Robin Simcox

Moazzam Begg: Islamic bookseller or terrorist trainer?

Moazzam Begg’s lawyer once said that the former Guantanamo Bay detainee was ‘an extremist all right – he believes passionately in charity and justice for all.’

Many seemed to agree. Despite Begg signing a confession at Guantanamo admitting his links to al-Qaeda and terrorism-related activity (which he says was coerced), Amnesty International promoted the terror suspect widely. At a campaign event in 2007, Shami Chakrabarti of the civil-liberties group Liberty called him a “wonderful advocate . . . for human rights and in particular for human liberty’. In 2006, the New Statesman ranked Begg 21st in its top-50 list of ‘heroes of our time’ (ahead of Bill Clinton, Bob Dylan and the Queen).

However, earlier this year, Begg was charged with a series of terrorism offences relating to time he recently spent in Syria. He was accused of attending a terrorism training camp, possessing electronic documents (entitled Camp 1, Camp 2, Training Schedule, Camp Rules, and Fitness Training Schedule) and fundraising for terrorism. Begg was recorded complaining that his trainees lacked maturity, that ‘Jihad is not just a physical capacity but also about using your brain’, and that ‘they want to call it martyrdom but I said we have to be physically prepared. If you don’t prepare this just becomes suicide, not martyrdom.’

Begg had denied all the charges. While he has conceded that he was in Syria giving training to rebels working against the Assad regime, he has said his activities there did not meet the definition of terrorism.  His lawyer argued that ‘Mr Begg did not train anyone for the purposes of terrorism as defined in the 2001 [anti-terror] act. Mr Begg says he was involved in training young men to defend civilians against war crimes by the Assad regime.

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