The Home Secretary, Theresa May, had to explain to the House of Commons today, how a known male terror suspect, affiliated with a group with known links to al- Qaeda, was on the loose in Great Britain. In a getaway that would be farcical if it were not so threatening; the potential danger to British, and indeed, worldwide security, slipped out of a mosque disguised in woman’s clothing. The burka which he put on is an all encompassing garment, which hides the entire body and most of the face. The suspect, who has been named as Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed, was under a Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures notice when he escaped this way.
Ms May, called to account, explained that the police were using all the powers at their disposal to apprehend the escapee and bring him back under their scrutiny. He is one of a very small handful of people to fall under the stricture of the TPI measures. She was at great pains to point out that Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed did not pose a direct threat to members of the public. She said it would be well nigh impossible for him to cross over any UK border and go overseas as the surveillance on him was so stringent. All ports and border had been issued with his photograph and his details.
It is understood that the Somalian born suspect had attended a training camp and seen active service under the Somalia based al-Shabbaab groups, who are known to be a cell of the militant Islamist organization al-Qaeda. His terrorist training is thought to have taken place in 2008 and that since then he has aided and abetted others to come to the UK and take part in terrorist activities. While still in Somalia it is suspected that he was among those responsible for the intended attack in Mogadishu on the Juba Hotel in the August of 2010.
His change of costume occurred after he was seen on CCTV walking in to the Noor Masjid and Community Centre, in Acton in West London wearing normal western casual clothing. This was at 10:00 a.m. on Friday morning. The last sighting of him in that building is at 3:15 p.m. Some time after this he put on the burka and thus evaded detection as he left. He is said to be 5 feet 8 inches in height and of medium build. Police have advised that anyone who thinks they may have sighted him, not to approach, but to dial the emergency number 999. There is also an Anti-Terrorist Hotline number for anyone with any further information.
He is not the first to have escaped under TPIm. Ibrahim Magag, who wore an electronic tag, pulled it off last December, jumped in a taxi, and disappeared. Mohamed and Magag are members of the same UK-based network, with proven links to terrorist activity stemming from Somalia. These terror suspects, with links to al-Qaeda, are now both presumed to be on the loose in Britain.
Inevitably, this has brought about a fresh vigor to the ongoing debate about whether the burka is an appropriate or a suitable garb for wearing in British society. In a punning headline, The Times newspaper says it leaves Theresa May feeling “like a right burk-a” but the debate goes deeper than a play on words. Earlier this year a woman in a British court was ordered that she had to show her face in order to face her judge and jurors.
Tory MPs have been quick to jump up and down in outrage, with one, Sir Gerald Howarth, openly declaring that the burka was “alien to our culture and has enabled this man to abscond.” The Home Secretary rebutted this by answering that “it is for an individual woman to decide how she dresses herself.”
However, it is not going to be the first or last heard about the burka debate. A move to ban it was debated in Parliament in September, and London Mayor Boris Johnson has said that they should not be permitted in schools. Where normally he is “in favor of liberty” he draws the line with the face veil, saying, “I don’t think it can be called a reasonably standard piece of uniform to get little girls to cover their faces.”
There was also considerable controversy about the Al Madinah school in Derby where even non Muslim teachers were “forced” to wear the veil and would only be employed if they signed contracts agreeing to don the hijab. Another caveat was that they were not allowed to bring in non Halal foodstuffs. Another school, The Metropolitan College in Birmingham, got into the adverse trouble when it ordered that all students, staff and even visitors must remove facial coverings on the premises.
With a second known terror suspect, belonging to a group with links to al_Qaeda, escaped and on the loose, thanks to the disguise of a burka, it is unlikely to do much to ease concerns about its role in modern Britain, indeed, about the efficacy of the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures.
By Kate Henderson