Omar Altimimi, an Iraqi asylum seeker, has been jailed for 9 years. Why? Had he carried out any terrorist atrocities? No. Had he planned any such attacks? Seemingly not. This guy has been sentenced to a lengthy spell in prison because he possessed “manuals on how to carry out car bomb attacks” and “recipes for explosives”. Oh, and he had so-called terrorist links – meaning that he knew individuals who were “involved” in terrorism.
I guess that an Iraqi asylum seeker, all alone in a strange country, probably would gravitate towards places where other Iraqis hung out and make friends with the people he met there. There was obviously no proof that he had been involved in any terrorist planning or activity, otherwise he would have been prosecuted for that. As it was, he faced six charges of “possessing terrorist material”.
Apparently, files on his computer contained “detailed information about how to set up terror cells in the UK, ways to make explosives, and instructions on how car bombs could be detonated at the entrances to buildings by remote control.” In other words, the kind of stuff downloaded every day by teenaged boys. The kind of stuff written by wannabe commandos and urban guerrillas. Joke files. I’ll bet that Altimimi had amongst these downloads the Anarchist’s Cookbook – a well-known file circulating on the internet that contains instructions on how to make explosives – instructions that don’t actually work.
From the comments made by the judge and the police, it’s obvious that Altimimi wasn’t involved in anything. Judge Maddison said that he was clearly “a sleeper for some sort of terrorist organisation”, though the learned m’lud failed to identify the evidence that made this clear.
“It is not known, when, if and how you might have been called upon to play your part,” the judge said – in other words, it was quite likely that Altimimi would never have done anything with this forbidden knowledge that he acquired.
Detective Chief Superintendent Tony Porter, head of Greater Manchester’s anti-terrorism unit, said that Altimimi was potentially a key figure in terrorism planning who “posed a threat to the UK”. Note the use of the word “potentially”. We all have potential. It doesn’t mean we’re actually going to do anything.
“He had recipes for bomb-making, making of detonators, details of how to develop and maintain a terrorist cell and infrastructure – put that in context with his connections with known terrorists, known convicted terrorists, [and] that makes this man a very serious player indeed,” Detective Chief Superintendent Porter added. All supposition – if there was any proof that Altimimi was involved in anything, or even planning anything, he would have been prosecuted for that. As it is, he has been imprisoned for knowing things.
The notion of “forbidden knowledge” and “banned texts” is a medieval idea – when you could be burned as a heretic for having the wrong edition of the Bible. To be imprisoned for possessing certain books – or computer files – strikes me as absurd… and dangerous. Remember, these files are widely available on the internet, and there is no reason why possession of them should be illegal. Sure, if Altimimi also had plans of attack on certain targets, or if he had kept certain VIPs under surveillance, then these computer files would have a sinister aspect. But there was no evidence of planning – otherwise, he would have been prosecuted for it.
The UK government has made knowledge illegal. Reading a computer file that isn’t obscene can make you a serious criminal deserving of years of imprisonment. The anti-terrorism hysteria is making the very contents of our minds criminal. In his novel 1984, Orwell wrote of thoughtcrime. Another of his dark premonitions has come true.