One important episode that further ties Cage UK, the human rights advocacy group, with British jihadis such as Mohammed Emwazi a.k.a ‘Jihadi John’ is what we know of Moazzam Begg’s journey to Syria in the summer of 2012. Moazzam Begg is Cage’s ‘Outreach Director’ and by far its most famous and leading public advocate largely because he endured a cruel and unjust incarceration at both Baghram air base and Guantanamo detention camp only to be freed many years later uncharged.
Not only was Mr. Begg freed uncharged by George W. Bush but also “as a favour to” then British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s support for the invasion and destruction of Iraq. Needless to say if Blair had not joined Bush’s Iraq invasion Mr.Begg may well and truly be still incarcerated especially as the Pentagon, CIA and FBI objected to his release. On the back of the destruction of Iraq, Blair got one his compatriots freed.
On the other hand, Emwazi had been known to the security authorities for several years, even placed on watch list, but still seemed to have found a way to join the western backed uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria. According to the Defence Editor of the London Times, Deborah Hayes, Emwazi entered Syria in late 2012 or early 2013 and then specifically joined Katiba al-Muhajireen “a 700-strong brigade of foreign fighters thought to have included up to 80 Britons.” The Daily Mail claimed that he is believed to be “one of more than 700 foreign fighters in the Katiba al-Muhajireen.”
In the original unmasking of ‘Jihadi John’ as Mohammed Emwazi, in the Washington Post, the investigative reporters argue that he travelled to Syria “around 2012.” In the same report Asim Querishi, research director at Cage UK, says he last heard from Emwazi in January 2012.
Katiba al-Muhahireen are also known as Katiba al-Muhajireen wal Ansar or ‘Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar’. The first name translates as the Emigrants (al-Muhajireen) and Helpers (al-Ansar) Brigade, the latter as Army of Emigrants and Helpers. The name is infused with heavy Islamic connotations. The first Muhajireen (Emigrants) were those followers of the Prophet Muhammed who fled persecution in Mecca from his detractors and the Ansar (Helpers) are people who were prepared to provide refuge for the fledging new religion in Medina.
Katiba al-Muhajireen are said to be an al-Qaeda or at the very least fight side by side with them against the Syrian Army and its allies. They are no doubt a bone fide jihadi group made up of predominately foreigners. Some of its fighters were later to defect to ISIS (Islamic State).
In the summer of 2012 Moazzam Begg travelled with an aid convoy and stayed with Katiba al-Muhajireen. According to Foreign Policy magazine, (which refers to the group as, Jaish al-Muhajireen):
“Begg provided a group, mostly composed of Brits, with fitness training, teaching them jumping jacks, push-ups, and similar exercises, according to Bullivant. “He felt that here was a group of guys who were under attack and unfit. Western kids from cushy backgrounds — they’d be like lambs to the slaughter,” Bullivant said.”
“Western kids from cushy backgrounds” can be a fitting description of the likes of Emwazi while Bullivant is none other than Cerie Bullivant, the press officer for Cage UK. More so, in a blog piece for the UK Spectator magazine, Robin Simcox claims Mr.Begg was recorded complaining that the jihadis he was training “lacked maturity”:
“Begg was recorded complaining that his trainees lacked maturity, that ‘Jihad is not just a physical capacity but also about using your brain’, and that ‘they want to call it martyrdom but I said we have to be physically prepared. If you don’t prepare this just becomes suicide, not martyrdom.’”
Before he travelled to Syria, Mr.Begg met with British intelligence officials. No one knows for sure what information Mr. Begg was exchanging with the intelligence services on his activities with Katiba al-Muhajireen. The British state up until August 2013 was the leading advocate for so-called humanitarian intervention in Syria as it had been in Libya in 2011. It is quite legitimate to ask if British intelligence was funneling jihadis through Mr. Begg on an individual basis and/or through the aid convoy he was travelling with? After all, the British establishment is far from averse in the utilisation of jihadis when it is compatible with its geo-political interests.
Most importantly, it may be highly convenient for the British media to state that Emwazi entered Syria in “late 2012” rather than any time sooner as this will help to protect British intelligence from any charges of collusion with Mr. Begg and other British jihadis fighting in Syria.