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Al Qaeda trial in Belfast

An Algerian man was arrested and put on trial in Belfast. We hope the evidence they have is of more substance than the mere presence of 25 disks of downloaded information on explosives. If that were ever to become a definition of crime in and of itself, I fear every technically inclined 14 year old in the Anglosphere would soon be imprisoned.

The defendant was living not far from a neighborhood controlled by Protestant Paramilitaries, most likely due to the presence of cheap housing.

13 comments to Al Qaeda trial in Belfast

  • guy herbert

    In case you didn’t know, it is. And those of us who worry about such things have been worried by this for a while.

    A person commits an offence contrary to s58 of the Terrorism Act 2000 if he collects or makes a record of information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism, or he possesses a document or record containing information of this kind. You are guilty unless you can show that your possession or collection of the information has reasonable excuse.

    Just being interested in the subject may or may not count as reasonable excuse, because that’s a factual decision for the jury (or, in Northern Ireland, the security-checked judge). In practice this is an offence so broad that convicting people is more likely a matter of prosecutorial discretion vs jury/judicial cussedness. Being of Arab extraction or Northern Irish born with a RoI passport conceivably would make it more difficult to convince the finder of fact of your innocence.

  • Patrick

    I agree that the possession of information should not be an offence in all but the most extreme situations. On the other hand, this seems like a case where scuh ‘indirect’ offences, even if rarely prosecuted, can be useful indeed. I guess it comes down to quis custodiet and all that.

    What do you think his chances are, Guy, if he wasn’t on an RoI passport but a doctored Italian one?!??

    And, btw, 25 disks??? I hope there was a lot of pictures , or at least that terrorists use PDF and MS Word, because 30 odd MB of text on, inter alia, bomb fabrication and making silencers is enough to run PHD courses on every aspect right down to ‘intermediate covert semi-autonomous segregated communication networks management’.

  • Patrick

    I agree that possessing information should not be a crime, except in extreme circumstances, which this is not really. On the other hand, such rarely used but very broad provisions have been the basis of the modern corporate crime regime for half a century with little but judicial resistance to protect people. ANd they have a honourable role in the ‘indirect’ persecution of organised crime. Indeed, this might be just such an example of that.
    But, should we give such broad discretions to our governments? Quis custodiet…

    btw, 25 disks?? 30 of MB at least?? I hope that there was a lot of pictures, because otherwise that is enough information on, inter alia, bomb fabrication and silencer construction to teach a PHD course.

    And guy, in light of the quantity of information, what do you think his chances would be before any jury when they hear that his passport was a doctored Italian one?!??

  • Patrick

    Sorry! I ought to have been more patient; but then again my comment vanished long enough for me to write another one, so maybe some excuse.

  • Dale Amon

    The problem I have as I read that BBC artilcle is the press is failing in its job. There is insufficient information to really decide anything at all about this fellow. I would agree that I too have the gut bias that would say, Algerian, Muslim, explosives reaserch => no good. But from a rational viewpoint there is no meat here to back it up.

    If the press were doing its job, it would tell us more about the person and why exactly they are a danger. Was there proof of contact with the Al Qaeda? Did he have a history that ties him to known enemy organizations in Algeria?

    Or on the other side, was he an engineering or science student at the University of Ulster which would be about a 20 minute walk from the area he was reported to live in? Was he just another techie with a love for pyrotechnics?

    We just cannot divine much of anything from the facts we are given.

  • The new offences of “Preparation of terrorist acts” and “Training for terrorism” in the forthcoming Terrorism Bill 2005 (second reading in the Commons this Wednesday” are even more “catch all”


    and should cause any University which offers any science , technology or engineering courses some problems.

    One could quite confidently “suspect” that some University or College students may make use of the “skills” mentioned in the Bill to “assist” in terrorist acts, somewhere in the world, some time in the future.

    There are going to be a large number of people who could be facing up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine.

    A life sentence for “Preparation of terrorist acts” seems to be rather unjust, when the actual commission of some of those actual terrorist acts would attract a lesser sentence.

  • guy herbert

    And never, ever, forget that “terrorist” in English Law is much broader than either the colloquial usage or the political science definitions.

  • gravid

    A terrorist suspect in Belfast, whatever next? Thousands of illegal weapons and the numbskulls that want to use them and they nail some foreigner for having data on disk. I have some data too, it’s VERY EASY to find and download, though I may destroy it now. Wonder why he’s getting off with a forged passport though?

  • Lascaille

    Gravid, I assume that he’s ‘getting off’ with a forged passport because it’s not actually a forged passport.


    1. He was charged under 3 separate aliases.
    2. There was enough evidence for the police and CPS to proceed to prosecute him for use/whatever of a doctored passport and handling a stolen phone.

    As said above the news report is very limited so there could be all sorts of circumstances – the passport offence was ‘using an altered passport to obtain employment’ so I’d imagine that he has a real italian passport and he did something to it to make him a more viable employee – though as Italy is part of the EU, I don’t see what that could be – again, whistling in the dark here.

    I think the most indicative reason to suspect that he’s not just a student with a passion for anarchy is the fact that he was actually arrested in the first place – plenty of schoolboys download this stuff, and they only get caught if they’re actually under surveillance in the first place…

    Is there not a public record of court proceedings available? As you’re allowed to watch from the gallery, I’d imagine records of proceedings are available somewhere…

  • guy herbert

    I think the most indicative reason to suspect that he’s not just a student with a passion for anarchy is the fact that he was actually arrested in the first place – plenty of schoolboys download this stuff, and they only get caught if they’re actually under surveillance in the first place…

    No; that’s the heart of the problem here. Arbitrary official action as evidence for its own validity. Witch trials, where who is guilty is determined by which is tried.

  • Patrick

    He didn’t ‘get off’ with the forged passport, although I wondered at that too. The charge of using it to obtain employment was struck out because he didn’t obtain employment 🙂 I hope there is still a offence relating to its possession on the charge sheet.

  • gravid

    Couldn’t agree more Mr Herbert.