A former Guantanamo Bay detainee has been arrested on suspicion of Syria-related terrorism offences.
Moazzam Begg, 45, from Hall Green, was one of four people arrested in a Tuesday morning operation launched by West Midlands Police’s Counter Terrorism Unit.
He is being held on suspicion of attending a terrorist training camp and facilitating terrorism overseas.
Begg reportedly had his passport confiscated in December and had reportedly visited Syria a year earlier in December, 2012.
A man aged 36 from Shirley, a 44-year-old woman and her 20-year-old son from Sparkhill, were detained on suspicion of assisting terrorism overseas.
All four people are being held at a police station in the West Midlands.
Their three home addresses were searched by officers from the Counter Terrorism Unit and vehicles and electronic equipment removed for forensic analysis.
Head of investigations for the Counter Terrorism Unit, Detective Superintendent Shaun Edwards, said: “All four arrests are connected.
“They were pre-planned and intelligence led. There was no immediate risk to public safety.
“We continue to urge anyone planning to travel to Syria to read the advice issued by the Foreign Office.”
Begg was held by the US government at Guantanamo for nearly three years after being arrested in Pakistan in February, 2002.
He was released without charge in January, 2005, and in recent years has been a campaigner with the group Caged, which fights for those it says are unfairly targeted by the West’s war on terror.
Begg had his passport confiscated in December at Heathrow after returning from South Africa where he had been commemorating the death of Nelson Mandela.
He claims he was told that it was ‘not in the public interest’ for him to keep his passport. The Home Office used Royal Prerogative power to seize the passport, it was reported.
Begg previously spoke about the extraordinary friendships he built up with guards in the three years he was locked in the US prison camp in Cuba.
In an interview in 2007, he said the most abiding memory of his time at Guantanamo was of ‘unmitigated monotony’.
“My experience of the guards, even some of the interrogators, was that they were decent, ordinary people I would be happy to call friends, even after my experiences,” he said.
“One of them, it was quite interesting, found out I was from Birmingham and I told her there was a Cadbury’s factory there in Bournville. We talked about history and politics and her life and children, her family and her love life.
“She went on leave to the States and thought she was doing the decent thing and brought me back a Cadbury’s creme egg. I can’t stand creme eggs – but I devoured that one.”
Last night, the human rights group that Moazzam Begg campaigns for said it was disgusted by the arrest of its Outreach Director.
A statement released by Cage said: “This latest action is designed to ensure that any travel to Syria is deemed suspicious.
“It follows a concerted campaign of harassment against Muslim individuals and charities involved in providing humanitarian aid to the victims of the Syrian crisis.
“The purpose is to intimidate and vilify the wider Muslim community so that they are prevented from delivering much needed aid to the Syrian people.
“Moazzam has been very open about his international travel and his objectives, including importantly exposing British complicity in rendition and torture.
“The timing of Moazzam‘s arrest, given his travel to Syria took place in December, 2012, requires a detailed explanation.
“The timing coincides with the planned release of a CAGE report on Syria and a major news piece that was due to be televised soon.
“We are also concerned that the Police and the security services are using the wide scope of terrorism laws, and applying them in Syria to set precedents that will make legitimate activity unlawful in future.”
Asim Qureshi, research director at Cage, added: “We are disgusted that Moazzam Begg is being retraumatised with the same guilt by association accusations that resulted in his unlawful incarceration in Guantanamo Bay.
“We fully support our colleague and see his arrest as politically motivated and as part of a campaign to criminalise legitimate activism.”
Yesterday’s arrests follow reports of what is believed to be the first instance of a British-based jihadist staging a suicide attack on a Syrian government prison in the country.
Abdul Waheed Majeed, 41, is suspected of being responsible for driving a lorry into a jail in Aleppo and detonating a bomb earlier this month.
He is reportedly among an estimated 20 Britons who have been killed in the fighting in the war-torn state.