Indian engineer, others accuse MI5 of blackmail of Muslims

By Dipankar De Sarkar, IANS

London : An Indian computer engineer has accused the British intelligence agency MI5 of adopting blackmail and other illegal tactics in its drive to recruit Muslims in the war against terror.

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The man, named only as Hassan, says MI5 agents threatened to deport him to India if he did not spy on Muslims.

Hassan made his allegations in a BBC Radio Four investigation broadcast Tuesday in which Muslims said spies of the MI5 and MI6 agencies were turning up at people’s doorsteps, emailing them, stalking them on the streets and taking them out for coffee in a bid to hire Muslim informants.

Hassan told the programme, titled ‘Recruiting Muslim Spies’, that his ordeal began 18 months ago when police stormed his rented flat saying men who were involved in a July 21, 2005 bombing plot in London were suspected to have stayed there.

“They followed me for a long time and came with 15 to 20 people and beat me up. They said ‘you are a terrorist’. I said ‘I just stay here, and pay my rent’,” Hassan said.

When police finally discovered that Hassan was telling the truth, they released him but told him that his immigration papers were not in order and that he could be deported to India, following which he was transferred to a detention centre for illegal immigrants in Oxford and kept there for two months.

Here, Hassan said, he was visited “again by a man and a woman” asking him to spy for them and offering to help him by get a British passport, a job, as well as business.

“I was scared, but I didn’t have a choice,” Hassan said.

His assignment was simple: he had to frequent mosques, keep in touch with the Imam and other Muslims and “listen to them, and if they are planning any attacks, I tell them (intelligence agents).”

But because he was unable to come up with any information, he said, intelligence agents may now want to deport him.

Hassan fears that he may now be arrested in India if returned.

Another man, a Birmingham secondary schoolteacher named only as Rizwan, said his brush with the MI6 – Britain’s external spying agency – began when he went to Pakistan with his wife after his wedding.

He was arrested by Pakistan police, handcuffed and taken to an unknown location where he was met by an “English gentleman” who introduced himself as belonging to the MI6 and said that he had come to help Rizwan.

Rizwan, who had been closely involved with Muslim affairs in Britain, was then told that the MI6 wanted him to work for the agency. His job would be to find out “who is who, and what they are doing” and the identity of people sending funds to Pakistan.

Rizwan said he agreed – but only because he was desperate to return to Britain safely with his wife.

Upon his return he was met at London’s Heathrow airport by the same man, who said his name was Matt. According to Rizwan, the MI6 agent then warned him: “If you go back on your words we’re going to do you in.”

After Matt made several telephone calls to him, Rizwan said, he began to record the conversations and told him that he could not spy for him because he was “stressed.”

Even though he was warned of serious consequences, Rizwan just “ignored everything,” he said.

However, the same agent one day approached Rizwan while he was on his way to university, and accused him of turning his back on him after being rescued from Pakistan.

Rizwan then sought legal advice and, apparently, has not been approached since then. The programme said Rizwan feels “he was set up and blackmailed.”

The startling revelations come in the midst of a major MI5 drive to hire Asians, particularly Muslims, in the aftermath of terrorist suicide bombings in London on July 7, 2005, that left 52 people dead and 700 injured.

The July 21 bombing plot, in which Indian computer engineer Hassan was sought to be embroiled, is thought to have been an attempt to emulate the so-called 7/7 bombers.

This year the British government has engaged Muslim community and religious leaders in efforts to combat terrorism, but human rights campaigners said any attempt by the secret services to blackmail or pressurise Muslims into spying could backfire and sow the seeds of mistrust in the community.

The programme heard allegations that the loyalty of second or third generation Muslims was being questioned simply because they refused to spy on their community.

Asim Qureshi of Cageprisoners, a Muslim human rights group that works with Guantanamo Bay and other detainees of the War on Terror, said the MI5 was “encouraging a culture of spying” that was inhibiting debate on terrorism within the Muslim community in Britain.

“People think they are all going to get arrested” if they speak out, he said.

He said the experience of South Africa and Ireland shows that if terrorists know there are spies in the community, they simply go underground and it becomes “impossible to track them afterwards.”