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Mouloud Silali: My Control Order - a Living Nightmare

al-istiqamah | 01.02.2008 19:15 | Analysis | Repression | Terror War

Mouloud Sihali was one of eight men arrested over the Ricin plot in September 2002. After spending over two years in HMP Belmarsh, a jury acquitted him in April . He was re-arrested a few months later, before being cleared once again. Mouloud spent 16 months under strict control orders before being cleared in May 2007. In this exclusive interview with, Mouloud gives a 1st-hand account of the psychological effects induced by control orders.

Al-Istiqamah: Mouloud, you were first arrested in September 2002. What were you initially arrested for?

Mouloud: I was charged with Section 57 which is having items in my possession that might be useful for the instigation or preparation of an act of terrorism.

Al-Istiqamah: Was that a …passport?

Mouloud: Er… Yes. [Laughs] It’s pretty much anything. They have created this charge, which is a standard charge for anything that could be found in a suspect’s place. They do that to get maximum custody limit of up to six months, so anybody who is arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act is automatically charged under that section. That’s one thing they don’t need an extension for holding suspects beyond 45 days, when they can do it lawfully by charging people with this.

Al-Istiqamah: So you learnt of this “Ricin plot” whilst incarcerated at Belmarsh prison?

Mouloud: Well, it’s a long story, how I was linked to this Ricin plot is from one guy called Meguerba. He was arrested a day before me in September 2002 and he led them to us.

Al-Istiqamah: He fled the country after being granted bail, didn’t he?

Mouloud: Exactly, and when he fled to Algeria he was arrested by the DRS (Algeria's security police). He said that he was tortured. I don’t have any proof of that, but some people have reportedly seen him with a dislocated shoulder, a broken tooth. He then gave them information that there is Ricin factory in Wood Green and people are prepared to launch the poison across England. In Algeria, you have a lot of exaggeration. There are quite a few Algerians who happen to be part of the opposition party in Algeria and they want them behind bars….

Al-Istiqamah: Political activists?

Mouloud: Yes. So they start linking them all together to a plot, although none of these people knew each other. And that’s like with us, the Ricin accused. We didn’t know each other; we had never met each other before.

Al-Istiqamah: You were arrested in Ilford (east London)?

Mouloud: Yes. Some of us were from north London, from east London, even from Manchester, Birmingham. Everywhere. Yet somehow we were all linked together in the Ricin case. We were supposed to be the test case; the first Muslims ever to be charged with terrorism. So they wanted to set it as a precedent for different cases. They couldn’t afford to lose it. They had to secure a conviction. That’s why it was pushed up by politicians.

So in January 2003 when this intelligence from Algeria came to the British they started arresting everyone a week later from all over the country. They came to Belmarsh, took us to the Magistrate’s court and charged us with producing chemical weapons. We didn’t even know which chemical weapon it was supposed to be.

Al-Istiqamah: I read about how the Ricin plot was cited by the Government to divert the public’s attention from their WMD scandal.

Mouloud: Yes, even Colin Powell made a link and said that the Ricin found in the UK originated from Iraq.

Al-Istiqamah: Your trial began in September 2004 and you were acquitted in April 2005?

Mouloud: Yes. It was a seven month trial and the longest in Britain at that time. I spent two and a half years in Belmarsh - as a category A prisoner - before being acquitted. Belmarsh has 4 house blocks. I stayed in Houseblock 1 and Houseblock 3

Al-Istiqamah: You were arrested again in September 2005?

Mouloud: Yes, it was very soon after the 7/7 and 21/7 attacks that they arrested me again. The Home Secretary at the time, Charles Clarke, he decided to blame us (the Ricin co-defendants). He said that because they were watching us, they were diverted and that’s why these July attacks happened. They tried to use our case as a justification to bring in ID cards as well as a reason for having 90 days detention without charge.

Al-Istiqamah: So it was almost three years to the day since your first arrest?

Mouloud: Yes. I had five months of freedom after the jury found us not guilty. I was then re-arrested on the claim that I was a threat to national security because of my involvement in the Ricin plot which never existed! They wanted to deport us. I spent four months in Long Lartin in maximum security in maximum security.

Al-Istiqamah: What was Long Lartin like?

Mouloud: It’s even worse than Belmarsh, that prison. It’s like a prison within a prison. They call it the unit. You’re completely locked-up. You don’t see a clear sky.

Al-Istiqamah: I heard that the brothers call it Long Lockdown?

Mouloud: [Laughs] Yes. Even in Belmarsh the guards would use lockdowns just to have a longer break. We would get one hour a day for association, three times a week. This is your time to have a shower, phone calls etc. If it’s a little bit cloudy, they cancel our time to go to the exercise yard, because of health and safety! We might slip and break a leg if it starts raining.

Al-Istiqamah: After four months, you were released on a control order?

Mouloud: Yes, in January 2006 I was released from Long Lartin and put under these draconian conditions. I wasn’t allowed to have a mobile phone or even a landline initially. I wasn’t even allowed to use a phone box. They said that I couldn’t use any communications equipment. I was eventually allowed to have a landline but that had to be paid for by myself. As I was living on £40 a week income support, a few people helped me with the bill. My lawyer had to contact BT and their engineer had to be cleared by the Home Office. Some engineers refused to come as they would have to give their passport details and have a visit from the Home Office.

If I wanted to write a letter – even within the UK – I had to tell the Home Office who the letter was for, what was its contents, when would I be sending it etc. A copy would have to be given to them. I couldn’t have a pre-arranged meeting with anyone either, so would have to rely on bumping into people randomly on the street.

Al-Istiqamah: How often were you allowed out of your home for each day?

Mouloud: I had six hours of freedom a day, during which I had to sign at a local police station between 12:00-3:00PM everyday. I had a map of one mile square randomly drawn by the judge. I had an electronic tag on my ankle. I had to call the tagging company twice a day, before and after going out. A monitoring unit was also placed inside my home.

Al-Istiqamah: Was your call done by voice recognition?

Mouloud: No, with me I spoke to an operator. For other brothers whom voice recognition was used on, it caused a lot of problems. They would have a password to say, and if they couldn’t understand what was said by these brothers, the police would immediately come to their houses.

Al-Istiqamah: What about visitors?

Mouloud: I couldn’t have anyone visit me at my home, unless they were cleared by the Home Office first.

Al-Istiqamah: Is that easily done?

Mouloud: It isn’t, as is a very long process that takes about three months, and people are scared to be investigated and vetted by the Home Office.

Al-Istiqamah: Mouloud, despite being a 'terrorist', you were still given a limited map of the local area and had access to public transport?

Mouloud: Yes, I have a very large shopping centre near me. I couldn’t use the public transport, but they were within reach. Practically speaking, I could have gone anywhere I wanted and done something, if I was a threat to national security. A pack of lies…

Al-Istiqamah: Did the tag on your ankle have a GPS (Global Positioning System)?

Mouloud: No, that’s just the thing. They gave me a map of one mile square and said “We trust you not to go over the boundary.” So they couldn’t physically know if I were to breach the order in where I was allowed to go, as it costs them tons of money to issue everyone with a GPS tag.

Al-Istiqamah: Who is given one?

Mouloud: Paedophiles are given them to prevent them from approaching schools, so they can track exactly where they are.

Al-Istiqamah: You were considered a terror suspect, but you basically got the cheaper equipment?

Mouloud: [Laughs] Absolutely; the cheaper, unreliable equipment.

Al-Istiqamah: You fled Algeria to avoid national service. Is that correct?

Mouloud: That’s right. In 1997, Algeria was going through a civil war. A lot of my neighbours and friends had done national service and come back with physical or psychological damage. Some went mad or were severely depressed. Some refused to speak about, but others would. You know, growing up together, they would mention certain things to us. They had killed people or abused them whilst in the army. Of course, that is what happens in an army. They would send people in the middle of nowhere and without any backup and they would shoot anything that moves, in case you get shot first.

Al-Istiqamah: You were labelled as a terror suspect, but even before coming to the UK, you turned down what is in effect free military training?

Mouloud: Exactly! I postponed it twice due to being a student, and then I left Algeria. I went to Italy on a visa and then crossed over to London.

Al-Istiqamah: Do you have plans to go back to Algeria?

Mouloud: I can’t really say. I’m not quite sure at the moment.

Al-Istiqamah: I wanted to ask you about the psychological effects of a control order. How is it compared to being incarcerated in Belmarsh or Long Lartin, which are two of the eight high security prisons in the UK?

Mouloud: It’s like this: when you are in prison, you’re looked up like everyone else. You don’t see the outside world. You enter another world. Your freedom is taken away and everyone is in the same boat. Even the guards, they are locked up as well. They too are scared of being attacked at any moment. We have a saying that in prison, everyday is a Sunday. It’s not as bad as you might have seen on TV in American movies, but still, you are looked up with murderers and rapists. You have to watch your back 24-7 and expect anything at anytime. Well, thank God that we weren’t allowed out of our cells all day, so we only had to watch our backs for an hour a day, four times a week. [Laughs] So you can deal with that, no problem.

Al-Istiqamah: And when under a control order?

Mouloud: It’s a living nightmare and I would say that being under a control order is worse than being in prison, as you are a prisoner in your own home. Everything you want to do requires permission.

Al-Istiqamah: Could you give some examples?

Mouloud: If I needed to go to the doctor I would have to give three working day’s notice via my solicitor to gain permission. I needed to provide details of my intended route, why was I going to the doctor, what were my symptoms, how long would the visit last etc. The doctor or the hospital would have to give written confirmation that they had granted me an appointment. Sometimes they would refuse me an appointment. I was living in Slough and it took me two hours to reach the hospital. I asked for fifteen minutes extra before the appointment, so I could arrive in good time. The Home Office would write back and say that ten minutes is fine, but not fifteen. What is the point of such pettiness?

Al-Istiqamah: What would happen in a medical emergency?

Mouloud: I don’t know what I could have done. Maybe jump out of the window and call for help?! Health and safety was not taken into consideration by the Home Office. If there was a fire, how was I going to get out? If I left home in the middle of the night, that would be a breach of my control order. Technically speaking I could then be returned to prison to face a judge and explain why I breached my control order. A couple of times the fire alarm went off in the night around 2:00 AM. I didn’t know what to do. Thank God there was no fire, but it was just that someone in the flat above mine was smoking.

Al-Istiqamah: What specific effects did the control order have on you?

Mouloud: I used to feel that I was being followed wherever I go. I still feel that actually. I board a bus and I can’t sit at the front. I can’t have my back to anyone, so I have to sit at the back and be able to see everyone. I walk down the street and feel that I am being followed. A psychologist said it’s a 50-50 chance that I am being followed, as the government has messed up my life so much, they might be worried I will go crazy one day and do something stupid.

Al-Istiqamah: Do you feel this paranoia outside only?

Mouloud: No, even inside my flat, I worry all the time that it is bugged. I don’t feel comfortable in there. I can’t talk freely on the phone. One of my jurors was a BT engineer and he told me that the phone number that I had at a previous address could be a high profile number that is not fed through a local exchange. It wasn’t like any of the local numbers.

Al-Istiqamah: Is it the fear of the unknown then, when under a control order?

Mouloud: That’s it. In prison, I can see the restrictions and everyone is in the same situation. Under a control order, they play with your mind. I saw other people around me, and they were free, yet I was not. Physically there was nothing to prevent me going out of my designated area, but psychologically I would be under pressure. I worried that I had gone over the boundary, even though I hadn’t. I began to panic that my curfew was up, even though I had enough time to get home. I would phone the monitoring company and then panic that maybe I had missed making that call.

Al-Istiqamah: Would you ever suffer from hallucinations?

Mouloud: Yes, sometimes I do. I have problems sleeping. The second time that police raided my place and came to arrest me in 2005 they beat me up very badly. I have nightmares of that and wake up early, unable to go back to sleep. Sometimes I sit on my bed and in my mind I can see the door being broken down in front of me…

Al-Istiqamah: A flashback?

Mouloud: Yes. Any small noise outside makes me sweat and very anxious, even rain on my windowsill. I check the window every two or three minutes. I live very close to a police station. Every time I hear a siren, I feel afraid that they are coming for me. I still don’t know what “secret evidence” the SIAC was supposedly in possession of. Even after being cleared, I still don’t know. I feel that someone has put a black mark on my name and I feel like an unwanted person in an unwanted land. They haven’t made a decision yet as to whether to grant me asylum or not. I am in the dark and uncertain of my future.

Al-Istiqamah: Do you feel wary of people?

Mouloud: Yes, it happens with quite a lot of them. Unfortunately, even with my supporters, I feel suspicious sometimes and find it hard to trust them.

Al-Istiqamah: Do you feel that the government’s plan is to mentally break destroy you so that you leave the UK voluntary, rather than for them to have you deported to Algeria and face opposition from human rights group concerned about the possibility of torture?

Mouloud: This is part of their game. They won’t allow me to work because if I work I will earn money and get on with my life. Instead I must remain unemployed and fall into depression. I can’t concentrate on anything. I’m not a conspiracy theory kind of person, but I start feeling paranoid. I don’t feel comfortable. I can’t tell everyone everything and it shouldn’t be like that. I should be able to trust people and not have this constant fear.

Al-Istiqamah: Did you ever feel suicidal?

Mouloud: It did cross my mind a few times, to tell you the truth. I prison I had the company of the brothers to keep my spirits up. We talked to each other and supported each other. Under a control order, they try to limit my moral support. Alhamdulillah we had you guys and HHUGS and Cageprisoners and others who came and supported us during our nightmare. It really makes a big difference in keeping us strong. It gives us hope.

Al-Istiqamah: With your situation, was it easier to bear being single, or were you lonelier due to not living with a family?

Mouloud: I happen to be a single man, but these brothers with families were far more depressed, as their wives and children went through the same process as them. They couldn’t have visitors, or a mobile phone.

Their children couldn’t use the internet, even if they had schoolwork to do. You can only imagine how difficult it was. This is why some of them chose to go back home; to free their families from this madness. It makes you feel guilty of torturing your own family. Of course it will drive you mad, being locked up for 18 or 20 hours a day. Sometimes the wife wants to do her own things at home without her husband inside all the time.

Al-Istiqamah: With the brothers who have absconded, do you blame them to taking such a drastic course of action?

Mouloud: I blame the system that makes these people do such a desperate thing. I think the government wants to push people to escape so then they can justify more rigid anti-terror laws.

Al-Istiqamah: Cerie Bullivant was acquitted by a jury of. However, within hours the Home Secretary put an even more restrictive control order on him. What do you make of that?

Mouloud: Yes, as a punishment for running away. With me, my case was being reviewed, so I had some hope that it would all end one day by winning my case or being deported. With some of these brothers, it is an endless nightmare. You get crushed very rapidly under control orders, even though the conditions whilst on bail are stricter. So people get desperate and abscond. After they have run away, maybe they realise this is a stupid thing to do, so they hand themselves back to the authorities.

Al-Istiqamah: Is your faith stronger now, since your arrests, imprisonment and life under a control order?

Mouloud: Well, when I was first arrested, I was just a regular Muslim who happened to pray. I wasn’t that committed to Islam. When I got to prison I became much more committed as I turned to Allah – there’s no one else you could turn to. I began to ask for forgiveness, pray for my freedom, pray for everything really, as we do in Islam as a Muslim. Once I was released and then re-arrested, I began to question why I was being put through this again. It’s just shaytan (Satan) putting these thoughts in your mind. In Long Lartin we would help each other to get through this trial. I am much stronger in my faith than I used to be, alhamdulillaah.

Al-Istiqamah: As a Muslim, do you believe that the ‘War on Terror’ is a War on Islam?

Mouloud: Yes, I would say that. I don’t think they would target communities that are Jewish or Christian. But I really don’t know what the definition of a ‘terrorist’ is. They are still debating what this term means. I feel that I was targeted because I am a Muslim. Muslims who care about others, who support others, they are the ones targeted for arrest.

Al-Istiqamah: Did you witness abuse of the Qur’an in prison?

Mouloud: There was a Kenyan brother who was held without charge in Belmarsh and he was abused by the officers after returning from a court appearance.

As Muslims, we don’t show our awrah (private parts) to others, but they would force us to be stripped, despite the fact that we have gone through a very sensitive scanner as well as being followed by the dogs. When we objected on religious grounds, they made a point to force us to strip more often. We heard about the Qur’an being abused. This same Kenyan brother, they threw his Qur’an at him and he was really upset and began to protest, so they locked him up in segregation for a few days. We heard of cases like this on a few occasions. When the abuse of the Qur’an in Guantanamo hit the headlines, the guards in Belmarsh began to wear gloves when handling the Qur’an.

Al-Istiqamah: Is it an exaggeration to call Belmarsh ‘the UK’s Guantanamo’ with regard to the attitude of the guards towards Muslim detainees?

Mouloud: I don’t think it’s an exaggeration at all. That prison is practically a police prison. It has been built to crush people, to make them weak before appearing in court. Other high-secure prisons are less restrictive than that.

Al-Istiqamah: Did you spend time in the HSU (High Secure Unit) there?

Mouloud: I did spend some times there and it is like being inside a container ship. You feel nauseous, anxious, you have no appetite, so uncomfortable. They will put the heating on full blast and it goes through a big pipe in your cell. You have no control over these things.

Al-Istiqamah: How are detainees P and Q, who returned to Algeria?

Mouloud: Detainee P is Mustapha. He was taken for questioning when he arrived in Algeria. He was taken to a secret location for a few days, but then he was released. Each time a new batch would arrive from the UK, he would be questioned again. Another brother arrived in Algeria and nothing was not heard of him, until he was recently charged with being part of the Ricin case. He was convicted without a jury and is now serving a sentence.

Detainee Q is Mihoubi (Dandani). He was released the same day as Mustapha. He was picked up a week later and was eventually charged and convicted a few months ago. He got eight years for membership of a terrorist organisation active abroad.

Al-Istiqamah: With our site, our primary aim is encouraging steadfastness in times of trial. Could you please give some advice to our readers in the current climate?

Mouloud: Our ummah today is so weak. They want to think that it won’t happen to them. Well, today it happened to me. Tomorrow it will happen to you. It’s just a matter of time because every Muslim in Britain is considered as a terror suspect, a potential terrorist. If you are Asian or Arab, you are more likely to be stopped and detained, even if you have done nothing wrong. You better start acting now; stand up for your rights before it’s too late. Make your voice heard. I'm sure your site has information on this.

Al-Istiqamah: Mouloud, many thanks for letting us interview you.

Mouloud: No problem.


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Display the following 4 comments

  1. typo — al-istiqamah
  2. Trial without detention in Britain today... — City worker
  3. cart before the horse... — CW
  4. Nice to know... — al-istiqamah
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