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Friday, August 25, 2006 

The simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of British fair play.

Only just over a year on from when the country discovered the truth about the so-called ricin plot, one of the men cleared by the jury in that case has been told by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission that he can be deported to Algeria, as he is "a danger to national security" and that the situation in Algeria is "improving". Mr Justice Ouseley, the chairing judge, also said that it was "inconceivable" that the man would face ill-treatment, even though there has not been a "memorandum of understanding" reached between the UK and Algeria. Instead, the judge ruled on the basis of an unpublished exchange of letters between Tony Blair and Ahmed Ouyahia, who was prime minister of Algeria until earlier this year.

The most disturbing thing about the case is that appears that the exact same evidence used against the man in the ricin trial has been used against him again, along with evidence that was given to the judges in secret. This has led three of the jurors in the original ricin case to speak out via Amnesty International, something almost unprecedented.
The jurors have been repeatedly outspoken, as the government has continued to detain those who were initially cleared and released, only for them to be taken back into custody.

While the media can only currently refer to the man as Y, it seems that the man's real name is
Mustapha Taleb. About the only evidence that linked him to the ricin plot was that his fingerprints were found on the handwritten ricin and other poison recipes that been found in a police raid on a house in Thetford, Norfolk. Taleb had been working at the infamous Finsbury Park mosque in the bookshop, which means almost instantly that he can be dismissed by the government and majority of the media as an extremist. He was in charge of the photocopier, which is how his fingerprints were found to be on one of the copies' of the recipes. Whether he even bothered reading what he was copying is uncertain. Another piece of evidence put to the SIAC was that his fingerprints were found on the bag which contained the much paraded imitation handgun, stun gun and CS canister which were found in the mosque.

There is no doubting that Taleb had been involved in Islamist groupings. Indeed, he admitted to working for the
GIA, the Armed Islamic Group, at his interview over his asylum application. He said he left in 1994 because of its policy of killing innocent civilians, maintaining that he had never taken up arms and had only helped the families of fighters to flee. During 1994 he was tortured daily by the Algerian security services, something substantiated by medical evidence and the scars on his body. It's therefore perhaps not surprising that his laptop was found to have at least 50 files containing Algerian opposition material. There was also one file on "bomb-making", although experts said that it was both "incoherent and incomplete". The SIAC said yesterday that it also considered Taleb to have been a leader of the FIS, the Islamic Salvation Front, which did not turn to armed struggle until 1993 in the aftermath of the elections in Algeria being cancelled by the army, and their leaders being arrested and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Whether this evidence came from the torture of Taleb is unknown.

The most perverse about the ruling is that the judges admit that the evidence against Taleb cannot even be said to make it more probable than not that he was involved in the "ricin plot". For those who still don't know the truth about the alleged ricin plot which was disrupted,
it turned out that the ricin recipes, despite being legitimate, would have been of incredibly weak potency. Bourgass most likely got hold of them from extreme rightwing American survivalist websites. Even if they had been made, the concoction would not have been able to kill anyone. Bourgass's plan had been to smear the poison on doorknobs and car door handles, which would have not worked even if the recipe had been potent, as ricin needs to pierce the skin in order to be deadly, as in the case of the Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian dissident murdered by the KGB with an umbrella tipped in the poison. The judges nonetheless claim that Taleb "was aware of the plot, he was trusted by those who engaged in it to know of it and to keep quiet about it, and would not have alerted the UK authorities to it." They claim this despite the prosecution in the ricin trial no doubt making the exact same arguments, where he was cleared of all wrongdoing.

What seems most likely is that the Algerians want Taleb back, having managed to lose him once. In his absence he was convicted of "organising an armed group prejudicial to the state", and sentenced to death. Under the Algerian charter on Peace and National Reconciliation these convictions would be quashed. Whether he would be allowed to rebuild his life in Algeria if deported is questionable though, especially when viewed in the light of the Algerians requesting his extradition in June 2003, one of only three such requests from the country since 1997.
As Jason Burke wrote in the Observer in April 2005, most of the information about the "ricin plot" was received from interrogations of Mohammed Meguerba, who had returned to Algeria after jumping bail in the UK. It's uncertain whether Meguerba was tortured, as Burke reports that he seemed confident when talking to officers from the Met, showing few signs of being broken. This may have been because he was more than willing to tell his interrogators what they wanted to hear: Meguerba said that the ricin already existed; it didn't. It was most likely Meguerba's evidence that led to the Algerians calling for the extradition of Taleb, using the excuse of the plot to get him back.

Nonetheless, the SIAC has ruled that Taleb is a threat to national security. While he can still appeal against the ruling, the whole decision of the government in first detaining him and the others acquitted in the original trial smacks of a vendetta against the men that showed that the true level of threat to Britain is much lower than the government has always claimed. The trial also revealed that those who are inclined to jihadism are often complete amateurs, using recipes from the internet for both poisons and bombs that often range from being hopelessly difficult to manufacture to being hopelessly wrong. It's also worth wondering whether some such sites that offer recipes are honeytraps, operated by the security services who monitor the server logs. Richard Reid was such an amateur. Kamel Bourgass was such an amateur, although one who was obsessive and murderous in his devotion to the cause. Those arrested a couple of weeks ago may yet also turn out to be so.

This is what it comes down to then: sending a man who has been a victim of torture, who has only been circumstantially linked to the "ricin plot" and faces a horribly uncertain future back to a country where despite the SIAC's decision, Amnesty reports that military intelligence still torture and ill-treat suspects with impunity. We appear to be damning a man who has in the past been involved with Islamists and who previously worked at the Finsbury Park mosque purely for his past relations, and on dodgy information by security services that might well also have been obtained under duress. It seems that in order to win the "war on terror" we have to be prepared to ignore jury rulings when they come to the "wrong" decision.

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