule 7 anti-terrorism powers. It is also understandable why people want to go out and fight for what they believe is a just cause, even if the wisdom of them doing so can be questioned.”

One of his last Tweets at around 10pm on Monday was about the Syria conflict and read: “If you want to understand the history of the brutality in #Syria read the story of this sister, & let the tears flow.”

In 2001 Begg and his family left for Afghanistan, where he says he worked on aid projects until the US bombing, when he took his wife and three children to Pakistan. He was released from Guantánamo in 2005 without charge, and returned to Britain.

Begg was one of several British men who sued the British government for damages over their detention in Guantánamo. The government settled the case.

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