Analysis: Why a 'terror bookseller' won his appeal

Milestones by Sayyid Qutb Milestones: Adapted edition of the text at heart of the trial

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Can someone be convicted of disseminating books which are arguably so extreme in nature they've played a role in encouraging terrorism and political violence?

That was the question in the trial - and subsequent appeal - of a Birmingham bookseller who in 2011 was convicted of selling jihadist literature, the first substantial case of its kind.

The Court of Appeal has overturned some - but not all - of the convictions of Ahmed Faraz. The case was complex and it raises questions about how the how far the state can go in pursuing someone whom the security services believe is playing an important background role in the ideology of violence, even if they are not themselves directly involved.

During the trial at Kingston Crown Court, the jury heard that Faraz had disseminated and distributed material, through his Maktabah Islamic Bookshop in Birmingham, that prosecutors said encouraged militant jihad.

He was initially facing a whopping indictment of 30 counts relating to different books or videos seized from the business - but that was later whittled down to a list that was more manageable for the jury.

Five of the counts related to Faraz's dissemination of books that have been part of the rallying call by Islamists to jihad.

Ahmed Faraz Ahmed Faraz: Denied charges

One of them concerned a "special edition" of Milestones by Sayyid Qutb produced by the bookshop. Milestones is a very important book in the modern history of Islamism, found on the shelf of anyone who has studied the subject.

The prosecution said that Faraz had taken Qutb's original version of Milestones and added more extreme material which amounted to encouraging terrorism.

Some of the other texts he was accused of disseminating were fairly well-known accounts of various jihadist exploits, such as the fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

In short, the prosecution said Faraz was distributing material that was designed to prime people for terrorism, even if he was not involved in it himself.

Ahmed Faraz's defence was that none of the publications encouraged terrorism; they were simply publications that encouraged intelligent discussions on religious and political theory - and that he also had a legitimate academic interest in some of the material. He had taken some of the more extreme material off the shelves and had planned to dump it - but never got round to it, it was said.

The jury convicted Faraz of seven counts of dissemination of terrorist publications, relating to the dense books of philosophy that the prosecution said encouraged violent jihad.

He was also found guilty of a second set of charges concerning material likely to be useful to someone preparing an act of terrorism. These included practical instructions for homemade bombs and other material such as a handbook called "The AQ Training Manual".

Court of Appeal challenge

Faraz was jailed for three years and investigators were delighted to have taken down a man, and a bookshop, that they believed had played a critical ideological role in the British jihad. But the bookseller appealed against his convictions relating to the theological material - because he maintained it couldn't be considered to be encouraging terrorism in the first place. He did not challenge his conviction on the second set of charges.

The Maktabah bookshop Bookshop: Included adapted versions of well-known texts

The UK doesn't maintain a list of banned books - the days of the official censor are long since gone.

So it had always been for prosecutors to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Ahmed Faraz's material could be considered unlawful and terrorist in nature.

During the trial, the jury heard that some of the most dangerous men in the UK, such as those convicted of the 2006 airline bomb plot, had possessed material that was distributed by the Maktabah bookshop. Before he went on his last lethal journey, Mohammed Sidique Khan, the ringleader of the 7/7 suicide bombings, placed three texts which were available via Maktabah in a bag alongside his will.

The prosecution went on to say that roughly a quarter of terror investigations had found some of the publications in the possession of suspects.

It argued that this indirect connection between the defendant and others convicted of terrorism, through the material he distributed, was crucial to deciding whether Ahmed Faraz supplied books that encouraged terrorism.

But the defence said that connecting the bookseller to these convicted men was grossly unfair because there could be all manner of reasons why they had turned to violence - and we don't know what role the books had played.

Probable, but not provable

In its quite complex ruling, which you can read in full here, the Court of Appeal said that it was probable that some people who had read the books were already militant Islamists who might have been further encouraged.

But they said that was not proof that any of the books had indeed encouraged acts of terrorism.

Lord Justice Pitchford said: "The danger is that the jury would condemn the publication purely by reason of its association with known terrorists. The temptation to move to the conclusion that terrorists would not be in possession of a publication unless it encouraged them to acts to terrorism is a powerful one; but such a conclusion would, of course, be speculative, unfair and prejudicial."

So the Court of Appeal quashed the seven convictions relating to the theological material because it was impossible for the prosecution to prove that Ahmed Faraz had disseminated them with a terrorist purpose.

Ahmed Faraz was released from prison - but because his other convictions still stand, he is now subject to arrangements designed to monitor the whereabouts of people who have served sentences for terrorism offences.

The Court of Appeal did not, however, rule on whether the content of the theological and philosophical publications should or should not be considered terrorist in nature. It has left that question open.

Hypothetically, there could one day be another trial of someone accused of disseminating the same material. And another jury would face the daunting task of examining the issue again.

Dominic Casciani Article written by Dominic Casciani Dominic Casciani Home affairs correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    17.Fed Up
    People who support terror have a safe haven in the UK ...

    >>> Too true

    The unlawful use or threatened use of force by an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons.

    Would this definition apply to the UK gvt of 2003? If so, should they have a safe haven in the UK?

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    .......but because his other convictions still stand, he is now subject to arrangements designed to monitor the whereabouts of people who have served sentences for terrorism offences.

    He'll be moving into his state-funded four-bed detached with his wife and kids next week !

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.


    Spot on! I couldn't have put it better myself!

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Are these people the same as those who riot and burn books they disagree with and offer rewards to those who kill the authors? What a joke, one could make cartoons about it were it not so serious. They want our freedoms for themselves but would deny us. It is time they either accepted all our ways or took this next plane back to barbarity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    How much longer will we simply tolerate the enemy within. In WW2 it was known as "The fifth column". The enemy may be a different one in the 21st century but the basic principles remain the same. These people have an undermine /destabilize our democracy and to increase the power and spread of Islam in its place. We ignore it at our peril!

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    If these people hate us, support Jihad etc and attack the country that shelters them so much then its simple kick them out. Nothing to do with free speech just common sense,

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Well done CA. The Bible advocates 'an eye for an eye' or stoning adulterers Would we prosecute a bookshop for selling this 'extremist' theological / philosophical literature just because some 'terrorist' or wife killer was found to have bought a copy there ?

  • Comment number 23.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Trial started with thirty charges, half dismissed and after the appeal just four guilty verdicts remain. Hardly value for money, a exceptionally long investigation, which started in 2007 and then a prosecution. You miss how many times the bookshop was raided before 2007, did the police miss the books before? Alas missing is the impact within the audience for the books - Muslims. Good analysis.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    #15 The TA has a fairly effective screening process for nutters & the training process lasts quite a long time. I saw one or two people a little too fond of guns quietly removed. To be honest though none of what I was taught was especially difficult... even for anti-tank weapons its pretty much 'pull the pin, point at what you want blown up & pull the trigger'

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    @3 knowledge has never been neutral.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    It would be interesting to see the Muslim reaction to a non-Muslim bookshop selling books with instructions of how to kill Muslims. Or even book containing a criticism of Islam. Or selling pictures of Allah. I think it would be firebombed within days and set off riots around the world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Is this book not incitement to violence and terrorism?

    If it were a book on how to go to war with a Muslim or how to become a terrorist against some other creed or religion than our own, we would have been locked up for racism and or inciting racial hatred.

    Yet another mockery of a system that just doesn't work

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    People who support terror have a safe haven in the UK simply because they can use Human Rights legislation and the Court of Appeals process when suits. The UK has allowed individuals to use the country as a platform for communicating relegious and personal hatred in various forms leading to acts of terrorism across the world. Therefore, the UK needs to deals with the source of this hatred.

  • Comment number 16.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.


    Which begs he questions with the Govt. planning a huge boost to TA nos that the Army are not remotely confident of filling, will the search for recruits mean lower entry standards, leading to wannabe terrorists joining up just to learn those skills......

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    This is a really tricky one. I was in the TA for years and was taught controlled demolition skills (ie making bombs and blowing stuff up) and how to use various weapons including anti-tank missiles. If I repeat any of what I was taught am I a terrorist instructor?

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    I still have in my possession a manual isued by the British Army in 1941 to the Home Guard, detailing several methods of Killing people and preparing bombs. I also have a book in which the killing of millions of people is promoted as a necessity, another in which slavery is promoted,You guess the books!. Books are not the problem The Ignorance of Acitivists is.
    Censorship is always wrong

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    11.TheMudplugger - "Islam has been turned into a wicked, evil thing by these militants....."

    Only to the extent that ALL ideaologies, reliogous, political or otherwise, have been turned into wicked things by their own extremeists.....

    ....look at the history of Chrisendom of the nut jobs in the political Loyalist movement.....

  • Comment number 11.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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