London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Belmarsh high-security prison in southeast London, first opened on 2 April 1991 and is now home to a number of suspected Islamic extremists who are in breach of the Terrorism Act 2000. Known as the "UK”s Guantanamo" in Islamist circles, the prison has become closely linked to the detainees imprisoned in ward A, including Mustafa Kamel, better known as Abu Hamza al Masri, scheduled to stand trial in January for incitement to racial hatred, killing, and terrorism. The Palestinian-born Jordanian Abu Qatada, Osama bin Laden”s alleged ambassador in Europe was jailed in Belmarsh before being transferred, with nine Algerian extremists, to a less strict prison in Yorkshire, awaiting extradition to Jordan.
Rachid Ramda, an Algerian asylum seeker, has the dubious honor of being the longest prisoner on remand in Belmarsh where he has been held for the last 10 years, after being arrested on an extradition warrant from France in 1995 in connection with a bombing campaign in Paris. Investigators had suspected he was involved in financing the attacks.
Detainees in Belmarsh are referred to as lost, and those released are known as reborn in Islamist circles. Hani al Sibai, an Egyptian, who spent 9 months behind bars in the high-security jail after being arrested during Operation Challenge in 1998, where the Metropolitan Police detained a number of Muslim figures affiliated with Islamic Jihad, told Asharq al Awsat that he spent 28 days on hunger strike in protest of the ill-treatment to which he was subjected. The director of al Makrizi center for historical studies in London, al Sibai indicated many prisoners who were not fluent in English did not understand instructions inside the jail, which led to a number of altercations with the guards and, in some cases, detainees being beaten.
Al Sibai added, "The guards are usually unaware of Arab or Islamic culture, only read The Sun newspaper, and they have tattoos of animals or naked women on their arms." He further stated that the notorious criminals from the drugs trade and elements of the Irish Republican Army are well respected by the guards and are usually addressed as "boss." Despite their problems with grasping the English language, the Islamists are respected by the guards. Furthermore, Al-Sibai claims that movement within the prison is difficult as they are searched whenever they meet their lawyers or visitors whom they see only behind a thick glass wall. Al Sibai clearly remembers the days of his hunger strike in protest of the ill-treatment to which they were subjected.
Following Rachid Ramda, in order of longest imprisoned in Belmarsh are Khaled Al-Fawaz, Adel Abdel Majid Abdel Bari and Ibrahim Aidros who were arrested in 1998 in connection to the bombings of the American embassies in Nairobi and Dar Al-Salam. The three belong to the Egyptian fundamentalist organization, ”Al-Jihad”. Aidros was released last year due to his poor health condition; however, he is constantly monitored electronically. It has been reported that Al-Fawaz was the director of the London based, ”Authority for religious advice and reform,” and that he had attended several meetings with Bin Laden and top Al-Qaeda leaders in Sudan between 1993 and 1994. The three prisoners await their cases to be transferred to the European Human Rights Court.
Al-Fawaz and Abdel Bari have been relocated between a number of British prisons. After September 11, they were moved from Brixton prison to Belmarsh because their lives were in danger. Presently, Al-Fawaz is imprisoned in Milton Keynes whereas Abdel Bari has accompanied Abu Hamza in Belmarsh. Belmarsh is also home to Haydar Abu Duhaha, an Algerian fundamentalist who the United States demand is extradited to the US for his involvement in the "Millennium Explosions." Abu Duhaha, whose nom de guerre is "The Doctor," is accused of being the mastermind behind the attempts to blow up Los Angeles airport in 2000. The American file on Abu Duhaha, whose full name is Amar Makhlilof, states that he is a member of Al-Qaeda. It is believed that he had met Osama Bin Laden at the end of 1998 to form an Algerian cell affiliated with Al-Qaeda and to be led by Abu Duhaha himself. Abu Duhaha is well-respected amongst Islamists because of his high level of education at the Faculty of Medicine before arriving in London.
I clearly remember the words of Mahmood Abu Reidah, the Palestinian Islamist who was released by the British Authorities but remained under constant electronic surveillance. He spoke to Asharq al-Awsat about his conditions in solitary confinement in Belmarsh, and his transfer to Broadmoor psychiatric hospital, where many Algerian fundamentalists have been hospitalized. Abu Reidah revealed the details of his sufferings in prison as well as out of prison due to the electronic bracelet, which must be worn. After removing it, he was arrested and later re-released. In accordance to the anti-terrorism law of 2001, he had been arrested for three and a half years without any formal accusation. The British Ministry of Interior says that his arrest was due to his links to Bin Laden, two Algerian fundamentalist groups and the Egyptian organization, ”Al-Jihad.”
Haroon Rachid Aswad, another fundamentalist who has recently joined many others in the British prisons is a British citizen who was extradited from Zambia to London accused of being involved in the 7/7 London attacks that killed 56 people. The British prosecution claims that he was trained in the Al Qaeda camps of Afghanistan.