In May 2008, University of Nottingham student Rizwaan Sabir and staff member Hicham Yezza were arrested by counter-terrorism officers causing huge controversy. Sabir had downloaded an al-Qaida training manual as research for a dissertation he was producing, and asked Yezza, editor of a political magazine called Ceasefire, for his help in drafting a PhD proposal. University officials alerted the police and the men were held in police custody for six days.
Documents have recently been released on the Unileaks website which give a fresh insight into those events of 2008. They reveal that the university officials who initially contacted the police had never read the manual concerned, despite declaring it to be “illegal” and “toxic waste”. When he was released without any charge, instead of receiving an apology Sabir was told by officials that he could still be fined or suspended by the university due to his actions.
After the case was dropped, the security officials claimed that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) had “reluctantly accepted a decision not to charge Sabir as a terrorist. However, the leaked documents reveal in a letter from the CPS that they believed there was “insufficient evidence” to carry on with the case.
As recently as last month a lecturer at the university, Dr Rod Thornton, was suspended after he wrote an article criticising the actions of the university with relation to the two men. He has now had nine disciplinary hearings, after the last one he claimed:
"It's about academic freedom, but also the wider issue of the way Muslim students are treated. Suspicions are being raised when they should not be."
A group has been formed, Support the Whistleblower At Nottingham (SWAN), to campaign for the re-instatement of Dr Thornton. Their spokesman explained the significance of the leaks:
"These leaks show how everything can, and does, go wrong when a brand-conscious university is left to deal with security issues such as terrorism. What's more, this case highlights how a leading British university can act with impunity on such a sensitive issue."
This entire situation seems to be an exercise in the University of Nottingham attempting to cover their tracks after making a mistake. It is clear from the evidence that these two men had no plans involving terrorism, and were simply the victims of overzealous security officials. Even now they still have not apologised for their actions. A recent statement from a university spokesman said:
“Senior staff evaluated the information that was available and made the correct decision – to pass those concerns to the police as the appropriate body to investigate in the interests of public safety. This was a very difficult situation that was handled appropriately and properly. The university acted in good faith.”