LONDON: A former Guantanamo Bay detainee is planning legal action against UK Home Secretary Priti Patel in an attempt to restore his British passport, which authorities stripped from him eight years ago after two trips to Syria, The Guardian reported on Wednesday.
Moazzam Begg, who was held by the US in Guantanamo for three years in the early 2000s, was told that his application for a new passport was rejected in September 2021 despite a terror prosecution into his trips to Syria being dropped.
The prosecution withdrew their legal efforts after they learned that MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence and security service, had allowed him to travel to Syria.
Begg — who works with Cage, which works with people caught up in the “war on terror” — said his frustrations with the delayed system meant he had no choice but to go for a judicial review.
He is hoping to visit his daughter in Turkey, where she was married without his attendance, and travel to Bagram, in Afghanistan, where he was held by US forces before his relocation to Guantanamo.
“I saw two people there being murdered by US soldiers. Now the US has left I would like to go back and try and reinvestigate what happened, to try and visit the camp and the cells,” he said.
Begg was arrested in February 2002 in Pakistan and transferred to US forces, who held him without charge before his release in 2005.
The trips to Syria that are thought to have blocked his passport application were in 2012 and 2013, when fighting had started against the Assad regime but before the advent of Daesh and the influx of foreign fighters, including those from Britain.
Begg said he was contacted by MI5 before his second visit to Syria. “I told them: ‘I am trying to investigate your role in working with the Assad regime in the programme of renditions’.” This work, he claimed, was part of his investigations with Cage.
He said representatives from MI5 informed him that he was free to travel to Syria, but his passport was taken from him when he returned in December 2013 after a trip to South Africa. Earlier that year, he had stayed in opposition territory in Aleppo, Syria, up to April 2013.
He was later arrested and charged on terror offenses, but the Crown Prosecution Service dropped the charges when further details about his visits to Syria were made public, in particular that MI5 had permitted his traveling.
“They know from the probe they put in my car that I was totally against people who would go on to join Isis (Daesh),” Begg said.
He applied for a passport in 2019 and was briefly issued one in September 2021, but it was removed from him four weeks later.
The email revoking his passport was dated 2017 and addressed to a woman accused of passport fraud.
“I think it was a cut and paste job, they were in a rush,” Begg said. “They gave no explanation.”
But now he and his lawyers have written to the Home Office and the Passport Office to put them on legal notice that he intends to claim his full passport.
His team are now expected to launch a judicial review to ensure it is recovered, which will be covered by crowdfunding.
“This government hasn’t tried to take away my citizenship,” he said. “But a passport is a sign of your nationality, the most unique identity document somebody has.”