LONDON: A former Guantanamo Bay detainee is planning legal action against British Home Secretary Priti Patel to restore his British passport, which authorities stripped him of eight years ago after two trips to Syria, The Guardian reported on Wednesday.
Moazzam Begg, who was held at Guantanamo by the US for three years in the early 2000s, has been told his application for a new passport in September 2021 was denied, although a terror prosecution over his travels to Syria has been dropped.
Prosecutors withdrew their legal action after learning that MI5, Britain’s homeland intelligence and security service, had allowed him to travel to Syria.
Begg – who works with Cage, who works with people involved in the “war on terror” – said his frustration with the delayed system meant he had no choice but to seek a judicial review.
He hopes to visit his daughter in Turkey, where she married without his presence, and to travel to Bagram, Afghanistan, where he was being held by US forces before being transferred to Guantanamo.
“I saw there how two people were murdered by US soldiers. Now that the US has left I would like to go back and try to re-investigate what happened to try and visit the camp and cells,” he said.
Begg was arrested in Pakistan in February 2002 and handed over to US forces, who held him without charge before his release in 2005.
The trips to Syria, which are believed to have blocked his passport application, took place in 2012 and 2013, when fighting against the Assad regime had begun, but before the rise of Daesh and the influx of foreign fighters, including those from Britain .
Begg said he was contacted by MI5 ahead of his second visit to Syria. “I told them, ‘I’m trying to investigate your role in collaborating with the Assad regime in the rendition program.'” That work, he claimed, was part of his investigation into Cage.
He said MI5 officials told him he was free to travel to Syria but his passport was taken from him when he returned from a trip to South Africa in December 2013. Earlier this year he was in opposition territory in Aleppo, Syria, until April 2013.
He was later arrested and charged with terrorism-related offences, but prosecutors dropped the charges when more details emerged about his visits to Syria, notably that MI5 had allowed his trip.
“You know from the probe they put in my car that I was absolutely against people who would join Isis (Daesh),” Begg said.
He applied for a passport in 2019 and was briefly issued one in September 2021, only to have it revoked four weeks later.
The email revoking his passport was dated 2017 and addressed to a woman accused of passport fraud.
“I think it was a cut and paste job, they were in a rush,” Begg said. “They gave no explanation.”
But now he and his lawyers have written to the Home Office and the Passport Office that he intends to demand his full passport.
His team is now expected to launch a judicial review to ensure it recovers, which crowdfunding will cover.
“This government has not tried to strip me of my citizenship,” he said. “But a passport is a mark of your nationality, the most unique identification document anyone has.”