Drama At Ugandan’s U.K. Terror Trial

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[Africa News Update]

There was high drama at the Old Bailey Courts yesterday at the trial of a U.K.-based Ugandan charged with terrorism under the UK’s new stringent laws.

The prosecutor engaged in a testy exchange with the Ugandan who denies the charges against him and also accused U.K. authorities of lying to his wife, arresting her and separating her from their breast-feeding toddler. The Ugandan says the State’s case is based on circumstantial evidence, including his innocent use of the Arabic word “Insha’ allah.”

The remarkable exchange occurred at the trial of Hassan Mutegombwa, 21; his brother, Yassin Mutegombwa, 23, whose case is yet to be heard, is separately charged with terrorism.

UK prosecutor Debora Walsh spent over two and one-half hours grilling Hassan Mutegombwa but the Ugandan maintained his innocence and at times sounded defiant. The presiding judge, Justice David Paget QC, at one point cautioned Hassan against making a speech; the Ugandan complained that prosecutor Walsh was putting words in his mouth.

The State charged before a jury of 12 that Hassan had obtained funds for the purpose of committing acts of terrorism contrary to section 15 of the Terrorism Act 2000. Hassan denies the charges and says he is a moderate and pious Muslim.

The State contends Hassan had asked an undercover agent referred to simply as Doud, on July 23, 2006, “to provide money and intended that it should be used, or had reasonable cause to suspect that it may be used, for the purpose of terrorism, contrary to Section 15 1 Terrorism Act 2000.”

Hassan looked calm and in the court wore a brown jacket on top of a small squared striped white shirt; he had a light blue neck-tie, black pants and black and white sneakers.

He was on July 25, 2006, stopped from boarding a British Airways flight destined for Nairobi, Kenya. The airlines had been alerted by the UK authorities. Mutegombwa borrowed money from Doud, thinking he was a friend, he maintains; Doud was an agent.

The authorities allege that he told Doud they would meet upon his return and used the word “Insha’ allah” Arabic for “God willing.” The authorities contend it to be a terror terminology.

Hassan was arrested along with his elder brother Yassin during a series of raids across London in September, 2006 by UK authorities. Since then the duo have been in the UK’s most protected facility, Belmarsh Prison.

The older brother is accused on three counts of terrorism. He is alleged to have received training for terrorism contrary to section 6 of the Terrorism Act 2006.

Authorities allege that between April 28, 2006 and May 1, 2006, he attended training in weapons at a woodland area near Matley Wood Caravan and Camping site, Beaulieu Road, Lyndhurst, Hampshire. The training was “provided wholly or partly for the purposes connected with the commission or preparation of acts of terrorism or Convention offences” and that Yassin was aware the training or instruction was “being provided there wholly or partly for purposes connected with the commission or preparation of acts of terrorism or Convention offences.”

The trial resumes Monday. Baker Mutegombwa is also expected to arrive from Uganda.

Following is part of the court exchange between prosecutor Walsh and Hassan Mutegombwa:

Prosecutor Debora Walsh: You are an extremist, who said that you were going somewhere in East Africa to do acts of terrorism.
Mutegombwa: Don’t suggest that I’m an extremist, I’m not and it’s not true.

Walsh: Could it be a coincidence that at the time you booked a flight you didn’t have a specific destination?
Mutegombwa: I knew where I was going… where I was going, that is Uganda.

Walsh: What are you if not an extremist?
Mutegombwa: I’m a moderate Muslim, I pray five times a day, I fast during Ramadan like any other pious Muslim and I’m a good father. I don’t have that beard you’re talking about, I don’t have short clothes. Look at my clothes.

Walsh: Mr. Mutegombwa you were planning to go somewhere in East Africa and living the country for Hijra. And for what reason?
Mutegombwa: The reason why I wanted to make Hijra [Arabic word for migration] is because I was brought up badly here in the UK, so I don’t want my son to grow in the same way.

Walsh: Answer yes, or no, you’re an extremist.
Mutegombwa: No,

Walsh: Why were you leaving the wife and the son here in UK?
Mutegombwa: The reason why I was leaving my son is because; Islam tells us that breast feeding is good for the child. If my wife’s Imam come higher maybe she would come to live in Uganda with me.

Walsh: Then, how would you support your son and wife?
Mutegombwa: I would work within my father’s business.

Walsh: Had you learnt that your father had set-up a business for you?
Mutegombwa: Not at the moment, but I knew that he would obviously offer me a job.

Walsh: How were you going to be in relationship with your wife when you’re away in Uganda?
Mutegombwa: Are you suggesting that people living here can’t have relationship with their partners in the US? For us with distant families we can. Except you, but for us with extended families it is possible to have distant relationship and remain a happy family.

Judge David Paget QC interjects: Mr. Mutegombwa, don’t make a speech, answer the question.
Mutegombwa: I try to explain, but she doesn’t want and she is just suggesting to me.

Walsh: You were going for a permanent Hijra and you know very well you could die soon.
Mutegombwa: No, that’s not true.

Walsh: First on the check you were going to do acts of terror somewhere in Africa?
Mutegombwa: No.

Judge David Paget QC interjects again: Have you ever been anywhere near the campsite?
Mutegombwa: I have never been in any campsite.

Walsh: Let us listen to the recording when Mutegombwa was talking to Doud [An undercover agent. The transcripts played. Jury listens to the recording. Mutegombwa rests his chin onto the right fist and also listens.] You ask Doud to [lend] you some money?
Mutegombwa: Yes.

Walsh: You borrowed money from Doud who you don’t know. Didn’t you?
Mutegombwa: He was a friend; I met him when we were praying.

Walsh: He was a friend, a person you saw for the first time?
Mutegombwa: Yes, he was a friend at time. He was introduced to me before and after prayer.

Walsh: You wrote to your wife that, “I never thought I would say good bye to. But I have to….” What does that mean if you were not going for act of terrorism?
Mutegombwa [punches the desk]: Please, please, please, don’t suggest that to me…My wife knows and she says that I have a good husband. I had never divorced and I was not going to divorce. I know her very well, that is the only way I could tell her. But that doesn’t mean I was divorcing.

Walsh: You said to the insurers that you’re going away for two or three months?
Mutegombwa: That was a conversation, in which I asked what if I was going two or three months.

Walsh: You don’t know the days; months you were going to spend away? And in your state of mind you were going to Uganda, you will never come back.
Mutegombwa: I know I was going to Uganda to see my dad.

Walsh: You were going for Jihad, and you wanted the insurance money.
Mutegombwa: That’s not true. That was health insurance, because the last time I was in Uganda, I was extremely sick with malaria, mumps and I was on bed- row.

Walsh: You lied—your wife lied and you are telling lies.
Mutegombwa: Don’t suggest that to me. I didn’t lie. I did not lie. It was your officers that lied to my wife. They told her that they were bringing a message to her. When they reached my home, they arrested her, separated her from a breast-feeding toddler. She was taken and detained at Paddington Green Police for three days. Then released with no charge against her! If she lied it’s not me, your officers lied to her too and maybe she had to lie to them.

Investigative reporter Miwambo writes for The Black Star from the U.K.

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