Wednesday, 12 November 2008

From Woolwich Crown Court

I spent most of yesterday in Woolwich Crown Court where the case of Dr Bilal Abdulla, the suspected terrorist arrested at the scene of the blazing car bombing of Glasgow airport, is taking place.

Abdulla and
28-year-old Jordanian Dr Mohammed Asha are on trial for conspiracy to cause explosions and murder. It is alleged they were part of a small British-based terror cell intending to "murder on an indiscriminate and wholesale scale" as revenge for the persecution of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In his evidence Bilal said he loved England
has no hatred for British people and even went so far as applying to join the British Army to further his medical career. He gave a dramatic account of life in Iraq under Saddam and under US occupation. Here's what made it to the Herald:

November 11 2008

For five weeks Dr Balil Abdulla has sat, separated from the well of the court, by a glass security screen, listening to the detailed evidence ranged against him.

At times the NHS medic, arrested at the scene of the Glasgow Airport bombing in June 2007, has appeared relaxed and nonchalant. He spends most of the time looking ahead, at the bench of Mr Justice Mackay, and studiously avoiding eye contact with the jury or his co-accused Dr Mohammed Asha.

Both men deny the conspiracy charges laid against them and yesterday, at 12.30pm in court three of Woolwich Crown Court, the alleged terrorist stood in the witness box and began his side of the story.

Dressed in a black suit and blue open-necked shirt, Dr Abdulla gave an articulate, coherent account of himself. In a distinct Iraqi accent he spoke fondly of his affection for England, which he said he regarded as his second home.

However, he also talked passionately about his homeland of Iraq being destroyed in two Gulf wars and gave a dramatic account of his childhood under Saddam Hussein's oppressive regime.

In the first hour of evidence led by his defence counsel, Jim Sturman, QC, Dr Abdulla recalled how war had traumatised his young life and irrevocably changed Iraq in the last three decades. He spoke of the devastating effect of growing up in a militarised tyranny during the Iran-Iraq war and how the Gulf wars left his country in chaos.

He remembered childhood TV programmes beginning with an hour of footage of corpses from the Iranian battle fields and, as a young doctor, he encountered the cancerous medical consequences of depleted uranium (DU) weaponry used by US forces. He saw for himself how UN sanctions meant hospital patients suffered without simple painkillers. When he spoke about children dying from leukemia, linked to DU shells, he had to pause to control his emotions.

It was a narrative that portrayed Dr Abdulla as a victim of brutalised circumstances who began questioning the concept of Western "civilisation" after the first Gulf War.

Dr Abdulla denies conspiracy to cause explosion and conspiracy to murder after failed car bomb attacks in London and Glasgow. His defence is based on the plea that he sought to damage property, not attack people.

Although his experiences are shared by thousands, his was not an everyman story.

Born in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, in 1979 into an Iraqi family with a long medical tradition, Bilal Abdulla returned to Iraq aged five, attended an elite private school in Baghdad and went on to be one of the brightest students in the country, the court heard.

Dr Abdulla said his parents could be described as "liberal or pro-Western" Sunni Muslims and he had inherited the same attitude to the UK. When he returned in 1999 as a young medical student with a British passport, he regarded it as his "second home - simple".

Asked by his barrister what he thought of England, he said: "I felt that England was home; I loved that country." He returned to Iraq, reluctantly, in 2000 only after a long discussion with his father to complete his studies: "I wasn't happy to do that. I wasn't happy at all to leave the country and go back to Iraq."

The Abdulla family fled Baghdad in 2003, as they had in the first Gulf War, after the opening night of the "shock and awe" offensive that toppled Saddam. "A 5000kg bomb just destroyed the whole neighbourhood. We left Baghdad immediately," he said.

He and many Iraqis were "extremely happy" to see the end of the Saddam regime - but, within two months, tensions began to mount.

Dr Abdulla said the Americans showed "utter ruthlessness" and arrogance when they took control of Iraq. He claimed he would have been happy for them to take petrol as a reward for freeing the country, but instead said they allowed Shia militias to take control and upset Iraq's "social cohesion".

He described the "chaos" of American occupation and, as Sunni and moderate Shia leaders were assassinated, he turned his support to the insurgent attacks on Western forces. "I looked high upon those fighting the invaders," he told the court. "I supported that insurgency."

Asked to qualify whether he hated the governments of the West or the people of Britain, he remarked: "I didn't have any hatred to any innocent person anywhere, not in this country or any other countries."

The trial by jury continues.

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