Nottingham Two

Nottingham Two

The Nottingham Two were a student and a staff member of the University of Nottingham arrested in May 2008 for suspected involvement with Islamic terrorism. University staff had notified the police after finding an English copy of the so-called Al Qaeda Training Manual on a computer. Both men were released without charge in the following week after it became clear that the document, freely available from US government websites, was used for research about terrorism in the context of a university course, and that neither had any other connection to terrorism. The case was complicated by the fact that one of the two was re-arrested on immigration charges immediately after the release. It was reported widely, especially by the Guardian and by Times Higher Education, and became the subject of a short book in 2009. The case resurfaced in 2011 after a lecturer at the University of Nottingham, Rod Thornton, was suspended for producing a report that seemingly exposed the University of Nottingham for being involved in serious misconduct regarding the arrests and subsequent treatment of both men.



Nottingham University's School of Politics and International Relations has been involved in terrorism-related research and higher education, including a taught MA course in "International Security and Terrorism".[1]

Rizwaan Sabir, born 1985, grew up in Nottingham. After completing his undergraduate degree in politics at Manchester Metropolitan University, he went on to study for a Master's degree in International Relations at the University of Nottingham. Until September 2009 he was working on a PhD at the University of Nottingham on the evolution of global militant Islam. At present he is researching English and Scottish counterterrorism for his PhD at the University of Strathclyde.

Hicham Yezza studied for both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at Nottingham University before gaining employment in the School of Modern Languages. He was active in university politics, having served as a member of the University Senate, the Student’s Union Executive Committee and was a co-founder of the Arabic society.[2] In 2003 he founded Ceasefire Magazine, an independent magazine whose editor he remains.

Arrests and release

In 2008 Rizwaan Sabir downloaded a 140-page document connected to his research on militant Islam from the US Justice Department website. The document, known as the Al-Qaeda training manual, is also available in book form from Amazon.[3][4] [5] Sabir was in the process of preparing his forthcoming PhD proposal, and he was being advised and helped by his friend Hicham Yezza, who was a member of staff at the university of Nottingham at the time. Sabir often sent Yezza copies of documents and reading materials he was using for his research, and the Al-Qaeda manual was one of them. The document was noticed on Yezza's computer by a colleague and as a result the university authorities notified the police.

On 14 May 2008, Yezza was arrested under Section 41 of the Terrorism Act 2000 on suspicion of being involved in the "commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism".[6] When Sabir tried to support Yezza, he was arrested under the same charge.[5][7]

The arrest sparked a debate over academic freedom when it was revealed that the document was related to research at the University.[8]

On 20 May 2008, Sabir and Yezza were released without charge. Upon his release, Sabir stated: "the power of the state hit me as hard as it could",[3] and described his experience as "the most degrading, dehumanising encounter [he had] ever experienced".[9] According to reports by Al-Jazeera, Sabir stated he was "subjected to psychological torture" and believed that "If [the UK] is trying to stop the radicalisation of Muslims the way to do that is not by locking away innocent people... That will only exacerbate the problem."[9] Sabir stated that he would continue with his PhD despite the recent events and use his experiences to raise awareness of the draconian anti-terror powers that the government had implemented.[9]

Immediate aftermath

Following the terrorism charges Yezza faced deportation charges.[10] He was issued with a removal order but the plans to deport him before any judicial review could take place were eventually cancelled.[11] Former British Ambassador Craig Murray suggested that the handling of the incident is evidence of Islamophobia.[12] In 2009, Yezza was sentenced to nine months' imprisonment for Visa irregularities, but was released after five months.[13]

After Sabir was released, Sir Colin Campbell, then Vice-Chancellor of the University, controversially stated:

"There is no 'right' to access and research terrorist materials. Those who do so run the risk of being investigated and prosecuted on terrorism charges. Equally, there is no 'prohibition' on accessing terrorist materials for the purpose of research. Those who do so are likely to be able to offer a defence to charges (although they may be held in custody for some time while the matter is investigated).[3]

The entire incident led to public criticism at the time of Campbell, who appeared unwilling to defend the notion of academic freedom in his response to the arrest.[14]

Due to the arrests, the University of Nottingham came under intense criticism for sacrificing academic freedom and failing to protect the right of its students and staff from conducting research free from the threat of arrest and detention under the Terrorism Act.[disambiguation needed ][15] Criticism for the University of Nottingham was increased when the Politics Department established a “module review committee” that “scrutinises” the “reading lists of lecturers” in case they contain “material that is illegal or could incite violence”.[16]

David Miller,[disambiguation needed ] professor of sociology at the University of Strathclyde and the convenor of Teaching About Terrorism, said “Nottingham's review policy represented a fundamental attack on academic freedom. The module review committee is a censorship committee: it can't operate as anything else. The university is acting as the police, one step removed."[16]

Critics argued that the University of Nottingham's stance was setting a very dangerous precedent for research on an issue (terrorism) that is very contemporary and very popular amongst many university students. A lecturer in the school of politics and international relations stated:

“We are greatly concerned by the disproportionate nature of the university’s response to the possession of legitimate research materials. Both the individuals are unreservedly innocent and they and their families and friends and have been greatly distressed by the overzealous police investigation. It is crucial that we do not let concerns for security become the enemy of liberty and academic freedom”[17]

Suspension of terrorism research

Criticism of the University of Nottingham increased after the only terrorism expert at the institution, Dr Rod Thornton, decided that because of the university's lack of willingness to provide assistance and guidance to him regarding reading lists and terrorist publications and whether they were okay to disseminate and legitimate to hold, he was no longer willing to risk his own security and liberty by teaching terrorism at Nottingham University.[18] As a result, terrorism is no longer being taught at the University of Nottingham.[18]

For an April 2011 conference of the British International Studies Association (BISA), Thornton prepared a long paper about the behaviour of Nottingham University's management team following the arrests of Yezza and Sabir.[19] In the document, Thornton gave details of systematic persecution and lies allegedly perpetrated by the management against Yezza, Sabir and junior academics at the university.[20]

One of Thornton's colleagues at Nottingham complained to BISA about alleged defamatory content of Thornton's paper, and a spokesman for the university called it "highly defamatory of a number of his colleagues". The paper was removed from BISA's website.[19]

In early May 2011, Thornton was suspended from his duties for the "breakdown in working relationships" caused by the paper. In an open letter published in the Guardian, 67 international researchers including Noam Chomsky asked for Thornton's reinstatement and an independent examination of the university's actions, saying that Thornton's paper "carefully details what appear to be examples of serious misconduct from senior university management over the arrest of two university members".[21] At present, a campaign calling for the reinstatement of Dr Rod Thornton and for a public inquiry into the University of Nottingham's actions is ongoing.[22]

Leaked Documentation & Unileaks

On 12 June 2011, the whistle-blowing website and the campaign created in support of Dr Rod Thornton, S.W.A.N, leaked in excess of 200 internal university, police, Special Branch, Home Office and Crown Prosecution Service documents, which they claimed, corroborated the claims made by Dr Rod Thornton that the University undertook a campaign of sabotage against the Nottingham Two before and after their arrest.[23]

Amongst the leaked material contained information and records that the University of Nottingham security staff had been secretly recording protests and keeping a log of Middle East related events, such as talks and seminars.[24][25]

The University of Nottingham claimed that "no footage of protests was retained or passed to other authorities, including the police or government. He said that security staff kept lists of protests in case extra security was required "because of their subject matter".[26]

Commenting on the Nottingham Case, Shami Chakrabarti, the Director of the Human Rights group Liberty told the Observer: "Is it right that universities are taking on policing duties?"[27]

On 22 June 2011, the Chair of the British International Studies Association wrote an open letter to the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nottingham, Professor David Greenaway, which stated that there was a "strong feeling of unease and concern across [BISA] over the issue of academic freedom raised by, but certainly not confined to, the ongoing case of Dr Rod Thornton".[28] The letter also called for the University of Nottingham to "consider" supporting an independent inquiry into the allegations and issues raised in Thornton's report.[29]

Media Appearances

On 27 January 2011, Rizwaan Sabir appeared on 10 O'Clock Live to discuss Terrorism in Britain and the topic of his arrest.[30] He also appeared on various news channels in 2008 as a critic of the governments proposals to increase pre-charge detention for terror suspects from 28 days to 42 days.

On 6 June 2011, Rizwaan Sabir and Hicham Yezza appeared on the BBC's flagship Newsnight Programme to discuss their arrests and the Conservative government's re-introduction of the 'Preventing violent extremism' strategy.[31]

Hicham Yezza continues to be the editor of the political and cultural Ceasefire Magazine, for which Rizwaan Sabir writes a bi-weekly column entitled Sabir on Security.

Legal settlement

Rizwaan Sabir subsequently brought legal proceedings against Nottinghamshire police for various claims including false imprisonment. In September 2011, before the case reached trial, the police agreed to pay Sabir compensation of £20,000 to settle the claims against them.[32]


  1. ^ International Security and Terrorism: University of Nottingham,
  2. ^ The Story So Far,
  3. ^ a b c Newman 2008.
  4. ^ Curtis & Hodgson 2008.
    Fernando, Hilaire & Smith 2008.
  5. ^ a b Rizwaan Sabir - Victim of state islamophobia speaks out on YouTube.
  6. ^ Yezza 2008.
  7. ^ The operation was headed by the newly formed West Midlands Counterterrorism Unit. The total cost of the operation was £53,307, according to West Midlands Police Freedom of Information Request No. 3034/09
  8. ^ Curtis & Lipsett 2008.
    Thornton 2008.
  9. ^ a b c Al Jazeera 2008.
  10. ^ IMPACT 2009.
  11. ^ NEAR 2008.
  12. ^ Murray 2009.
  13. ^ "Hicham released!". 2009-08-13. 
  14. ^ "Times Higher Education Supplement letters pages". Retrieved 2009-06-29. 
  15. ^ Newman 2008a.
  16. ^ a b Newman 2009.
  17. ^ "Academic Freedom and The Study of Terror". The Sacrificial Devotion and Virulent Politics Research Network. 
  18. ^ a b Sabir 2010.
  19. ^ a b Vasagar, Jeevan (4 May 2011), "Row after university suspends lecturer who criticised way student was treated", Guardian Online (London), , "Nottingham University expert 'suspended' in terror row", BBC News, 5 May 2011, .
  20. ^ Thornton, Rod (April 2011), Radicalisation at universities or radicalisation by bniversities?, .
  21. ^ "Call to reinstate terror academic", The Guardian (London): 31, 10 May 2011, , BBC (10 May 2011), Noam Chomsky calls for Nottingham expert reinstatement, BBC News, , BBC (12 May 2011), Protesters call for reinstatement of Dr Rod Thornton, BBC News, .
  22. ^ Support the Whistleblower At Nottingham
  23. ^ Samples of leaked documentation
  24. ^ 'Events on Campus'
  25. ^ Nottingham University films students suspected of extremism, The Observer, 12 June 2011, p.16
  26. ^ Ibid
  27. ^ ibid
  28. ^ Open Letter to Professor David Greenaway from Inderjeet Parmer
  29. ^ Open Letter to Professor David Greenaway from Inderjeet Parmer
  30. ^ Rizwaan Sabir - Control Orders: Out of Control, Out of Order,
  31. ^ Students say terror law was used wrongly against them
  32. ^ Jones, Sam (14 September 2011). "Student in al-Qaida raid paid £20,000 by police". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 September 2011. 


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