Recently I spent the best part of two days at the central criminal court better known as the Old Bailey waiting to be a witness for the defense in the case of the crown v. Yassin Yassari.
I have only met Yassin once or twice and spoken to him on the phone a couple of times, but he's one of those brothers that when you meet you don't forget. Not only is he physically striking, but he has that type of exuberant overflowing personality and big smile and love for the deen that just sucks you right in. Mashallah! Fine from our perspective, but to the jury our tall, dark, outspoken brother looks like the very caricature of the al Qaida rank and file terrorist.
So what is Yassin supposed to guilty of?
Yassin, having finished university decided with his wife Umm Mohammed who is also in court, to go and learn Arabic in Syria. They returned to UK so his parents could see their first child Mohammed . On their return they were stopped. Yassin had with him an external hard drive and on it was two gigs of material in Arabic given to him by a friend in Syria. There was a wide range of material ranging from works of classical scholars to videos of beheadings. Amongst the material was a plan for the al Qassam Rocket used by Hamas against Israel.
It was enough to give the police good cause to arrest him on the charge of possessing materials likely to of use to a terrorist. This is perhaps one of the most insidious of the range of laws passed under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (2005). As you can imagine this leaves gives the police and security services pretty much free reign to arrest anyone! Arguably an A to Z, or even a kitchen knife might be of use to a terrorist! Of course they still have to prove this in court, or rather the need to be able to convince a jury that you intended to help in some way an act of terror.
By the time Yassin and wife were arrested their son Mohammed was four months old. He was taken away from his mother under the pretext that child would be raised as a terrorist. Part of what makes this trial important is that if Yassin and his wife are found guilty it will establish a legal precedent allowing terror suspects to be separated from their children.
According to his brother Yassin was arrested at the end of April at four in the morning by twenty five plain clothes police officers who searched the house for two days and took only books and material that might support their case ignoring anything that was against terrorism.
It seems that although the authorities may know that Yassin is not a terrorist or supporter of terrorism, they are sure that while in Syria he went to fight in Iraq, but they can't prove that, so it seems they are prepared to indict him for something else which they can make a case out of.
Two pieces of "evidence" that are most damming from the point of view of a jury is a letter from Umm Mohammed to her husband saying that Jihad is fard ul ain on us and that she will tell their son about him and raise him to be just like him.
There is no doubt that it might sound like a farewell letter to a suicide bomber or someone ready to embark on a military expedition. Of course it could equally refer to the obligation of giving dawa and seeking knowledge, which is of course a type of jihad, and it seems that Yassin in his lectures here in the UK used the term jihad frequently in its broader context. Thus another piece of evidence that seems quite damming is a question written after a lecture by a certain sister Huda, written apparently in rather poor English saying that she is happy you he wants to go for jihad will help him to do that if he needs it. This was handed to him after a talk about how charity is a form of jihad, and like one sometimes does, he kept the question perhaps in order to answer it at some later time.
The reason I was in court is because the prosecution claim that Yassin had organized "radical" events while he was the Amir of the Westminster Islamic Society and that one such event was the one I attended along with Yvonne Ridley and Khalid Yassin. The title was Weapons of Media Deception, a clever play on the whole WMD fiasco that was playing out at the time, and my lecture was on "the Just War" where I made a comparison between the Just War theory in Christianity and the teachings of jihad in the Quran (inshallah, article to follow shortly!).
This is what I testified to in court, briefly for about fifteen minutes.
This was after spending the best part of three days waiting to be called as a witness. That was not all bad since I had a fantastic time chatting to all the other witnesses' for Yassin's trail, and out of complete boredom resorting to a hilarious game of Charades, much to amazement of lawyers, barristers, the jury and cafeteria staff! We also met three young Muslim boys also on trail for what seems nothing more that attending lectures organized by some radical group at Bradford University. It seems that they are certainly up for jail sentences partly because of a string of Muslims volunteering to testify against them. Although I didn't get to talk to them in detail they really didn't look or sound capable of hurting anyone! If these are rank and file of the over 100 suspects awaiting trial as a result of M15's Operation Gamble a gamble it certainly is! False arrests and convictions of ostensibly innocent Muslims will ultimately only make radicalization more likely not less, although I do not envy the task of the authorities and back their attempts to prevent terrorism and to stop it at its root, one always remains deeply suspicious that there is a more sinister agenda in operation.
As I write these words the judge has summed up the case, and jury is about to deliver its decision.
Sherif, Yassin’s lawyer and the barrister he works with have, until now, never lost a case, and we pray it stays that way, but Sherif has reiterated to me several times that I should make it clear to the Muslims how easy it can be to fall foul of these laws, and that the Muslims in this country should be very careful about what they do and say. He really doesn’t want to have to be defending any more Muslims in cases like this. Yassins’ brother told me he wouldn’t wish what he and his family have gone through upon anyone, and that the whole thing has been extremely traumatic for his family.
Whilst we were sitting waiting to be called as witnesses we all agreed that none of us support terrorism, and that if Yassin was in fact guilty of planning such an act then he deserves to be in prison for a very long time, but all that he seems to in fact be guilty of is loving his deen, standing up for what he believes and being too trusting, naïve, and perhaps curious! In this context curiosity really can kill the cat, or at least land you in deep trouble. There is a saying that you can know a person by looking at who their friends are, and having spent a couple of days with his friends I can feel pretty sure that Yassin is innocent of the crime he is being accused of. In fact one of the witnesses in his defense was a former member of Al Muhajiroon to whom Yassin gave dawa and “de-radicalised”! Furthermore it seems to me that if he really was guilty of planning to aid terrorists with these gigabytes of Arabic material, once the police had confiscated his hard drive he would have tried to get out of the country or somehow disappear, but he obviously had little idea what was on it. We pray to Allah that all of this is equally obvious to the jury.
Guilty or not guilty what Yassin and his family are going through has lessons for us all. Nothing should stop us calling to and defending the truth, but let us also think carefully about what we do and say, and where the harms and benefit is for us and our families and the Muslims and all of humanity.
As I was writting this post the jury had already decided that Yassin was guilty of the second and lesser of the two accounts with which he was charged. It carries a maximum sentance of 10 years.
Alhamdulillah his wife was found not guilty of aiding and abbetting him and was set free.
May Allah give him, his wife and family sabr. Ameen