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 50.

    9th January 2013 - 14:11
    Banning books or locking someone up for selling them is a slippery slope.

    I have not read mein kampf but at some point I will,


    Both my son and I tried it, but soon gave up. Did he get anywhere after that attempt or did he take up another career?

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Should we permit the distribution of a book that expresses approval for adult masturbation between the thighs of a girl less that 10 years old?

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    He should have been repatriated. My parents immigrated to this country. They worked hard to assimilate. They didn't claim benefits. They didn't disseminate a violent foreign ideology. They even changed their names.

    Immigrants who can't or won't assimilate have no business being here, regardless of how many generations they've been here. We have a right to live in a country without them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Whilst seeing objective law is always good, there is a far deeper issue here. From the way he dresses to the books he sells this man has come to our society and decided he won't accept the culture, he wants to change it. What right has he? And why was he, and others like him, allowed to come here? So labour could bolster their vote and the leftie liberals could feel all warm about multiculturalism

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    I don't even need to read the article, I can tell by looking at the photo of this guy that he's a nasty nutcase.

    It's time we weeded them all out and threw them out of the country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    // Peter_Sym
    I tried reading Mein Kampf. Its barely literate and the arguments make no sense However banning anything makes it seem far more interesting that it actually is... //

    I read about half a page. Very tedious (and written in gothic script).

    Hate to say it, but I agree with you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    There is an ideological war between freedom and religious oppression but ultimately freedom always wins because .. well humans are like that. We remain a broadly tolerant society and bit by bit we are taking away the power of old men to ruin people's lives with their hatred. Forced marriage, sexual mutilation, rape of men and women.. no there is nothing here for most people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    |Good that the law, rather than emotion, has won.

    But I can imagine his books would be highly offensive to non-muslim. But he can sell them. The law takes its course, the world moves on. If you burn a koran, you're not physically harming anyone, or encouraging anyone else to. But I bet you'd be in a whole lot of trouble, either with the law or with 'the community', and we could expect rioting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    @41 I'm not sure about AQ flags being flown. Do you actually know they are? We aren't supporting 'terrorists' either. These people are Islamic but not to those extremes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Your either with us or your with the terrorists

    Dont know about you - but l`m very confused by this ?????

    Arent we `supporting` terrorists in Syria ????

    Theres dozens of videos of the so called Rebels flying the Al Qeda flags all over Lybia & Syria

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

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

    Praise be to Allah & our `suicide bomber `friends` who helped take down Gadaffi (see Panorama) & are helping the `Regime change` in Syria

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Would a more sensible solution be to legislate to licence such book shops along the lines of those shops that sell publications / videos of a very adult nature?

    That way material can be monitored and licenses revoked if appropriate

    Any unlicenced booksellers can then be imediately shut down and their stock confiscated.

    This could be applied to all other hate groups.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    There is a not-so fine dividing line between freedom of expression, beliefs and opinions and the dissemination of information which is, basically instructional in nature and shows someone how to do "bad things". I certainly abhor the censorship in any way of the first category and I am somewhat uncomfortable with the censoring of the second type too - but can perhaps understand the reasons for it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Yet another example of the laws inflicted upon the UK by the EU backfiring on us. It's impossible for our country to defend itself against terrorists as we offer them a safe haven where they know they cannot be touched. The fact that they can recieve benefits ontop of this is just a nice cherry ontop of a cake made from the failed laws of the EU

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    "...muslims..." rather general isn't it as Islam neither a Muslim upon Islam correctly supports this ideology. Rather they do the most work against them. The Muslims warned against this ideology generally more than a thousand years ago and against sayyid kutub decades ago. It's a fact actually his books are banned in Saudi. Where are we in the uk in comparison. Fact is we're behind in this fight!

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.


    If the eastern europeans tried just half the nonsense of these Jihad extremists, they'd be on the first plane home. Says it all really.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    #32 I tried reading Mein Kampf. Its barely literate and the arguments make no sense (jews take over the banking system to make everyone communist..... I really see the Rothchilds embracing that philosophy!) However banning anything makes it seem far more interesting that it actually is... both Spycatcher & The Satanic verses failed to impress too

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Fahrenheit 451

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Banning books or locking someone up for selling them is a slippery slope.

    I have not read mein kampf but at some point I will, I have read the autobiography from the commandant of auschwitz and found it interesting.

    I prefer to use my own judgement than allow somebody to decide what I should or should not read.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    There should then, be a new offence of providing or distributing material contrary to the Harmony and Peace of the Realm (which specifically would incorporate materials like the ones which the jury decided were indeed likely to cause terrorism).


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