Taxi Driver In London Acquitted in Terror Case

By Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, August 30, 2006

LONDON, Aug. 29 -- An Iraqi taxi driver, accused of helping make two videos of London landmarks that terrorists could use to carry out an attack in the capital, was acquitted Tuesday.

Rauf Mohammed, 26, wept when the verdict was read in a London court. He had said the footage, shot in 2003, was "harmless," a tourist souvenir. His attorney, Lawrence McNulty, argued that his remarks on tape about killing Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush were made in an obviously joking manner and that the government had no proof Mohammed had any connection to terrorists.

Muslim leaders here welcomed the verdict and said the case showed that the British government has become overzealous in prosecuting Muslims. A government spokesperson, upset with the verdict, said the acquittal demonstrates why Blair's government has recently toughened laws to make it easier to win convictions in terrorism cases.

The indictment was based on videos taken during a drive around London that Mohammed made with a friend in 2003. During the drive, video footage was shot of various landmarks, including Parliament, the London Eye Ferris wheel on the River Thames, and a police station that has figured in terrorism arrests.

The tape was played for the jury during the trial. An interpreter testified that Mohammed was heard on the tape saying in Arabic: "God willing, now we go to Tony Blair. God willing we slay him. . . . Tony Blair, George Bush, Berlusconi and Rumsfeld, all of them, God willing." The last two names referred to former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, a close U.S. ally, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, prosecutors said.

The other man in the car was not charged and testified as a defense witness.

The government contended that Mohammed possessed and made two videos "likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism." In trying to prove those charges, prosecutors also said that loud music playing in the car as the video camera rolled had lyrics encouraging Muslims to kill "in the name of Allah" and to pursue "wiping virtually every Jewish person off the face of the earth."

Prosecutors said Mohammed's tape included part of a speech by Osama bin Laden broadcast by the al-Jazeera television network.

An investigation by the Home Office, which oversees domestic security, found that Mohammed was an active supporter of the Iraqi insurgency, the government contended. The defense argued that there "no evidence to support" that allegation.

"Prosecution of terror suspects is our preferred option," a spokesperson for the Home Office said in response to the acquittal. "That is why we have already brought forward new legislation that will strengthen our ability to bring prosecution."

Jamal Elshayyal, a spokesman for the Muslim Association of Britain, said that he did not know the specifics of the case but that the acquittal spoke for itself. He noted that the majority of the Muslims whom British police have arrested on terrorism-related charges since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States were either released without charge or acquitted.

He said that is why there is "outrage" among Muslims that the government recently extended to 28 days the length of time police can hold terrorism suspects without charges. The limit had been 14 days. "Twenty-eight days is still a long time -- a month of your life -- when you have done nothing," he said.

In another terrorism development, British police said Tuesday that three more people taken into custody earlier this month had been charged with conspiracy to commit murder in the alleged plot to blow up U.S.-bound airliners. Mohammed Yasar Gulzar, Mohammed Shamin Uddin and Nabeel Hussain also were charged with helping in a plan to smuggle explosives aboard the airplanes.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company