Monday, February 04, 2008

With friends (and MPs) like these...

There's a big furore here over the potential bugging of a conversation between an MP and his friend and constituent. This MP happens to be my MP. This constituent lives within easy walking distance from my house. That is he lives there when he's not in jail - on terror charges.

Sadiq Khan is at the center of a controversy about whether his jailhouse conversation with Babar Ahmad should have been taped without his knowledge. Doubtless, all of Mr Ahmad's conversations are bugged (except probably privileged conversations with his lawyer) - given that he is, in fact, a terror suspect awaiting extradition to America. It's all so very complicated why he's to stand trial in the US and not in the UK. But what appears to not be in dispute is that the man helped raise money for the Taliban.

He raised money for them, but this wasn't a crime in the UK at the time he was doing it because the Taliban wasn't a proscribed organisation at the time. Not that we didn't know they were nasty pre-9/11, just that they weren't outlawed.

From the Washington Post:

In late 1996, while a 22-year-o.ld undergraduate at Imperial College in London, Ahmad launched a Web site dedicated to promoting Islamic fighters in Bosnia, Chechnya and Afghanistan, according to U.S. federal prosecutors. Dubbed, in honor of Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian who served as bin Laden's spiritual mentor, the Web site rapidly became a prominent and influential English-language platform for Islamic militants.


"It was the very first real al Qaeda Web site," said Evan Kohlmann, a New York-based terrorism researcher who has tracked since the late 1990s. "It taught an entire generation about jihad. Even in its nascency, it was professional. It wasn't technically sophisticated, but it was professional looking, definitely more professional than any other jihadi Web sites out there."


According to a U.S. indictment filed in October, Ahmad used to
solicit donations for Chechen rebels and the Taliban, and arranged for the
training and transportation of Islamic fighters. Among the specific charges is
one alleging that posted messages in early 2001 containing specific
instructions for supporters to deliver cash payments of up to $20,000 to
officials in Pakistan

And I blogged about this two and a half years ago (post has links to US extradition request).


Now, Sadiq Khan, MP feels aggrieved because there is an established convention that MPs' conversations won't be bugged. I guess I can understand that, though it was Mr Ahmad and not Mr Khan who was the explicit subject of surveillance.

But in news story after news story Babar Ahmad is listed as both a constituent and a friend. They did grow up in the same area, so childhood friends they may be - and I'm sure we all had playmates who turned out not as well as might be hoped. But Mr Khan should consider whether he really wants friends like Mr Ahmad. And Tooting constituents should consider whether we want an MP with friends like that.

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