by Florian Flade
Mahmoud Abu Rida was labeled a terrorist, imprisoned by the British government in the aftermath of 9/11, then he was released in 2005 and lived under house arrest and strict imposed control rules for years. He always claimed he never planned to carry out any act of terrorism or holds any something for those that do. British government never officially charged him with any crime. The treatment the Palestinian refugee living in Britain experienced after 9/11 caused his life to fall apart. His brother was killed by Israeli troops in 1989, his wife and six children left him last year. Now it seems Abu Rida died as a terrorist and is praised by terrorist-sympathizers on the internet as a jihadi martyr, killed by a US airstrike in Afghanistan recently.
The story of Abu Rida, a Palestinian refugee, raised in Jordan who lived in the UK for quiet some time, is an interesting and disturbing, maybe even telling one. Mahmoud Abu Rida was born in Gaza Strip´s Khan Younis area in 1972 and later moved to Jordan where he lived in a Palestinian refugee camp. In 1994 Abu Rida and his wife Umm Khalid travelled to Pakistan to work for the Al-Birr Islamic Charity Organization formerly run by Palestinian Dr.Abdullah Azzam who is regarded as the spiritual leader of the Arab fighters in the Afghanistan War against the Soviets. From Pakistan he made a trip to Thailand in January 1995 and stayed in Bangkok for three days before flying to London. In the Britain Abu Rida applied for political asylum as a Palestinian refugee and was finally granted a permanent residency in November 1998.
During that time Mahmoud Abu Rida still actively supported the Pakistani charity organizations. Later he told an Arabic journalist in London: “I am not a terrorist, but I am a Muslim Arab from Palestine, and I was collecting donations within the framework of charity work in Afghanistan during the Taliban rule, and in Chechnya and Kashmir.” He added: “All my charities are registered officially in Britain under the title of ‘Islamic Services Office´, and there are bank accounts in the name of this organization.”
On December 19th 2001, Mahmoud Abu Rida and 17 other alleged al-Qaeda supporters were arrested by British police under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act. Abu Rida was taken to Belmarsh Prison, later called “British Guantánamo” because of the high number of terror suspects inmates. Questioned by police Abu Rida admitted he had traveled to Afghanistan in 2000 for 40 days to learn about new charity projects he was tasked to manage but he denied having contacts with Bin Laden. Due to several attempts of suicide and health problems Abu Rida was taken to Broadmoor Psychiatric Hospital were he stayed for years.
In prison, the Palestinian later claimed, he was tortured and beaten by guards, stripped naked as a punishment for attacking a security guard. “For two weeks after that, I was kept naked as punishment because they claimed that I assaulted one of the officers; the prison warden was eventually convinced that the guards had fabricated that story”, Abu Rida later told reporters.
After four years of being held as a terror suspect, Mahmoud Abu Rida was released in 2005 together nine other men – including Abu Qatada – who had been held by the British police since the aftermath of 9/11. What began now was a long and intense struggle to fight for compensation. Abu Rida gave numerous TV and newspaper interviews and told about his time in prison, the treatment by British police and the allegedly wrong accusations. Britain´s Home Office ordered a house arrest on Abu Rida and Scotland Yard electronically tagged the Palestinian.
Back with his wife and children, Abu Rida was only allowed to leave his house in Fulhalm, Southwest London, five hours a day, later it was twelve hours a day. Police stopped by and checked him regularly. “The police in London stopped and searched me seven times in one day after the London attacks of July 2005”, he said. Moving to Gaza would be better for him, Abu Rida claimed, but it was too dangerous to really think about settling there. He wished though British police would just arrest him and send him to Gaza, where he was at least allow to pray in a mosque near his house. In Britain, the Home Office would not allow Abu Rida to open a bank account, have a mobile phone or even attend a local college were he used to study English. Authorities feared the former terror prisoner would have internet access at the college.
Because the government labeled him a terrorist even though no charge has ever been brought up against Mahmoud Abu Rida, he stayed unemployed. Not even friends could visit him at home because only a few selected people were given clearance by the Home Office to enter the house. He himself was not allowed to travel or leave the country.
Living under the strict house arrest and permanent suspicion of being a terrorist caused him to suffer from psychological damage. Every day he would wake up scared of making a mistake that would lead to him being imprisoned again. He also had the marks and signs of prison time on his body, scars on his forearms as testaments of self-harm. One day, he locked himself in the bathroom of a police station, swallowed a handful of the psychiatric drugs and slashed the veins in his arms. Next thing he knew was that he woke up in a hospital. Suicidal thoughts were constantly on his mind. “Maybe I will take tablets and hang myself in the park”, he told Guardian reporters last year, “I wake up in the night and I think, today I will throw myself in front of a train (…) I can’t take it.”
In May 2009, Abu Rida´s wife and his six children left Britain and settled to Jordan were they hope to start a new and better life. “My children’s beds are empty. My wife isn’t there. I am stuck. I am a hostage”, he explained his situation last year, “I have lost everything already. I have no life.” Out of this desperate situation Abu Rida wrote a letter to then British Prime Minister Gordon Brown begging him to free him from the control order – torture. Nothing happened.
Yesterday a major Jihadi forum announced the death of Mahmoud Sulaiman Abu Rida alias “Abu Hanan”. A forum member wrote Abu Rida had became a “martyr” in Afghanistan, killed by a US airstrike. Unconfirmed sources say he had joined al-Qaeda.