London family’s concern for terror suspect Talha Ahsan

By Divya Talwar
BBC Asian Network

Syed Talha Ahsan

Syed Talha Ahsan was arrested in July 2006 at his home in Tooting

In a small room, in the home in south London where Syed Talha Ahsan grew up, just a few plastic bags containing his belongings remain in the UK.

The British terror suspect from Tooting, known as Talha, has spent the last six months in the US, where he is being held in a “supermax” high-security prison in Connecticut.

Mr Ahsan has the developmental disorder Asperger’s syndrome and his family say they are growing increasingly concerned about his welfare in custody.

Experts stress though, that because of the serious nature of the charges he faces, Mr Ahsan’s treatment is not unusual.

‘Extremely harsh’

But, his brother Hamja said: ‘It’s been six months now and we didn’t even get to say bye.

”We saw him taken away in a van on the TV and that was the last we saw of him.

”The conditions he is facing in prison are extremely harsh. My brother spends 23 hours a day in solitary confinement.

”He spends most of his time in a tiny cell memorising the Koran or writing poetry.”

Mr Ahsan, 33, was extradited to the US last year after a last-minute appeal was overturned by the High Court.

He had already spent six years in high-security prisons in the UK.

He has never been charged in Britain, but US prosecutors accuse him and Babar Ahmad of running a pro-jihadist website from London that provided material support for terrorists.

Although the site was run from London, prosecutors allege it was hosted on American internet service providers.

Inmates ‘shackled’

Mr Ahsan, a British-born poet and writer, denies being involved in terrorist activity.

International human rights campaigners have raised concerns over prisoners’ mental health in solitary confinement.

Mr Ahsan’s family say they are worried about the impact it will have on his long-term health.

Hamja said: ”The regime in the supermax is brutal.

“Inmates are shackled even when they are showering and they have to have a strip search before they can make a phone call to their own family.

”I’m extremely worried about the long-term effects of extreme isolation on my brother.”

Mr Ahsan’s father, Syed Abu, added: “The prison he is staying in is for people who are on death row waiting for the death penalty.”

‘Extremely serious allegations’

But some groups do not believe Mr Ahsan is facing unjust treatment in the US.

Robin Simcox, of the Henry Jackson Society, a foreign policy think tank based in London, said the conditions Talha is being subjected to are normal and acceptable for the charges he is facing.

”Talha has been accused of extremely serious allegations,” he said.

“If he is being detained for 23 hours, then that is what he must face while awaiting trial.

”His treatment is not unusual in any way and he is not being singled out.

”It’s the standard way in which people who have been charged with dangerous offences, specifically terrorism-related, are treated in the US.

”America is one of the world’s leading democracies and he will receive a fair trial there.”

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it is continuing to provide consular assistance to Mr Ahsan and his family.

He is facing his first hearing in the US later this year.


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