Accused academic speaks out

A British academic accused by the US of leading an Islamic terror group has defended himself, saying his only “crime” was to talk about politics to friends on the phone.

Dr Basheer Musa Mohammed Nafi, 50, was one of a total of 16 men charged by the US last week. The father-of-two from Oxford was accused of being the UK head of Islamic Jihad – believed to be responsible for more than 100 killings in and around Israel. The indictment against Mr Nafi was 170-pages long, and listed 50 charges. Its main evidence was years of tapped telephone conversations.

But Dr Nafi denies having anything to do with the militant Palestinian organisation. “As I have repeatedly told reporters: I have never been a member of Islamic Jihad, I have never spoken on behalf of Islamic Jihad and I have never raised funds for Islamic Jihad,” he said.

US intelligence said Dr Nafi had a number of conversations with Florida lecturer Sami al-Arian – arrested in the US, and accused of being the US head of the group – about funding of the Jihad.

But Dr Nafi said: “Of course I have spoken with Sami al-Arian. He is a friend, a good friend of mine. We have spoken hundreds of times and about Palestinian politics. But since when was that a crime?

“I meet people all the time on trains, in shops, on planes, and we talk. Palestine is a very small nation, and everybody talks about politics all their life. The problem with this indictment is that they have just lumped together a group of people who have no connection with each other.”

Some of the total of 16 people indicted had nothing do with political organisations, he said – while others had publicly spoken on their behalf. “How can they all be put together in this one document?”

Dr Nafi, who has lived in Oxfordshire for 20 years, is an Islamic studies lecturer at London’s Birkbeck College.

BBC News, 26 February 2003