Archive for the ‘Terrorist in our Midst’ Category

Sound the Alarm: A Terrorist in our Midst

May 22, 2007

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In one single month I went through three agonizing ordeals: 

1)

When the Eurostar train arrived at Waterloo station in London,  the journey from Gare du Nord in
Paris had come to its end.

Luckily, the Police and Immigration offices were closed. To the experienced traveller, this means the hundreds of arriving travellers can now make a faster exit as they are spared the customary entry formalities. 

 But appearances can be deceptive. The prying eyes of British security officers in plain clothes were everywhere.  The discerning can distinguish those secret agents strategically positioned along each side of the exit passageway. 

 As I was making my way out, a plain-clothesman stopped me to ask for my british passport !.

 He then started firing salvoes of questions about what I do, where I come from and how long I was away from
Britain, etc. He then “ordered” me to follow him to his office, where he and his colleague kept investigating my past for a whole hour. They wanted to know everything about me: my education, work, my family, my friends, why I have visited so many Arab countries, what I did in each of these visits..
 

 When I proved to the police officer that I was indeed a journalist and that I was returning to base having covered the French elections, one of his colleagues then asked me to hand him all the credit cards in my possession.  Having failed to prove me guilty of any terrorist links, the officer endeavoured to prove I was a conman, perhaps a forgerer.   

Contrary to UN Charter and all Human Rights conventions which forbid discrimination of any kind on the basis of race, religion or colour, the British officer callously detained me in his office for a whole hour.

 When he finally ordered me to “dismiss”, he did not find it in his heart to utter a single word of apology for singling me out from amongst hundreds of passengers for no reason at all other than the colour of my skin and  my Arab features.  

2)

I was at Hasi el-Raml airport going to Algiers when the policeman who was checking the passengers’ ID cards discovered I was a journalist. Upon this realization, he immediately turned into a master interrogator.  

He asked about the specific job I had in this part of Algeria, which lies on a massive reservoir of natural gas, and whether I had beamed any reports or interviews from  there; if so who, what, where etc.

 I responded politely and told him that I was no stranger to the area and that I had grown up there. I also added that I was on holiday and had spent few days with my friends and family.  

Unwilling to assume responsibility for “acquitting” me, the policeman then asked a colleague of his to double-check my ID papers.

 The second police officer spent a few minutes gazing at my papers and decided in the end to refer the matter to yet a third party. Deciding what to do with me had become a collective responsibility.

 No single officer was willing to take a risk! I do appreciate and understand the pressures and difficult circumstances under which the Algerian Police perform their duties, especially in the sensitive oil and gas producing region in our country.

But carrying the matter too far can backfire and lead to unnecessary inconveniences and embarrassments.  

However, when I finally headed for the gate and waited for the boarding announcement, I felt that I was being closely watched by a every one in the waiting area.

I was probably considered a terrorist leader, perhaps a repentant emir of a fundamentalist armed group into whose hands lies the fate of all the passengers about to be on that flight.  

I went through the same unpleasant scenario at
Algiers airport.

The passport officer there wanted me to put down the whereabouts and details of where I stayed in my own country as well as all the addresses of my residence abroad.

He then asked for further details such as my job title, my mother’s maiden name and my paternal grandfather’s name before seizing my passport and rushing to consult his colleagues and superiors.  

Although I did not in point of fact mind spending a long time waiting and answering questions like a suspect in a police station, I must admit that what  aggravated me most was the question:

Why did you come to
Algeria?

 In other words, the right honourable official wanted to know what I, or indeed any fellow Algerian for that matter, did in our own country! 

3)

Every time I take the London Underground with a rucksack, duffel or a backpack, the eyes of every passenger in the carriage get glued to me, watching every move I might make.

These people obviously fear that I might be a terrorist carrying hidden explosives, and intent on destroying them, the way my Muslim co-religionists did, not long ago.

 Every time I go with an Arab friend to a café or a restaurant in London, customers become wary of our presence, start reaching for their handbags and hasten to pick up their  mobile phones from the table and start to look constantly over our shoulders, lest we nick them, the way youths bearing similar countenance and appearance to ours have done so. 

These are only glimpses of the mental and psychological oppression suffered by the Arab youths of today, inside and outside their countries.   It is to be regretted that young Arabs, especially the educated and well groomed, have become victims of  both Arab and western security apparatuses.  In the west, this targeted group has fallen prey to presupposed notions and misconceptions created by the ever wily media, which has perpetuated and deeply etched these stereotypes into the western national conscience. 

People here and elsewhere seem to forget that, like their counterparts everywhere,

Arab youths also fear terrorist attacks on the transport system.

Like other human beings, they too take precautions lest they become victims of pickpockets and thieves in public places and above all else they passionately hate to be detained or sent to prison because of their ideas, religion or the colour of their skin.       

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