'Our son is no terrorist, just a young Muslim'
THE family of Mohammed Atif Siddique, the Scottish student convicted this week of al-Qaeda terrorist offences, have come together to tell of their heartache and their anger at the way he has been treated.
They described how their son adopted a stricter Islamic way of life, a change that fractured their close relationship and ultimately led to his conviction.
But they insisted Atif - who faces at least ten years in prison - was not a terrorist and that his actions were similar to those of thousands of ordinary young Muslims seeking answers about al-Qaeda and the "war on terror".
In a wide-ranging interview, the family claimed "thousands" of other people ran the risk of falling foul of the same offences for which Atif was convicted.
They said he had been criminalised for carrying out research on al-Qaeda.
Atif was the first person in Scotland to be convicted under controversial new terror laws that have raised questions about the balance between civil liberties and protecting the public.
Speaking exclusively to The Scotsman, Mohammed Siddique, the father of the 21-year-old, said: "After what's happened to my son, stop your children going on the internet in case they end up in jail.
"The sad thing is, why shouldn't our young people be able to find out what is happening in Iraq or Afghanistan? Does it mean every child that goes on to a website is considered to be a terrorist? Thousands of young people in the Muslim community will have accessed the same material."
His wife, Parveen, said: "I would like, as a mother, to tell their children not to go anywhere near their computers. But, despite all of that, you cannot say going on the internet is a crime.
"It's not just Muslims that go on these websites; white people also go on them. My son is being made a scapegoat.
The convicted student's brother, Asif, said: "Every Muslim is asking questions within themselves: what is happening in Iraq? Why it is happening? What is happening in Afghanistan, Israel and Palestine?
"I was of the opinion a few years ago that unless s*** was happening on my own doorstep, it was nothing to do with me.
"But Atif was different. He was of the belief that it was to do with us, because we are Muslims and what is happening to them could happen to us. Britain was going in there - they must have a reason, he thought. But the Taleban were retaliating, encouraging people to carry out suicide bombings. Was it justified? What's leading them to do that? These are the questions he was asking."
Atif's father told how his son fought with his family as a result of his increasing interest in religion, telling them he wanted to grow a beard - a symbol of devout belief - and urging his father to stop selling alcohol in his shop. The family painted a picture of a growing generational and religious clash that ultimately led to Atif twice running away from home and asserting his independence through the wearing of Muslim dress. The trial heard about Mr Siddique's concern about a trip his son made to England, apparently through connections at Glasgow Central Mosque, which Atif attended.
The insinuation was that he was being "radicalised", prepared for violent jihad, by some not-so-distant al-Qaeda elements.
Atif, in fact, twice ran away from home during 2005. On both occasions, according to his father, they followed bust-ups between himself and his son.
"He wanted to keep a beard. I used to argue with him. I told him people coming into the shop will not like it. They used to make fun of me. They used to say 'can't you buy your boy a razor?'
"I told him once he finishes his studies and gets married, he can grow a beard."
The first time Atif ran away, in April 2005, was after his father forcibly shortened his beard. He was also angry about the alcohol. "He said he was going away for a few days to teach us a lesson," his mother said.
He came back after his father told him he could keep the beard and promised to stop selling alcohol. "I broke the promise so it started all over again," he said.
At one stage, Atif decided to walk around his home town of Alva, Clackmannanshire, wearing a white robe and black turban, again "to teach us a lesson". It was, the family said, no more than a harmless wind-up.
At the end of the year, Atif's uncle, Mohammed Rafiq, came from Punjab in Pakistan to visit his relatives in the UK for the first time.
Mr Siddique said he suggested his son should return with his uncle the following April, so he could visit relatives in the village of Vehari. "He had been twice when he was a young boy but not for a long time, so I thought he should go," he said.
But he would not get there: the pair were detained by Special Branch officers at Glasgow Airport. Just over a week later, Mr Rafiq was also arrested at the family home in Alva.
A key element of the prosecution case was two internet conversations between Atif and a man from the north of England. According to the evidence, in one conversation, in October 2005 - after Atif ran away from home - the other person said: "I suggest that you make a strategic return. The reason is we know what you desire to do for the sake of Allah."
It was left to the jury to conclude Atif may have been "radicalised" by others, a conclusion reached by police who had been monitoring his chatroom contacts for some time.
But Asif rejects the idea such intermittent conversations indicated his brother was being "groomed" to commit a terrorist act. He said: "Grooming is a daily process. One of the conversations went along the lines of, 'I haven't seen you for a long time'. That doesn't sound like grooming to me."
Security services sources and the police have said it was believed Atif might have been preparing to become involved in a terrorist attack in Canada, and indeed was unlikely to return to Scotland from Pakistan.
They claimed after the trial that he had been radicalised by the man from the north of England, who is suspected of being a major recruiting agent and handler for al-Qaeda, and is related to a central figure in an alleged Canadian suicide-bomb team.
It is claimed their mission included detonating lorry bombs, slaughtering shoppers and storming the Canadian Broadcast Centre and parliament building. They allegedly planned to behead Stephen Harper, the Canadian prime minister. A source has also told The Scotsman that, at some point, Atif had discussions with someone in Canada over the possibility of setting up terrorist training camps along the US border.
But Mrs Siddique dismissed such talk as "rubbish".
"He could barely find his way out of Alva, let alone go to Canada," she said.
His father added: "The visit to Pakistan was suggested by me. He was going to Pakistan, then he was coming back. He wouldn't have known that Canada had a prime minister, never mind who he is."
On the face of it, one of the stronger elements of the case against Mohammed Atif Siddique was the evidence from former college classmates and teachers, who testified that he had made a series of alarming comments.
But Atif's lawyer, Aamer Anwar, said the context in which the comments were made creates a different impression to the one the Crown attempted to convey. He says: "They would pick on him. It was like the sort of banter between Catholic and Protestant schoolboys in the 70s and 80s, and today. If somebody says you want to be a suicide bomber, you might just say 'yes, I do'. Five minutes later, you might also say 'I've also met Osama bin Laden, by the way'."
In Alva, welcome support for the Siddiques comes from local shoppers, who have always held the family in high regard. Flowers and other gifts have been given to Mr and Mrs Siddique, while neighbours talk of setting up a petition to free the 'Alva One'.
Asif said: "We want to thank the people of Scotland, and in particular the people of Clackmannanshire, who have stuck with us through this. They know, and we know, that our brother isn't a terrorist."
But not everyone has been so kind. Taunting has become commonplace, especially for the children. Atif's sister, Ayesha, wiping away tears, said: "We are scared of a backlash. My little brother is being bullied at school. They call him a suicide bomber as well. Every day, they call him something. He's only 13 years old. We haven't done anything to deserve these comments being thrown at us."
Her father added: "The police have been trying to build bridges for the past two years, but they are all burned now."
'My son cried and said: Mum, why am I here? I've not done anything'
PARVEEN Siddique's pain becomes clear when she recalls her tearful meeting with son Atif, 21, in Barlinnie prison. He was spending his second day behind bars after being the first person in Scotland to be convicted of al-Qaeda-related terrorist offences.
Wiping away her tears, the mother of four said: "He never cried before. Atif always thought he would be found not guilty, as did we all. He said 'Mum, I will be out. Don't worry'. But he cried yesterday.
"He was very upset. He said 'Mum, why am I here? I haven't done anything wrong'."
Siddique was found guilty at the High Court in Glasgow of possessing and circulating terrorism-related items including CDs and videos of weapons use, guerrilla tactics and bomb-making, with the purpose, of encouraging an act of terrorism.
Material on his computer included an al-Qaeda recruiting video, footage of Osama bin Laden urging jihad against the West, and video of a man with a rifle, who warns: "As you kill us, you will be bombed."
He set up websites with links to military techniques, weapons concealing booby traps and making explosives. Siddique was also convicted of breaching the peace by telling fellow students on his computer course that he wanted to be a suicide bomber, and planned to bomb Glasgow.
The prosecution concluded that Siddique was a "wannabe suicide bomber", basing its case on provocative remarks to college friends; the material on his computers and on websites; conversations on chatrooms and more tenuous details including the fact that he grew a beard.
The family's life changed on 5 April, 2006, when Atif and his uncle, Rafiq, were stopped by Special Branch on their way to board a flight to Pakistan at Glasgow Airport.
Atif's laptop was seized and the contents provided the basis for more traumatic events eight days later. Around a dozen officers in riot gear burst into the house while the family were asleep - except Mr Siddique snr, who offered them the keys to the front door.
"They rammed the front door, then they kicked a hole in the interior door. But it was open - they could have just turned the handle," he said.
Ayesha Siddique was in bed when three police officers, carrying shields and wearing masks, burst into her room.
"They woke me up, and I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I was scared, and started crying. They told me to get up then they handcuffed me.
Mrs Siddique, 44, recalls: "I was asleep and then they came in with shields and masks, dragged the bedclothes off and shouted 'Get up, get up.' I didn't know what was happening."
Atif was also restrained. All four were bound with cable-ties and kept upstairs. Asif, 25, was led downstairs by police who mistook him for their real target.
Atif was arrested and taken to Govan high-security police detention centre. Over the next few days, their home and shop were searched, CDs, computer discs and Playstation games removed, and each family member was repeatedly questioned. Asif and Mohammed Niaz, Atif's uncle, were arrested and later released.
The raid has left the family psychologically scarred and angry, and they claim it caused Ayesha to fail her Higher exams the following month.
"The house is no longer a home," says Mrs Siddique. "There is no soul left in the house and they've taken my boy also. It's destroyed my life."
LOST TEMPER THAT COST 400
A PENSIONER who flew into a rage over the verdict in a terror trial was yesterday fined 400.
Edward Blake, a retired lecturer, shouted and swore at newsagent Taher Bhatti because he refused to discuss the case of student Atif Siddique, who was convicted of terrorist offences at the High Court in Glasgow on Monday.
Blake, 79, went into Mr Bhatti's shop in Stirling Road, Dunblane, two days later and tried to discuss the case before losing his temper.
Aileen Gordon, prosecuting, told Stirling Sheriff Court: "He began shouting 'you P**** are all the same, you should go back to where you come from' and left the shop swearing."
The depute fiscal said police spoke to Blake later at his home. He told officers: "It frustrated me that Siddique didn't get a harsher sentence."
Blake, of Ramoyle, Dunblane, pleaded guilty to committing a racially aggravated breach of the peace.
Fining him, Sheriff Andrew Cubie said: "People of your age shouldn't have tantrums. That should be left for toddlers."
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