Birmingham’s Muslim community did not inform police of terrorism plot

That’s the headline to a report in today’s Birmingham Post. It concerns the conviction earlier this week of three young men from the city – Irfan Naseer, Irfan Khalid and Ashik Ali – who were charged under Section 5 of the Terrorism Act 2006 with engaging in conduct in preparation for intended acts of terrorism.

The plot in fact never got beyond the stage of the convicted men discussing possible acts of terrorism among themselves, and they were arrested before any explosive devices had been built or the materials necessary to build them had been acquired. Even the prosecutor stated that their “precise targets remained unclear”, but argued that the men “had dangerous aspirations”.

The reason the police knew about these aspirations was that the security services had the men under surveillance and recorded their conversations. The men obviously wouldn’t have discussed their plans with their own families, still less with the wider Muslim community, so it is difficult to see how the community could have informed the police about this rather nebulous plot.

The only part of the “terrorism plot” to which anyone in the community was privy was that four other young men who were part of the group at one point tried to attend a training camp in Pakistan. This turned out to be a complete farce. The Post quotes detectives involved in the case as stating that none of the men received any terror training as they were only in the camp for a day, because their outraged families found out where they were and demanded that they leave.

The senior investigating officer, DI Adam Gough, told the Post: “We know pressure was applied to them to come back. Shahid Khan virtually ran home. Three of the four came back almost immediately, while the fourth stayed with his family in Pakistan.” Gough went on to say that it was “a success story in that the families did bring those people back and it shows the vast majority of the community abhor terrorism in the same way we do”.

That the families didn’t inform the police about this incident is most likely explained by the fact that they thought the young men were being idiots rather than seriously planning acts of terrorism (and even at the conclusion of the trial it’s still not entirely clear which they were). On top of this, just a one-day visit to such a camp would have left the men open to prosecution under Section 8 of the Terrorism Act (which does not require that any actual training should have taken place) and they could have faced prison sentences of up to ten years.

Assistant Chief Constable Marcus Beale, the head of counter-terrorism at West Midlands Police, was evidently pressed by thePost to criticise the Muslim community for failing to act against the would-be terrorists. All he was prepared to say was:

“The families were trying to do their best to get them back and stop them getting into trouble, rather than get in touch with us. I agree it would have been really good if more could have been shared with us, and we could have dealt with it in a different way. In terms of community engagement, would I like them to come forward more? Yes, I would. Do I think they (the Muslim community) were being disruptive – no, I do not.”

This is the basis on which the Post runs an inflammatory headline accusing the entire Birmingham Muslim community of remaining silent about a terrorism plot of which they knew nothing and which existed in little more than words.