Nottingham University: where you can graduate as a terrorist for life

In 2008 Nottingham University had two Muslim men wrongfully arrested under the UK’s unlawful Terrorism Act 2000. Now, they’re trying to cover up their mistakes, by silencing a whistle-blowing report on the affair.


The university appears to have bullied an independent website into wiping the report, which revealed its attempts to discredit the two men, even after they had been cleared of any charges. Yesterday, the author of the report was suspended from the school.


The report, entitled How a student's use of a library book became a 'Major Islamist Plot', was removed from the British International Studies Association (BISA) website after alleged pressure from the university.


Written by former soldier Rod Thornton, a terrorism expert at the school, the 112-page report tells how staff tried to discredit a student and staff member after having them wrongfully arrested for accessing an al Qaeda 'training manual'.


The student in question was then 22-year-old Rizwaan Sabir, who at the time, was working on his PhD on the evolution of global militant Islam. The member of staff concerned was Hicham Yezza, a political magazine editor who had been helping Rizwaan draft his PhD.


Student researching terrorism arrested for… researching terrorism


Staff reported Hicham to the police after finding the manual (made available by the US Justice Department and incidentally, available from the university library), along with two related academic journals, on his desktop.


Soon after, both Hicham and Rizwaan were arrested by police and detained for six days under Tony Blair’s controversial Terrorism Act 2000 (itself ruled illegal by the European Court of Human Rights). Rizwaan described the experience as “the most degrading, dehumanising encounter I've ever experienced.” 


Worse still, Hicham was then re-arrested on deportation charges (he is an Algerian national) and shuffled from prison to prison around the country for five months, during which time he was repeatedly told that he would be deported from the UK, where he had lived for 14 years. He was then quietly released.


Instead of apologising to Hich and Rizwaan after they had been cleared, Nottingham University joined the Home Office in continuing to discredit the pair. They had become known as the ‘Nottingham Two’, a couple of jihadists masterminding a ‘major Islamist plot’. For both the Home Office and the university, it was too embarrassing to go back.


Keeping up appearances


Three years later, the esteemed university is still fanning the smokescreen. After seeing to the removal of Rod Thornton’s whistle-blowing report from the BISA website, the university described it as “highly defamatory (…) and utterly baseless”.


The news came as no surprise to Rizwaan: “The management at Nottingham University has a proven track record of silencing any form of dissent that undermines its PR image,” he said on Tuesday.


Meanwhile, a cross-parliamentary group has just published a report that criticises universities for being ‘hotbeds’ of radicalisation. 


No wonder Nottingham University is so eager to sell its reputation as the school that caught the “Nottingham Two”.




The latest on Hicham and Rizwaan:


Hicham Yezza remains the editor of Ceasefire magazine, which he founded in 2003.


Rizwaan Sabir is now studying for his PhD at the University of Strathclyde, and has written various reports for the Guardian.


Rod Thornton’s report has now been made available on Scribd, you can read it here. Thornton was suspended from his duties at the university on Wednesday (the university refuses to confirm this).

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