Muslim Prisoners Under Attack
Muslims had come to Omar and told him “We’ve heard inmates talking and saying that they’re going to get you. They’re saying that they’re going to burn you alive, to stab you.”
This is an exclusive interview with the wife of Omar Khyam, the "ringleader" of the Fertiliser Bomb Plot. Operation Crevice was one of the biggest terrorism trials in British legal history. Al-Istiqamah spoke to Mrs Khyam regarding recent threats to her husband and attacks made on other Muslim inmates currently imprisoned in HMP Frankland.
Al-Istiqamah: Mrs Khyam, assalaamu alaikum and many thanks for letting us conduct this interview.
Mrs Khyam: Wa alaikum salaam. No problem.
Al-Istiqamah: How long had you been married before your husband was arrested?
Mrs Khyam: Five days. We were on our honeymoon at the time, when they raided the hotel we were staying at.
Al-Istiqamah: Could you please give our readers a background to the various prisons your husband has been incarcerated at and for how long?
Mrs Khyam: He was in Belmarsh in the beginning when he was first arrested in 2004 for roughly nine or ten months. And then he was moved to Woodhill…
Al-Istiqamah: He was at the Secure Unit (Category AA) at Belmarsh?
Mrs Khyam: He was in the Secure Unit for six months and then he spent about four months in the main prison, Category A. After that he was moved to HMP Woodhill because his younger brother Shujah was there, so it would be easier for the family to visit both of them together. He was in Category A there for about a year and then he was moved back to Belmarsh for the trial in 2006. Omar was convicted and Shujah was acquitted.
Al-Istiqamah: How soon after conviction was he moved to HMP Frankland?
Mrs Khyam: He was moved to Frankland two months after his conviction and has been there for a month.
Al-Istiqamah: Was he the only brother from the trial to be moved to Frankland?
Mrs Khyam: Yes, that’s right.
Al-Istiqamah: And your in-laws are in Crawley. How far is it for you to travel to Frankland, which is situated in County Durham, on the border of Scotland?
Mrs Khyam: It’s about six or seven hours each way by car. The distance is roughly 350 miles.
Al-Istiqamah: What kind of a prison is Frankland? I know it is one of the eight prisons in the country with high security status.
Mrs Khyam: It’s a remand prison, it’s a local prison and also holds convicted prisoners. The population is quite sizeable but there are only twenty Muslims there. There are a hundred people on Omar’s wing and eight are Muslim.
Al-Istiqamah: Frankland currently holds around 750 prisoners, so the percentage of Muslims there is approximately 2.5%?
Mrs Khyam: Yes.
Al-Istiqamah: HMP Frankland has been in the news recently due to the horrific burning of Dhiren (Eesa) Barot there on 13th July 2007. I want to ask when threats were first made towards your husband Omar Khyam?
Mrs Khyam: Well, he was moved to Frankland on 30th June 2007 and this was the day of the car bomb attack in Glasgow, Scotland. I don’t know if that triggered things off, but I wasn’t in touch with him until he rang me on the Tuesday. The first thing he said to me was that they (all) hate him. He said that they’ve made it known that they’re very racist and he’s fearful for his life. He said that the majority are against him.
Al-Istiqamah: He never felt like this at any other prison, even though, in an unusual step, his picture was in the papers, throughout the trial?
Mrs Khyam: No he hasn't. He told the solicitors to move him as soon as possible. I was shocked to hear him speak like this and so I asked for some details. We were speaking in our own language, in Urdu, and suddenly the phone was cut off. He rang back about fifteen minutes later. I said to him, “Why did you cut the phone off?” He told me, “They cut it off”. In convicted prisons, they don’t usually cut the phone off, so I was worried. They said to him that he can’t speak in Urdu on the phone. They said that he has to fill in an application form to be granted permission to speak in Urdu, and once that’s approved, then you can speak.
Al-Istiqamah: And how were his phone calls at this time? Did he mention specific threats or hint at them?
Mrs Khyam: Every day they were getting shorter and shorter and he was sounding more reserved. He kept repeating “It’s gonna kick off. It’s just a matter of time before something happens. Please get the solicitors to get me out of here.” There was a sense of urgency in his voice.
Al-Istiqamah: So specific threats had been made? It wasn’t just that he was getting hostile looks?
Mrs Khyam: Something had happened, but he was unwilling to tell me over the phone. I urged him, “Write to me, and explain to me what’s happened. I need to know what’s going on.”
At this point the guards weren’t allowing us visits. They were playing up. They’d lie and say that they didn’t have our paperwork, when they did. They wouldn’t allow us to book visits. So I got the solicitor to go and see Omar. He saw him on Tuesday 10th July, and that was when we found out about the specific threats.
Al-Istiqamah: Were the threats made directly to Omar?
Mrs Khyam: No. He told his solicitor that other Muslims had come and told him, “We’ve heard inmates talking and saying that they’re going to get you. They’re saying that they’re going to burn you alive, to stab you.” The Muslim brothers told him to be on his guard. Nobody threatened him directly as that would put them in trouble and he would be able to identify them to his solicitor. They have a wing called Mississippi wing and it has Combat 18 (a British neo-Nazi organization) slogans all over the prison walls.
He said that even when he’s talking to another brother, he’s constantly on his guard. When he would phone he would be constantly distracted, continuously looking out in case something happened. The day that the solicitor went, he said “I can’t risk anything happening to you” and asked Omar to go into solitary confinement. So that same day he went into segregation. Even before the solicitor visited Omar, he told the prison’s head of security, “I’m putting you on notice that my client is having death threats and it’s your job to make sure he’s secure.” The security said “It’s not my responsibility unless your client makes a formal complaint.” So on that Tuesday Omar made a formal complaint.
Al-Istiqamah: Omar went voluntarily into segregation prior to the attack on Eesa Barot?
Mrs Khyam: Yes that’s correct. The prison was saying that they want names, but Omar didn’t have names to give them, and thus they said they were powerless. He had only been at the prison for a week, so how would he know the names of these prisoners?
Al-Istiqamah: With regards to the attack on Eesa Barot - just three days after the prison had been informed that death threats were made against Omar Khyam - did your husband hear from you that an attack had taken place on a Muslim inmate?
Mrs Khyam: Actually, we heard about it from Omar on the Saturday, the day after the attack. The men who attacked Eesa Barot were in a cell near my husband in segregation. He heard them loudly gloating about having attacked Eesa, shouting across to the other prisoners in nearby cells.
Al-Istiqamah: So obviously the guards were aware?
Mrs Khyam: Yes, it’s impossible for the news to have been shouted across the cells, and the guards not know about it. They are turning a blind eye to it.
Al-Istiqamah: And yet Eesa Barot’s solicitor wasn’t informed?
Mrs Khyam: No, she wasn’t. When Omar rang he kept saying for me to contact Ms Muddassar Arani - Eesa Barot’s solicitor - and find out if anything has happened to him. I couldn’t get through to Ms Arani, but on Sunday Omar rang with more details. He had heard the attackers boasting that they had thrown boiling hot oil and water on Eesa Barot and severely burnt him.
Al-Istiqamah: So it was you who informed Eesa Barot’s solicitor, rather than the prison officials?
Mrs Khyam: Yes, I managed to get through to her and told her to ring her client and find out about his condition. Ms Arani rang me back after having received a call from her client on Sunday, and she confirmed that what Omar had heard was exactly what had taken place. Eesa told her that they had also punched him in the face and as he wears glasses, the glass had smashed inside his eye, causing him to lose sight in that eye.
It was mentioned briefly on the News that a prisoner was believed to have been scalded at HMP Frankland.
Al-Istiqamah: Given that Eesa Barot was attacked just three days after your husband went into segregation, would it be fair to say that he was attacked because the prison didn’t take the death threats made against your husband seriously?
Mrs Khyam: Definitely. They disregarded the threats made against my husband. They could have prevented the attack; it shouldn’t have happened. They were put on notice that these are the kind of threats being made and that it was due to the nature of Omar’s offence - being a high profile convicted terror suspect – that something is about to happen. Even after the attack, they are still not taking the threats against my husband seriously. It is their job to ensure the safety of all prisoners regardless of colour, race or religion.
Al-Istiqamah: Eesa Barot’s solicitor issued a statement the day after his attack and she mentioned that he too had received threats prior to the assault.
Mrs Khyam: Yes, he had received threats.
Al-Istiqamah: The only other high profile Muslims in this prison, aside from your husband, are Eesa Barot and Hussein Osman, who was recently convicted over the failed 21/7 attack. I’ll ask you about incident pertaining to Hussein Osman in a minute insha’Allah, but do you feel it is only those from high profile cases who are being targeted?
Mrs Khyam: So far yes, but, we are only aware of this happening on such a level in this particular prison.
Al-Istiqamah: Do you think that, in your husband’s case, a lot of the hostility was triggered by the unprecedented media attention given to Operation Crevice?
Mrs Khyam: Yes, definitely. I really believe that. They have been showing it constantly, even after the trial was over, any time anything happens they show clips from our trial and Omar’s pictures again.
Al-Istiqamah: Hussein Osman’s cell was burnt at Franland just days after the attack on Eesa Barot. So we’re talking about all three men having had a real threat, aren't we?
Mrs Khyam: Yes, and again, we heard from my husband, who could hear the other prisoners in segregation discussing it. He had heard them saying that Hussein will be next. Omar told me to get Hussein’s solicitor to have him moved into solitary confinement. Soon after however, inmates set his cell on fire whilst he was away from it. He lost every single possession in that cell in the fire including all of his Islamic books and essentials.
Al-Istiqamah: The media quoted this arson attack as “a small fire”.
Mrs Khyam: Yes. He lost his clothes, his books, everything.
Al-Istiqamah: HMP Frankland is a high security prison. I am assuming that there is a serious lack of security measures being enforced if inmates have access to the means to carry out such attacks. In particular, when such attacks were being openly discussed beforehand and are, to all extents and purposes, common knowledge?
Mrs Khyam: Absolutely. I think that the guards should be paying more attention, especially when they have been put on notice that this is the issue which is going on. How could they allow this to happen?
Al-Istiqamah: Incredibly, the prison officials are still saying that it is safe for your husband to come out of segregation?
Mrs Khyam: Exactly. They are telling him there is no reason to remain in solitary confinement. They are refusing to move my husband to another prison. They are saying that it’s a perfectly secure atmosphere!
Al-Istiqamah: The BBC reported last year that two inmates were moved following “a minor incident”. Yet they are refusing to move Omar Khyam, Eesa Barot or Hussein Osman?
Mrs Khyam: Yes. It makes you think doesn’t it? Why are they refusing to move them? I don’t believe we are asking for too much just for them to be safe.
Al-Istiqamah: So HMP Frankland has had three incidents in as many weeks now, involving three convicted Muslim prisoners from high-profile terror cases. They are still insisting there is no threat, and the incident with Eesa Barot was an isolated incident? It’s amazing, isn’t it?
Mrs Khyam: It is. Their solicitors are trying their best to get their clients moved by taking legal action.
Al-Istiqamah: Your husband’s solicitor is Imran Khan?
Mrs Khyam: That’s right.
Al-Istiqamah: He was on the BBC news and described these attacks and threats as being “vigilante justice”. Could you comment on the fact that prisoners see fit to take the law into their own hands whilst serving their sentences?
Mrs Khyam: I believe that no prisoner should judge another. They all have to live together. I don’t understand, as nobody has ever had a problem with my husband in Belmarsh or in Woodhill, both of which are high security prisons. My husband isn’t the argumentative type. He’s a very down-to-earth person. Whatever crime my husband was convicted of, it isn’t for other prisoners to judge him when many of them are murderers, rapists and paedophiles. My husband is a political prisoner.
Al-Istiqamah: Speaking of paedophiles, it is well known that prisons have a procedure of placing paedophiles on a separate wing to prevent other inmates attacking them. They don’t have to rely on going into segregation, which involves less time out of one’s cell etc.
Mrs Khyam: That’s right. Segregation is a punishment and the conditions are very strict and it is just meant to be temporary. But in Omar’s case, why is he being punished? Why should he have to live in these conditions?
Al-Istiqamah: Sister Muddassar Arani, has stated "We are not asking for preferential treatment for Muslim prisoners. What we are requesting is that Muslim prisoners should be afforded the same protection as other prisoners."
Mrs Khyam: That’s correct. And I don’t believe that we are asking for too much or something which is impossible.
Al-Istiqamah: Why do you think that the Prison Service has refused to protect Muslims in the same manner as paedophiles?
Mrs Khyam: I don’t know why they’ve refused. I don’t understand it. I think that it makes sense for Muslims to be moved to a separate wing for their own protection. Why wait for more incidents to happen and more people to get hurt before dealing with the issue? They are voicing concerns in the Media about radicalisation and recruiting… maybe that is their reason which again isn’t really a valid reason in my opinion.
Al-Istiqamah: Yet when members of the IRA were imprisoned in the UK, they were given a designated wing, to ensure their protection. Paedophiles are kept together. Any group of criminals could potentially learn influence each other, couldn't they?
Mrs Khyam: Precisely. Even if you put all of the armed robbers together, they can teach each other and learn from each other! Where do you draw the line? These recent attacks and threats are a very serious issue. This involves their safety and right to life.
Al-Istiqamah: Some people have said that these are “terrorists” and thus they don’t warrant any sympathy?
Mrs Khyam: The IRA were classified as convicted terrorists, yet the Prison Service still protected them. Nobody deserves to be brutally burnt the way Eesa Barot was. He suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns and is disfigured for life. His body has swollen up three times its size due to water retention. He’s lost all his hair. He said “I’d rather be dead than go through this pain” and why should he have to go through it? The authorities have a duty towards every inmate, regardless of his crime or his religion. And we as Muslims have a duty to him and need to work together and do what it takes to get him protected.
Al-Istiqamah: Speaking of religion, your husband is a British Muslim. He was born here in the UK. Given the current climate, had these incidents involved non-Muslim inmates, do you feel they would have been taken so flippantly?
Mrs Khyam: Not a chance. I firmly believe that he would have been treated a lot better and been looked out for. Unlike the way we’re being treated now.
Al-Istiqamah: The Prison Service has issued a statement declaring “We will continue to treat these prisoners like all other criminals. We will do what is necessary to protect them but we have no intention of creating special conditions for them.” What do you envisage being a solution to this very real and serious threat?
Mrs Khyam: Well, I think that firstly, the prison service needs to take this threat seriously. They need to act as quickly as possible; it’s a matter of urgency. It’s hard enough being in prison. They have lengthy sentences to serve. The prison staff needs to take their job seriously and ensure the safety of ALL prisoners through whichever means necessary.
Al-Istiqamah: Forty years minimum in your husband’s case. These were unprecedented lengthy sentences for convictions under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
Mrs Khyam: That’s just it. Having to deal with the stress of these threats is just too much on top of it all. It’s the guards’ responsibility to protect them. We’re not asking for preferential treatment.
Al-Istiqamah: The attacks have involved Muslim inmates convicted in very recent high profile cases with intense media attention. Do you think that if such threats are not taken seriously, it will eventually be any Muslim at risk, whether arrested on terrorism charges or otherwise?
Mrs Khyam: I do think so, yes. I think it will get worse until such incidents become widespread. The high profile prisoners are easier targets, as they are easily identifiable.
Al-Istiqamah: That brings me to another question. All three men, Omar Khyam, Eesa Barot and Hussein Osman were constantly labelled “al-Qa'eda operatives”. In the case of Eesa Barot, he was even dubbed an al Qa'eda “general”. If the inmates believed that was true, I wouldn’t expect them to go anywhere near these men, for fear of repercussions.
Mrs Khyam: That’s a very good point. I think even the inmates know this is all political, but that the current climate enables them to attack such prisoners without much fear of reprisals. How on earth are they going to spend decades like this? My husband is in segregation now…
Al-Istiqamah: How often is he allowed out of solitary confinement? An hour a day?
Mrs Khyam: Even less than that. He’s taken to the exercise yard for 10 or 15 minutes a day. He’s allowed to have a shower and twice a week he can make a 5 minute phone call. That’s it. The room is extremely basic with just a bed and toilet. He has no television or anything and he is not allowed anything to be sent in to him. All he has is one Qur'aan.
Al-Istiqamah: Meals are sent to him?
Mrs Khyam: That’s right.
Al-Istiqamah: Is he the only prisoner in the exercise yard?
Mrs Khyam: He is sectioned off by fencing. Eesa Barot’s attackers are in the yard at the same time, and they have called across the fence to my husband, “Who are you? Why are you here?” I think they’re trying to work out which Muslim prisoner is Omar Khyam. My husband says he will never go back to the wing.
Al-Istiqamah: So his only real option is to be moved from Frankland to a less hostile prison?
Mrs Khyam: Yes, as the threats to two of the brothers have been carried out. Even if that hadn’t happened, the fact that someone is making death threats, that’s enough to warrant attention.
Basically, the situation is that the prison is saying that he can go back to his wing. If he does that, and something happens to him, and then they move him…why should my husband have to be attacked first in order for them to move him? Prevention is always better than cure.
Al-Istiqamah: Of course. You have been on Channel 4 News to promote awareness of this exact issue?
Mrs Khyam: I wanted people to be aware of what is happening inside Frankland to the Muslim inmates. Channel 4 didn’t portray that very well in the interview, and I wasn’t happy with the way they depicted things. I was interviewed for 30 minutes and they showed 2 minutes, some of which were out-takes that Channel 4 agreed not to broadcast. They asked me why am I still with him. That wasn’t what we agreed to discuss. I was there to discuss my husband’s treatment in prison.
Click here for a sample letter to be sent to the governor of HMP Frankland
Al-Istiqamah: I’d like to move on to ask you about communication with your husband at Frankland. You mentioned that the guards stipulated that permission has to be granted to speak in Urdu?
Mrs Khyam: Yes. He told the prison that his mother can’t speak English, so how will he communicate with her? There is no rule against him speaking in Urdu, and this was confirmed in a letter from HMP (Her Majesty's Prison) service, and yet the guards still play up.
Al-Istiqamah: In what way?
Mrs Khyam: When we put a complaint in asking why the call was cut, they said that it was cut in error and that there’s no problem with Omar speaking in Urdu on the phone. However, he rang last week and we were speaking in Urdu and they cut the phone again, despite us having been given permission to do so. He rang me back and I got really angry and said “What the hell’s going on?” I heard the guard come and he told my husband that you have to speak in English only. I told my husband “Tell him, we’ve received a letter saying that we can speak in Urdu” and my husband told the guard.
Al-Istiqamah: So then he allowed you?
Mrs Khyam: No. The guard said, “I don’t care what the letter says. You can’t”.
Al-Istiqamah: We did an interview with Moazzam Begg’s wife Zaynab a few years ago, whilst her husband was in solitary confinement in Cuba. She stated that a lot of the time individual guards at Guantanamo would put their foot down, in order to throw their weight around.
Mrs Khyam: Here too, they do what they want. Anything to make it hard for us, they have done.
Al-Istiqamah: Do you think that there is much of a difference in attitude amongst the guards in Frankland, as compared to the guards in Cuba? Not the conditions, but the attitude towards Muslim inmates?
Mrs Khyam: I don’t think there is much difference. They all look at the Muslim inmates as though they are traitors and big enemies. They’ll talk down to you and at times, abuse their authority. It happens to black prisoners too a lot of the time, but to a lesser extent.
Al-Istiqamah: There are murderers and rapists in Frankland who are not getting this treatment, even though your husband has never taken a life.
Mrs Khyam: Exactly. That’s the whole issue. None of them have killed anybody. I can’t see my husband, as he said that it’s too racist there for me to appear veiled. So my right to see my husband, my right to family life has been taken away. He rings for five minutes, and I never get enough time to fit everything I want to say in five minutes. He says “Quickly tell me everything” So I go through messages from his solicitor, his mother, his brother etc, and I barely get time to say anything from myself, when he tells me “I’ve got to go now”. The guards come to take him back to his cell. In a convicted prison, things are supposed to be less restrictive with regards to phone calls. They are meant to be let out more. It’s supposed to be about reform, you know? How are you supposed to change when you are in solitary confinement? Locked up all the time. He doesn’t have any reading materials, nothing. If anything, it’s going to make him more frustrated and bitter.
Al-Istiqamah: So Omar’s imprisonment, let alone being in segregation, it puts a lot of stress on the family?
Mrs Khyam: It is a huge amount of stress and I’m dying to see him. I can’t rest. I can’t see for myself if he’s okay. I can hear his voice on the phone and he definitely doesn’t sound okay. It’s driving me mad. I said I would take off my niqaab (veil) just as a one-off to see him, but he refused. I used to see him on a weekly basis, sometimes even twice a week. I’ve never been this long without seeing him. He needs to see me too; he needs that support. He doesn’t want me to come, as he would have a visit in the main visiting room, with everyone else there. He is worried about me getting hassle.
Al-Istiqamah: It’s not just himself he is worrying about, but you and his family too?
Mrs Khyam: Yes. His mum hasn’t seen him for two months, but now he has agreed to let her come with his uncle and cousin. He hasn’t spoken to his mother since arriving at Frankland and it’s driving her crazy too.
Al-Istiqamah: Do you have any confidence in the government with regards to taking this threat seriously and ensuring the safety of Muslim prisoners?
Mrs Khyam: I lost faith in the government a long time ago, during the case. I don’t feel that justice was done then, and I don’t feel that it’s being done now. Nobody hears our voices; we go unheard.
Al-Istiqamah: You’ll be launching an appeal against Omar’s sentence?
Mrs Khyam: We’ve launched the appeal against his sentence and his conviction and we are waiting to see the outcome of that. The main priority however is getting my husband and the other brothers moved from Frankland as soon as possible. I do hope that people take this seriously. We all need to get together and think about the way forward to protect Muslim inmates. It’s a duty on all of us.
Al-Istiqamah: There is a hadith (saying) of Prophet Muhammad in Saheeh Al-Bukhaari: "Help your brother whether he is an oppressor or an oppressed one." People asked, "O Allah's Apostle! It is all right to help him if he is oppressed, but how should we help him if he is an oppressor?" The Prophet said, "By preventing him from oppressing others."
Mrs Khyam: Yes, that’s right. I call on all Muslim brothers and sisters to please help in any way that they can to stop this problem before it gets worse. Today it’s my husband. Tomorrow it could be any one of you, or a close loved one. We need to be strong and united and fight this Insha'Allah (God-willing).
Al-Istiqamah: Ameen. Mrs Khyam, jazakillah khairan (may Allah reward you) for this candid interview.
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Five life sentences, two acquittals: Peering deeper into the Crevice 7/07 case.
Omar Khyam's wife interviewed
- Joined: 26 Nov 2005, 01:46
ï¿½To those who are afraid of the truth, I wish to offer a few scary truths; and to those who are not afraid of the truth, I wish to offer proof that the terrorism of truth is the only one that can be of benefit to the proletariat.ï¿½ -- On Terrorism and the State, Gianfranco Sanguinetti