It is what you could call the "perfect storm." At the beginning of this month, an al-Shabaab-trained terrorist nipped into a local mosque and escaped from police surveillance by escaping in a burka. His whereabouts are currently unknown, but since his escape it came out that he had been in the process of suing the British government for alleged "mistreatment" while he was busy fighting in Somalia.
Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed is his name, a 27 year old man of Somali origin, who was meant to be under a Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measure [TPIM] notice. These are the orders instituted by the British coalition government that are supposed to act as a slightly watered down version of the previous government's "Control Orders." The controversial Control Orders restricted an individual's movements if they were deemed to reach a high bar of potential threat. It allowed people involved in serious terrorist activities to be kept under surveillance before, after or in lieu of a conviction and imprisonment. By the admission of the Labour government, which instituted them, they were never the first, second or even third choice of weapon, but were made necessary because of the legal conundrum caused by hastily introduced European laws, which, for instance, make Britain unable to extradite people to their country of origin if they might face harm there. This means that Britain's police and security service had to find some mechanism to keep a constant vigil on a small number of young men believed to be a potential threat to the British public.
But Control Orders were regarded as slightly illiberal by the Liberal Democrat portion of the current coalition. So in a victory for Liberal Democrats, they succeeded in watering down some of the severest movement strictures of the Control Orders, and created the slightly foolish-sounding and slightly weaker TPIMs. It from this that young Mohamed has absconded and now disappeared. He is not the first. Last Christmas, Ibrahim Magag, who was also under a TPIM and – like Mohamed – connected to al-Shabaab, managed to escape surveillance by phoning a taxi and leaving his home. He is still missing.
Meanwhile, the mosque from which this latest suspect escaped from has been under some public – if not security – scrutiny in recent months because of its links to extremists. The An-Noor mosque in Acton, West London, was a place that Mohamed was allowed, even while under his TPIM, to go during the daytime. He had to report to the local police station each day and would then go to prayers and hang around at the mosque. What is striking is not just that this mosque is a known center for extremists, but that earlier this year one of the mosque's attendees, a man named Ali Almanasfi, was reportedly killed while fighting for al-Qaeda in Syria. That was in May, yet until his disappearance earlier this month this fact in no way altered the An-Noor mosque as one of the places Mohamed was allowed to visit.
That he chose to exit the mosque and then disappear while wearing a burka could also hardly be worse – or better – timed. In recent months the British public have learned of schools in Britain where girls are forced – by the school regulations – to wear the full face and body covering. And for this and other reasons the debate about the security risks of the burka has returned. Despite one of the failed London suicide bombers of July 21, 2005 having first escaped the capital in the covering, and the burka recently having been used by armed-robbers attacking a jewelery shop in London's Bond Street, the garment has still not been banned.
Britain has remained stuck on the question of where human rights meet public safety regarding this garb. Just last month, a judge in London heard the case of a failed asylum seeker and his 11 year old daughter who insisted that they could not be deported to France because the burka is banned there, and, if forced to move back to that country, the daughter's human rights would be affected. In September, a High Court judge was forced to rule on whether or not a woman facing charges could appear in court with her face fully covered. With this debate already at a fever-pitch, Mohamed's escape in the garment will probably add to the more than three quarters of the British public who now say they want to see the garment outlawed.
But of all the yet-to-be-felt repercussions of this latest absconding by a terrorist, perhaps the most serious come from the revelation that before his disappearance, young Mohamed was in the process of suing the British government. Again, he is not alone in using such freely available legal tools. That he applied for citizenship, was given it, joined a terrorist group and then used "infidel laws" to try to make some money makes him, more than anything else, part of a trend.
In recent years the British government – not least in the pay-offs for former Guantanamo detainees – has repeatedly attempted to stop the embarrassment of going through lengthy human rights cases by paying off terrorists before their cases could come to court. To keep state intelligence secret and avoid legal unpleasantness, there are quite a number of people in the UK who have been made jihadist millionaires. Young Mohamed claimed that the UK authorities were complicit in his torture in Somalia in 2011. And why shouldn't Mohamed have given such a claim a go? Like previous claimants, he had nothing to lose, and potentially millions to gain.
It is worth pointing out that although cases such as this sometimes depress the ordinary citizen, they that can also be found refreshing. It is cases such as this that could finally cause the apparently infinitely tolerant average British opinion to alter. And it is cases such as this that may eventually force our politicians – and if not this lot, then their successors – to discuss, and possibly change, things. That, then, will be the only real achievement in the life of Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed