The 9/11 attacks in the US led to sweeping arrests of Muslims across the UK, and Kamoka believes the UK government was collecting information about him [Al Jazeera]
People & Power

Ismail Kamoka: ‘We were pawns in their game’

How the Libyan dissident was followed by UK intelligence, detained, but eventually released due to lack of evidence.

Following an Al Jazeera investigation which has traced how intelligence extracted in Muammar Gaddafi’’s prisons has been linked to arrests of Libyan dissidents in the UK, People & Power’s Nada Issa went out to interview one of the Libyans concerned.

Ismail Kamoka, 47, first arrived in the UK in 1994, after fleeing for his life from Libya for belonging to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), an organisation committed to toppling Muammar Gaddafi.

He told Al Jazeera he first chose to come to Britain after having heard of its ‘pristine human rights reputation’, but was shocked when he was detained by border control upon his arrival at Heathrow airport.

Kamoka was kept in Rochester prison for four-and-a-half months until a sponsor met his bail. Eventually, in 1999, he was granted political asylum. “Life then felt somewhat safe,” Kamoka says, but this comfort was short lived.

The 9/11 attacks in the US led to sweeping arrests of Muslims across the UK. Kamoka believes the UK government was collecting information about him: “I was being followed by British intelligence and they were asking other Libyan dissidents in the UK about me, some of whom were my friends.”

His suspicions were confirmed when he was arrested in 2002 whilst boarding a plane to Iran, a journey he says he planned to provide humanitarian aid for the families of his former Libyan comrades.

This time Kamoka was not held by border control but taken to Belmarsh, a prison branded “Britain’s Guantanamo” by human rights groups. He was accused of having links to al-Qaeda but was released two years later after a judge at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) ruled in his favour due to insubstantial evidence.

Kamoka observes that by now the West was bringing Gaddafi in from the cold and his opponents were being tracked down and imprisoned. The UN had designated the LIFG a terrorist organisation in 2001, and Britain followed suit in 2004. Still, Kamoka was arguably better off than Sami al-Saadi and Abdul Hakim Belhaj, two senior leaders of the LIFG, who were subjected to extraordinary renditions at the hands of the CIA and ended up being tortured in Gaddafi’s prisons.

Following the 7/7 London bombings, Kamoka was arrested yet again. This time he was accused of belonging to, and funding the now banned LIFG. “The rules of the game had changed,” he says. “There was a new relationship between Gaddafi and the [Tony] Blair government. Although I had no evidence, I realised that Britain and Libya were working together for their shared interests.”

Kamoka believes “information must have been flowing between the two countries especially since Belhaj and Saadi were captured and that may have contributed to my re-arrest.”

In 2007, Kamoka faced another SIAC hearing, which resulted in his release from detention. Instead, he was made subject to a control order – legislation introduced by the Labour party in the UK in 2005 – that imposes a wide range of restrictions on people suspected of involvement in terrorism-related activity but could not be prosecuted for lack of strong evidence.

Now, although technically ‘free’, Kamoka’s movements were electronically monitored and he was confined to his home during set hours.

With the wave of the 2011 Arab Spring, the tide finally changed for Kamoka and his friends. Now former LIFG members where leading revolutionaries who were toppling Gaddafi.

And evidence of his suspicions finally came to light. The Libyan revolutionaries discovered top secret documents abandoned in the British ambassador’s residence and Moussa Koussa’s office, the former head of the Libyan security service.

Kamoka was shocked by what the documents revealed: “They show just how close the relationship between the two countries was, and how we were used as pawns in their game. They reveal the dirty, filthy politics of the Blair government and the Gaddafi regime. Tony Blair was a very ambitious man and I believe he dined with the devil to get what he wanted.”