United Kingdom

Convicted terrorist 'mastermind' has received over £800,000 legal aid to seek 'torture' compensation

Rangzieb Ahmed lost three of the fingernails on his left hand in an underground torture chamber in the city of Rawalpindi.

Officers of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) — Pakistan’s equivalent of our MI5 — pulled them out with pliers, he claims.

He was also beaten with modified cricket stumps, whipped and suffered further cruelties at the hands of those working for the Islamic Republic.

Ahmed is British. He was born and lived in Greater Manchester.

He had travelled to Pakistan to work for a charity helping victims of the earthquakes that periodically affect the country. Or so he said.

What he allegedly endured in the 13 months he spent in Pakistani custody was an outrage against the laws and liberties we supposedly hold dear in the UK.

But there are qualifications to this horror story — personal details that make it less straightforward; his protestations a lot more cynical.

Suspected Al Qaeda leader, Rangzieb Ahmed arriving at Heathrow Airport from Islamabad

Ahmed is also a convicted terrorist ‘mastermind’; UK leader of the Al Qaeda network, which crashed planes into the Twin Towers in New York and inspired the 7/7 attacks in London that killed 56 and injured hundreds more.

It was also, the U.S. claims, behind the beheading of U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl in Karachi in 2002.

Ahmed was linked by evidence to more than one of those outrages.

In 2008, he was sentenced to life imprisonment in the UK for planning further ‘mass murder’ attacks. He felt it was his ‘duty’, the court heard.

He was the first person in the UK to be found guilty of the new offence of directing terrorism, and he remains behind bars.

In the course of his Al Qaeda activities, Ahmed had travelled the world on missions to kill.

In Dubai he was recorded boasting that he was ‘higher even than a manager’ in ‘the company’, as he called Al Qaeda.

Ahmed is also a convicted terrorist ‘mastermind’; UK leader of the Al Qaeda network, which crashed planes into the Twin Towers (pictured) in New York and inspired the 7/7 attacks in London that killed 56 and injured hundreds more.

Al Qaeda was also, the U.S. claims, behind the beheading of U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl (pictured) in Karachi in 2002

On balance, it is unlikely he was in Pakistan to help earthquake victims.

But while in Pakistan, Ahmed fell into the hands of those who endorsed a more physical approach to law enforcement than he would have expected back in Rochdale.

None of what Ahmed told the ISI under duress in Rawalpindi had a bearing on the prosecution evidence presented at his subsequent UK trial.

Those convictions relied on sophisticated secret surveillance of him carried out while he was on Al Qaeda operations in the Persian Gulf.

Yet it is not Pakistan from which Ahmed has been seeking redress for the inhuman treatment he suffered there.

Pakistan, frankly, does not give a damn how many fingernails its agents extracted.

Instead, it was reported last month that MI5 is to present ‘further evidence’ in a UK court later this year to try to head off a legal action brought by Ahmed to win compensation from the British Government for what happened to him nearly 4,000 miles away.

Ahmed claims the authorities here knew full well what would occur when he travelled to Pakistan and, indeed, colluded with the authorities there in his torture-assisted interrogations.

In the course of his Al Qaeda activities, Ahmed had travelled the world on missions to kill. Pictured: A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa 2014

Somali Al-Shebab fighters gather on February 13, 2012 in Elasha Biyaha, in the Afgoei Corridor, after a demonstration to support the merger of Al-shebab and the Al-Qaeda network

The Al Qaeda boss has reportedly received Legal Aid — from the UK taxpayers he had wanted to kill — that is at least £800,000 and creeping ever closer to the £1 million mark.

This is a morally complex story because, for all the barbarity at the heart of Ahmed’s creed, his case highlights uncomfortable truths closer to home.

After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, the UK, under Prime Minister Tony Blair, allowed itself to be drawn into alliances with several foreign governments that had a shared antipathy towards Islamic terror groups but were far more careless of human rights and democracy.

So we saw the ‘extraordinary rendition’ of Islamist suspects to prisons and interrogation centres in allied Third World countries or in Eastern Europe, where they could be questioned in ways not allowed in the West.

The results of these brutal interrogations were then passed to our spymasters.

The Mail has drawn attention in the past to these embarrassing iniquities — and Ahmed’s case sits on the fault line between a decent society and terror. Often, during the past two decades, that line has been blurred or even crossed by our supposed defenders.

Should we then feel sorry for Rangzieb Ahmed?

That is for the individual reader to decide, although he makes an unsympathetic victim of injustice and his pursuit of ‘compensation’ may anger people further.

But at least one, highly unlikely, figure — a Conservative Party grandee, no less — feels his rights are worth arguing for.

Ahmed, 44, spent much of his adult life engaged in radical Islamism. In the 1990s he was imprisoned in India for alleged militant activities in Kashmir.

It was pressure from the UK Government that finally saw him released after seven years.

But he was neither grateful nor finished with terrorism.

In fact, he became a key UK player in the global network created and led by Osama Bin Laden.

In September 2007 Ahmed was arrested by officers of Greater Manchester Police’s anti-terror unit at Heathrow after getting off a plane from Pakistan.

In September 2007 Ahmed was arrested by officers of Greater Manchester Police’s anti-terror unit at Heathrow after getting off a plane from Pakistan

He was later charged with three offences under the Terrorism Act 2000: directing an organisation concerned in the commission of acts of terrorism; possessing three books for purposes of terrorism; and possessing a rucksack containing traces of explosive.

But as he awaited trial, his lawyers and the campaign group Human Rights Watch made detailed allegations about what had befallen Ahmed in Pakistani custody between his arrest by the ISI in August 2006 and when he was deported to the UK.

It was claimed that Mr Ahmed was held in an underground detention centre and questioned about Al Qaeda and Shehzad Tanweer, one of those who took part in the 7/7 London bombings in 2005. Pictured: A woman with surgical burns covers her face as she is led from Edgware Road tube station following the terror attack in 2005

Tayab Ali, of London law firm McCormacks, said: ‘Mr Ahmed has injuries which would support the allegation of torture, including having his fingernails pulled out.

'We will investigate whether there is British government complicity in his detention and torture.’

It was claimed that he was held in an underground detention centre and questioned about Al Qaeda and Shehzad Tanweer, one of those who took part in the 7/7 London bombings in 2005.

At first he was ‘simply punched’ but later he was hit with sticks and strips of tyre attached to wooden staves.

On the eighth day of detention his captors began to pull out his fingernails sliver by sliver, giving him painkilling injections after each session. It took more than a week for the three fingernails to be fully removed.

During these sessions, written questions were submitted to his torturers by others not in the room.

Ahmed claimed he was visited in prison by American officials.

He was also seen by British officials who showed him photographs of suspects.

The Foreign Office confirmed that Ahmed had been visited by officials from the high commission in Islamabad.

His trial at Manchester Crown Court began in September 2008.

Beforehand, his lawyers made a number of allegations to the judge, Mr Justice Saunders, in an attempt to get the case thrown out because of the mistreatment their client had suffered in Pakistani custody.

Mr Ahmed's trial at Manchester Crown Court began in September 2008. Pictured: Manchester Crown Court

They said that while being held he was bound, hooded and questioned by MI5 officers. Greater Manchester Police had also passed questions to his interrogators.

But the judge, who heard MI5’s response to the allegations in private, was not persuaded.

He dismissed Ahmed’s claim that his fingernails had been pulled out shortly before he met MI5 officers. The case went ahead.

The compelling evidence laid bare Ahmed’s dedication to Al Qaeda.

He was tracked as he travelled to South Africa from Pakistan via China and the Middle East to take part in an undisclosed mission, which was aborted when its controller was killed in a U.S. missile strike. By then Ahmed had reached Dubai.

He was so vital to Al Qaeda, the court heard, that a junior operative was sent from Britain to collect potentially incriminating documents from Ahmed before the latter flew home.

A taxi driver, Habib Ahmed (they were unrelated) was the second man, who was ordered to collect and carry a Filofax and two exercise books belonging to Rangzieb Ahmed ‘that contained information on how Al Qaeda operatives could contact each other’.

Some of the passages were in invisible ink.

When the secret books were later recovered at Habib Ahmed’s home, they were said to have included a phone number for Hamza Rabia, described as the number three in Al Qaeda.

Other entries included one for Khalid Habib, described as Al Qaeda’s number six and a bomb-maker, and a suspected terrorist financer connected with the Madrid train bombings.

When the secret books were later recovered at Habib Ahmed’s home, they were said to have included a phone number for Hamza Rabia, described as the number three in Al Qaeda. Other entries included one for Khalid Habib, described as Al Qaeda’s number six and a bomb-maker, and a suspected terrorist financer connected with the Madrid train bombings (pictured)

The two terrorists were bugged while they met in a Dubai hotel room and in their car when they returned to Manchester.

The senior Ahmed was heard boasting of meeting Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, organiser of the 9/11 attacks.

Referring to Al Qaeda, the junior accomplice said ‘I heard you’ve become a manager now’, to which his colleague replied: ‘Yeah, higher even than a manager, mate.’

Rangzieb Ahmed was convicted of two of the three charges against him and sentenced to life with a minimum term of ten years.

In a bombshell intervention in the House of Commons in July 2009, MP David Davis accused the Government of ‘outsourcing’ the torture of terrorist suspects abroad

Mr Justice Saunders told him: ‘You were not an insignificant member of Al Qaeda... I am satisfied you are dedicated to the cause of Islamic terrorism.’

But one aspect of the evidence against Ahmed raised a troubling question.

He and his Al Qaeda accomplice were under surveillance in Dubai in December 2005 — more than six months before he went to Pakistan, where he was arrested and tortured.

Knowing what they did about Ahmed’s activities and having secured damning evidence, why did Greater Manchester Police and the British security services allow him to remain at large and even travel to Pakistan?

One person who was sure he knew the answer to that was Conservative former Shadow Home Secretary David Davis.

In a bombshell intervention in the House of Commons in July 2009, Mr Davis accused the Government of ‘outsourcing’ the torture of terrorist suspects abroad.

He said he had evidence that British agents ‘deliberately allowed Rangzieb Ahmed to leave the UK for Pakistan, then tipped off officials there, knowing he would be arrested and tortured.’

Greater Manchester Police and MI5, who had been tracking Ahmed for months in the UK, drew up a list of questions for the ISI to put to him, Mr Davis alleged, adding: ‘He should have been arrested by the UK in 2006. He was not.

Greater Manchester Police and MI5 (pictured the MI5 building at Thames House, London), who had been tracking Ahmed for months in the UK, drew up a list of questions for the ISI to put to him, Mr Davis alleged

The authorities knew he intended to travel to Pakistan, so they should have prevented that. Instead, they suggested ISI arrest him. They knew he would be tortured.’

Mr Davis also said that Manchester police accessed Ahmed’s UK medical records within days of him telling British intelligence officers who visited him in jail that he had been tortured.

They deny he made such complaints. Mr Davis remains resolute in his beliefs.

Back in 2009, Labour Foreign Secretary David Miliband (pictured), Home Secretary Jacqui Smith (and her successor Alan Johnson) and MI6 head Sir John Scarlett all denied UK complicity in torture abroad

He told the Mail: ‘This is yet another case which demonstrates the need for a proper judge-led inquiry into all these areas where the British Government and its agencies appear to co-operate with other states in rendition and torture.’

Back in 2009, Labour Foreign Secretary David Miliband, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith (and her successor Alan Johnson) and MI6 head Sir John Scarlett all denied UK complicity in torture abroad.

The Mail has spoken to sources within the Pakistani intelligence community about the Ahmed case and Pakistan’s own ‘interrogation policy’.

One former officer said: ‘If a detainee is co-operating, he is well treated, provided with all facilities and allowed to see his family members. But if he is difficult, all the old and new ways of interrogation are applied.’

Ahmed launched an appeal against his convictions, based not on his declared innocence but on the allegation that he had been tortured in Pakistan with British complicity before he went on trial.

The affair took an even more surreal turn when he and another senior Al Qaeda figure — Salahuddin Amin, jailed for life for planning a mass-casualty bombing campaign in Britain — sought a judicial inquiry into the actions of the security services.

In 2011, Ahmed’s appeal was thrown out. Lord Justice Hughes said even if the alleged torture had taken place, it had no effect on the trial.

Ahmed’s further attempt to get the European Court of Human Rights to overturn his convictions also failed.

Ahmed’s further attempt to get the European Court of Human Rights (pictured) to overturn his convictions also failed

But while he remains in jail — he qualified for parole in January — he is still trying to get compensation for his treatment in Pakistan. He wants the case heard at the High Court in London.

His solicitor, Raju Bhatt, said of the reported MI5 intervention in his client’s compensation claim: ‘We shall be resisting this. I am trying to take instructions from my client but it is very difficult when he is locked up 23-and-a-half hours a day. It does rather put things in perspective when people are complaining about how the pandemic lockdown has curtailed their activities.

‘Rangzieb has given several consistent accounts of what happened to him. If you are seeking a more definitive one, perhaps you should ask the security services. They seem to think they have it.’

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