By Tasneem Mohammed
(source: Voice Of The Cape Online)
The arrest and subsequent release of Islam Channel UK CEO Muhammad Ali Harrath raises serious questions about security and intelligence in South Africa – and government must address the inadequacies at the countries airports. This was the opinion of Muslim media commentator Zahid Asmal, news director at Channel Islam International (CII) in response to the dropping of all charges against the UK based businessman on Monday.
Harrath, born in Tunisia, was discharged of all terror related charges in the Kempton Park Magistrates court, after the judge could find "no basis" for the charges against him. This ruling means there cannot be any future charges brought against him. At a press conference held at the CII studios on Monday, Harrath questioned his arrest and has vowed to launch an investigation into the circumstances around his arrest.
"Mr Harrath cannot understand why he was arrested by South African authorities. Ironically, the top brass of the South Africa police did not know that he was arrested in the country. If you have a terror suspect listed on Interpol, then obviously the police would have been tipped off and there would be a more organized operation at the airport," Asmal questioned. "We believe something more is happening behind the scenes…the person who gave the orders to have Mr Harrath arrested is still unknown. Mr Harrath is rightfully asking who this person is…."
The prominent businessman arrived in South Africa from London on January 24 and was arrested OR Tambo International airport, after he had cleared immigration and passport control. After exiting the airport, he had been in conversation with his business partner, when he was approached by a SAPS official who advised that he re-enter the airport. The policeman escorted him inside and he was questioned by police officials, who consequently arrested him on alleged terror charges. "The police had used Interpol as a smokescreen saying he was red-flagged and has been on an Interpol list for alleged terror activity. They said there was an international warrant issued for him, which stems from his activism against the Tunisian government. He had allegedly attempted to start a political party in the country but this was not possible, as Tunisia is a one party state," Asmal said. "That flag was imposed 23 years ago…and if the United States/ West could support this on these allegations…then this is hypocrisy. A lot happened 23 years ago and it's sickening to think this red flag still existed," he criticized. The Media Review Network (MRN) and the CII executive worked around the clock to secure Harrath's release. He appeared in the Kempton Park Magistrates Court on 25th January and was asked to reappear on 29th March – where the charges were dropped. However, both the MRN and CII believe it must be probed why Harrath was able to travel around the globe and why he had entered South Africa on four previous occasions, before the Interpol notice was brought into affect on the 24 January. Interpol "Between correspondence between Harrath and Interpol, the intelligence agency notified him that he was never red-flagged and that it was never their intention to have him arrested internationally," Asmal said. "It ties in with an expose on Carte Blanche on the daily happenings at OR Tambo International. The question is… who controls security at OR Tambo and how much have SAPS and intelligence agencies lost the plot in terms of security in our own country. These are valid questions and we demand answers from the government…" According to Asmal, the South African government was also under "relentless pressure" from the Israeli government to rescind a decision not to allow Israeli security agents at the airport not to carry weapons. He added that government has "stood firm" thus far. The government has re-approached Israeli authorities to inform them that the staff of El-Al airlines cannot operate in the country if they are in possession of weapons at the airport. "We are waiting for El Al to make good on their promise to withdraw from the country if our government do not succumb to what they want. This issue also calls for vigilance from Muslims when they travel to OR Tambo. We should not allow this ‘boogie-man- type security…" Asmal confirmed that Harrath has called for an investigation into the issue and will meet with government over the next few days. VOC
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