The case of Rizwaan Sabir perhaps helps explain why some Muslims feel that their opinions and actions may be viewed with disproportionate scrutiny. Sabir was the postgraduate student who was arrested for downloading an Al-Qaeda training manual from a US government website – this manual was also available for purchase from Amazon. When a lecturer, Rod Thornton, criticised the way that Nottingham University handled the case, he was suspended from his job. Here is Sabir on his ordeal:
We were detained for six days, unable to see our family or friends on suspicion of being involved in the “commission, preparation, or instigation” of an act of terrorism. Our homes were raided and my terrified family evicted from their home
After failing to find justification to detain me any longer, on day six of our ordeal, I was released without a charge, without an apology; but with a police warning against accessing an openly available, widely cited al-Qaida document considered relevant to my postgraduate research by me and my academic supervisors.
Combating terrorism and extremism is vitally important, and the police have a difficult job. It’s almost inevitable that mistakes will be be made. But it now seems that their behaviour was more than just heavy handed. This report asserts that Thornton’s evidence was distorted in order to make Sabir’s actions seem more suspect:
During the interview Thornton said that he merely told police that Sabir was studying al-Qaida, but was never asked to discuss the manual. Thornton says that officers invented claims that he had concerns over the manual which he says are an apparent attempt to justify the arrest and police anti-terror operation, codenamed Minerva.
The findings of the force’s standard’s inquiry upheld Thornton’s claim that officers “made up what he said about the al-Qaida manual.”
It also states that the actual minutes of the Gold Group meeting of the detectives assigned to the case “incorrectly recorded” their conversation with Thornton.
Internal notes from the Gold Group meeting, dated May 17 2008, actually reveal police quoting Thornton as believing the manual was a “tactical document” and could not be considered relevant to Sabir’s academic research into terrorism.