Skip to main content

British media 'failed to question' police activities in claimed ISIS 'terror plot'

British media accused of 'alarmist reporting' in coverage of five Britons detained on suspicion of being involved in planning terror attacks
British police have been accused of acting with excessive force when arresting Tarik Hassane (AFP)

A human rights group has condemned the “alarmist reporting” of media outlets in covering the arrest of a young British man detained on suspicion of being involved in a “terrorist plot”.

CAGE, a UK-based rights group, said it was “alarmed at the violent manner” of police officers who raided the home of Tarik Hassane on Tuesday.

21-year-old Hassane was detained “on suspicion of being concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism,” according to a Metropolitan Police statement.

A spokesperson for CAGE said the arrest had involved the use of excessive force.

“A door was broken down, stun grenades were thrown, and a taser used,” said Cerie Bullivant. “There is nothing to suggest that the level of violence used by the police was justified: Mr. Hassane has never been arrested or convicted and does not have a history of firearm possession.”

A total of five people have been arrested in London this week, all suspected of being involved in “terrorist plotting” – although authorities have not disclosed any details of the allegations against the men.

"A number of residential addresses and vehicles were searched by specialist officers in West and Central London as part of the investigation. These searches are now complete," it said.

The five, all either 20 or 21 years old, are being held in central London police stations and the police have a warrant to hold them until October 14.

British officials have become increasingly concerned at the activities of citizens who travel to Syria, where a brutal civil war has killed more than 200,000 people since 2011. Authorities fear Britons could be fighting alongside the Islamic State group (IS) and then pose a threat to the UK when, or if, they return.

103 people have been detained in the UK this year after returning from Syria, however, only five have been convicted of a crime.

"These arrests and searches are part of an ongoing investigation into Islamist-related terrorism," the police said in a statement on Tuesday.

A Whitehall source said officers believe the raids were an "early disruption" of what could have been a "significant plot".

Neither the police nor Whitehall have released any details about the alleged plot.

CAGE criticised media reporting of Hassane’s arrest and said it could impact on his future prospects as a young medical student.

“Sections of the media have failed to question the police’s activities and have instead sought to cast Tarik Hassane as guilty before proven innocent, something supported by claims made from MI5 that an ISIS terror plot had been uncovered,” said Bullivant. “Such claims give further credence to a belief among many that Muslims have become a suspect community.”

“The media hysteria may have destroyed any hope that he will be able to pursue his medical studies in the UK.”

Hassane had travelled from Sudan, where he is a medical student, to London in order to celebrate the festival of Eid with his family, according to CAGE.

Friends of Hassane told the rights group he is a “very laid back and funny guy. He likes football and has never had problems with anyone.”

Reporting of Hassane’s arrest has focused on a tweet he sent out on the day of his arrest that said “oi lads I smell war”. CAGE said this comment has been “isolated and stripped of its surrounding context as evidence of Hassane’s assumed guilt by a number of mainstream media outlets.”

One of those involved in the Twitter conversation said Hassane had been "speaking about girls."

The Metro, a free daily newspaper distributed in London, used the tweet as its front page headline on Thursday and printed Hassane’s school nickname of “The Surgeon” in its article summary.

A friend of Hassane told CAGE it is a name he has had since the age of 11.

“Much of the media coverage about Tarik has been nonsense and bad journalism. Even the nickname Surgeon he has had since Year 7,” they said.

A Twitter hashtag has sprung up in defence of Hassane. On Thursday evening there had been more than 6,000 tweets on #JusticeForTarik by people angry at his treatment by police.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.