Abid Naseer was one of twelve people arrested in 2009 by the North-West Counter-Terrorism Unit on suspicion of planning a terrorist attack at the Trafford Centre, a large shopping mall on the outskirts of the city of Manchester.
Most of the men arrested were Pakistani students based at various universities across the North West of England. Charges against all were dropped within thirteen days of their arrest after no significant evidence against them was found. But on the same day that the students were ‘released’ without charge, they were handed over to the Border Agency for deportation on the grounds that their presence in the UK was not conducive to the public good or that they were in breach of their student visa status. The failure to bring a prosecution against these men was superseded by deportation powers. The conditions of incarceration meant that most of the students returned back to Pakistan ‘voluntarily’ and the home secretary signed exclusion orders banning them from returning to the UK.
Two of the students, Abid Naseer and Faraz Khan, did pursue an appeal against deportation, arguing that if they returned to Pakistan their safety could not be guaranteed. Their appeals were heard by the Special Immigration Appeal Commission (SIAC) and were paradoxically successful: while it was agreed they would be at risk of torture if they returned to Pakistan, their ‘successful’ appeals meant they could not contest their designation as terrorism suspects. The SIAC court endorsed the assessment from the Security Service that these men presented a threat to British national security, while still noting the absence of any evidence of the students’ handling or preparation of explosives or their involvement in any plot.
The court ruled in favour of the government, asserting:
For the reasons which are wholly set out in the closed judgement, we are satisfied, on balance of probabilities, that that assessment is right. We have reached that conclusion despite the complete absence of any evidence of the handling or preparation of explosives by Naseer and his alleged associates. It is a fact that, despite extensive searches of buildings associated with them, nothing has been found, apart from an irrelevant trace of RDX in one of the properties.
After their release following their successful appeals, the authorities continued surveillance of Abid Naseer and connected him with others they suspected of planning an attack on the New York subway. The US instigated an extradition request for Abid Naseer to be tried for terrorism-related offences in New York. Though the request was largely based on the same evidence the British state deemed insufficient to charge him, the request was granted and he was extradited in January 2013.
Abid Naseer maintained a ‘not guilty’ plea in the US and his case was brought to trial in 2015 after two years in pre-trial solitary confinement. This time the trial took place in open court, where he chose to represent himself. Before Abid’s arrival in court prior to the first session, security was enhanced around the Brooklyn Federal Court. The trial experimented with the use of ‘light disguise’, as the judge permitted British MI5 agents to appear in masks and wigs for their own safety. The evidence that formed part of the decision to convict Abid included statements by MI5 agents that he had appeared ‘tense’ while talking on the phone; it also included material collected from the Osama bin Laden compound, in which Abid was not named, and which did not indicate any direct links to the accusations against him. The judge overruled Abid’s assertion that the ‘inflammatory’ documents were not relevant because he was not named in them, replying,
‘The more I read the documents the less significant I find them, but it seems to me on the face of it, it becomes relevant because of who it was said by and the allusions to the scope and activities of various cells’.
Additional evidence against Abid came from Najibullah Zazi, a man who entered into a cooperation agreement with the US government, who acted as a key witness for the prosecution. Najibullah Zazi pleaded guilty in 2010 to plotting to bomb the New York City subway and agreed to testify against others in exchange for a reduced sentence. When cross-examined by Abid, who asked him if they knew each other, Najibullah Zazi responded, ‘I don’t know. I don’t happen to remember your face’. Najibullah Zazi admitted to the court he had not heard Abid Naseer’s name mentioned in any conversation while in New York and Pakistan.
Abid was found guilty and sentenced to forty years in a US superman prison.
Transcripts from Abid Naseer’s Trial: