Page last updated at 10:25 GMT, Wednesday, 10 June 2009 11:25 UK

'My life under a control order'

By Dominic Casciani
BBC News

Control order suspect: 'I haven't done anything wrong'

The Law Lords have ruled against the use of secret evidence in the case of three terrorism suspects being held on control orders. One man spoke to the BBC about life under such an order.

If "AE" was to reveal his real name, and it was publicised on BBC News, then all concerned could be in serious legal trouble.

Given that starting point, when he is asked if he is a terrorist and he denies it, the answer is not a great deal of help.

Neither the public, nor AE as the suspect, know any of the evidence behind that allegation. Journalists like to think they can ask tough questions for the audience in these situations - but in this case the position is less than satisfactory.

This is the world of counter-terrorism control orders - and AE is one of the few men subject to the restrictions that has been given rare permission by the Home Office to talk about his story.

'In the dark'

But his full story is a mystery. He says he doesn't know it - and neither do the media or public, other than small fragments that appear in public documents.

"Where's the evidence?" he says. "It's all closed material. I can't defend myself - I'm in the dark, I'm in this nightmare."

12-hour curfew, electronic tag
Limits on where he can go
Banned from meeting a list of named individuals
Banned from meeting other people without permission
Banned from using mobiles
Banned from leading prayers
Required to regularly report to monitoring authority

The Law Lords have now ruled against the use of secret evidence in the case of three terrorist suspects being held on control orders - the system brought in to restrict the liberty of those the government says cannot be brought to trial.

AE - an Iraqi-Kurdish Imam in his thirties - is one of 17 current controlees, and part of the trio who have argued that they simply cannot defend themselves in court because they have never seen the evidence that led to their loss of liberty.

His story began in 2002. AE fled Iraq after being imprisoned at Abu Ghraib jail by Saddam Hussain's regime, for political activity. He says he spent 40 days in "a hole in the ground" with some 50 other suspects.

He was given the right to stay in the UK and settled into a new life as an Imam, leading prayers at a mosque near his home and performing regular sermons.

'No formal interview'

According to the bullet-pointed list of broad allegations, the security service assessed that he supported the jihadist insurgency in Iraq, was delivering extremist sermons, had radicalised others in the UK and was playing a role in false documentation for extremists.

Is AE a threat, either because of what he has done, or what he believes in?

"Absolutely not. If I was a threat to the public, why did they not do something about me in the first three years I was here? I've never been formally interviewed. I don't have disclosure - I don't know the case."

I thought things were different than in Saddam's regime - I'm in a democratic country, rather than in detention in Iraq

In May 2006, AE says police raided his home and, amid the shouting and screaming, served him with control order papers. These set out the restrictions on his life and his obligations to report daily to an electronic tag and curfew monitoring company.

"I thought that from the very beginning, that they had made a mistake. They told me that I was a threat. I didn't know what to say. I hadn't done anything wrong.

"I said, 'Why am I being put on a control order?'. The answer was that they did not have to tell me."

"I thought things were different than in Saddam's regime," he says. "I'm in a democratic country, rather than in detention in Iraq."

Over the months to come, there were regular visits from police officers who would ask him for his views on various political groupings in Iraq and on other Islamist activity around the world - but nothing about his own life.

AE says his son was old enough to understand something was wrong, but too young to appreciate that their lives had fundamentally changed.

Friday prayers

The Home Office said he could still attend Friday prayers, but banned him from leading them or giving a sermon.

After he returned from the mosque one Friday, police officers asked him to name everyone he had spoken to in the prayer hall.

He says he found their request impossible to fulfil. Mosques are centres of community, he said. You greet as many people as you can - and you won't know many of their names.

AE, on a control order
AE: Remains anonymous for now

AE was banned from using a phone, other than to inform officials of when he was entering or leaving his home. He was banned from pre-arranged meetings.

As word went around his Kurdish community that he was under some kind of suspicion, old friends slowly disappeared from view.

"They don't want to make trouble for themselves," he says. "Because if the government has done this to me then, in their mind, it must be true."

Over the three years of his control order, his life has followed a pattern that on the surface appears utterly banal - a life on benefits and hanging around doing nothing.

But that masks the tense legal battle below the surface. There have been long days in court - particularly a battle to be allowed to study chemistry and biology.

If he wants to leave home in the morning, he must inform officials. When he returns, he calls to confirm he is back.

He maintains that at no point has he been formally sat down with police or MI5 officers and given an opportunity to answer any questions about his beliefs or actions.

'Frustration, stress, pressure'

There have been occasional searches of his home. On one occasion police took away some of his taped sermons. They were returned and his solicitor Muhammed Ayub says that the court was later told they had not been translated.

Imagine what it does to you. My son asks why we can't go anywhere as a family

"My routine is frustration, stress and pressure. My family are, practically speaking, in the same situation. They are living like this too. Imagine what it does to you. My son asks why we can't go anywhere as a family.

"And then he is constantly reminding me to call Serco [the curfew monitoring company] so that they won't come and take me away. I've asked the Home Office to allow us to go on a family picnic - but even that has been denied."

AE talks fluently and clearly. He is a well-dressed man with the bearing of someone who has position and self-confidence.

He doesn't look away if posed with a difficult question. But whatever question is put to him - and whatever answer he gives - it is impossible to get to the heart of the allegations.

So, all that can be discussed is how he says the control order has affected him.

The interview is over and he slips from our view. And it's unlikely anyone will ever know the full story of AE and his control order.

Print Sponsor

The convert and the control order
14 Mar 08 |  Magazine
Q&A: Control orders
01 Feb 10 |  UK

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific