Thursday February 8, 2007
The minaret of Birmingham central mosque. Photograph: Martin Godwin
Abu Bakr, a 27-year-old English teacher and bookshop worker, told the Guardian how his wife screamed in terror as police burst into their house at dawn on January 31 and took him away in handcuffs.
At no point during his detention did officers question him about the alleged plot to kidnap and behead a Muslim soldier, he said. He added that he was friends with only one of the eight other men arrested in the high-profile raids last week and believed he and the other men were "pawns" in a higher political game.
Mr Bakr, one of two men released in the early hours yesterday, said he felt "stigmatised" by what had happened and claimed a white person would not have been treated in the same way.
He said: "It's been like a funeral in my house. My father and mother have aged 10 to 15 years. I don't think I understand yet how it's affected my wife and children."
Mr Bakr, who has two children, a boy, six, and girl, four, said the first he knew of the dawn raid on his home in the Sparkbrook area of the city was when his wife started screaming. "I immediately looked to see if the police were armed and thought about what happened at Forest Gate. I thought there was going to be a shot. There was a copper there and I said to him: 'Don't humiliate my family'. An Asian guy read me my rights. They then handcuffed me and put me in a police car and the guy spoke on the radio and mentioned 'Operation Gamble'."
West Midlands police defended last week's raid and ongoing investigation, saying it was not uncommon for people to be released without charge at this stage of an operation.
Mr Bakr said he had been told he was arrested under anti-terrorism legislation. "I thought, if they take me to Paddington Green it must be serious. When they took me to Coventry I thought it couldn't be so bad."
He said he was questioned no more than four times, and for no more than an hour each time.
"It was farcical. I was questioned for seven days but not once did they put these allegations about a plot to kidnap and behead a soldier to me. They were doing things like putting a piece of paper in front of me - a note, a scribble by one of my children, a jacket, a hat - and asking me about it. My solicitor advised me to make no comment so that's what I did. It felt a bit amateurish like they didn't really know what they were doing."
Mr Bakr, a tall, bespectacled English teacher who is studying for a master's degree and works in the Maktabah bookshop which was also raided, said he read George Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier to pass the time while he was held.
He said he "kept on asking" why he was there. "You can't comprehend how confusing it all was. I didn't know what it was all about until I got out this morning. I've been on the internet catching up with all the crap that was being alleged.
"Look, I've always been a bit of a cynic. I've always thought there's no smoke without fire. In this case there is no fire at all.
"We were arrested at 4am. Within a few hours everyone was talking about this plot to behead a soldier. I feel angry. Why have we been used in this way? We are pawns in some kind of bigger game."
Mr Bakr said he was a friend of the other man who was released yesterday - a 19-year-old who is training to be a plumber. He knew one other of the men arrested through football - but did not know any of the other six at all. "They showed me photos of them. I had no idea who they were."
Mr Bakr said he was not scared. "With the help of god, I wasn't. I knew my conscience was clear."