Trinidadian student Tariq Mohammed spent the last 16 months in Saudi Arabia, accused of being a terrorist.
Mohammed got an early New Year’s gift and was released and allowed to leave the Middle Eastern country.
He returned home on Thursday and was met at Piarco International Airport by relatives and friends.
Mohammed, 31, a final year student at the University of Medinah, was detained by Saudi national security officials on August 21, 2015 when he returned to that country after vacationing in Trinidad. He was kept in detention ever since.
He was in the company of his wife, Saudah Ali and 16-month baby, Sulaimaan at the time. His wife and child were eventually allowed to return to their apartment.
Shortly after his detention in Saudi Arabia, Mohammed’s father, Shamoon, wrote to then Foreign Affairs Minister, Winston Dookeran, seeking diplomatic intervention as he claimed his son was being unlawfully detained. The plight comes on the heels of reports of several T&T nationals travelling through Turkey to join foreign fighters supporting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
In his letter, Shamoon Mohammed pleaded his son’s innocence as he said:
“Our son has diligently pursued his course of studies receiving good grades along with his wife, Saudah. He has never left Saudi Arabia to go to any Middle Eastern country during his stay there. He is not involved in any negative activities there. He has been a law-abiding citizen throughout his life.”
Shamoon claimed since his son’s detention, he and his wife were contacted by representatives of T&T’s Ministry of National Security, who questioned them on their son’s possible terrorism link. “We are unaware of how this misinformation reached our Ministry of National Security. When we saw the photograph of the alleged activist, it was clear it was not our son Tariq.
“It seems some person or agent in Medinah sent information to our Ministry of National Security which is a clear case of mistaken identity and/or misinformation,” Shamoon said.
Permanent secretary Frances Seignoret said she was in fact in receipt of the letter and that the issue was being urgently addressed. Attached to the request to the ministry was a first hand account of the family’s ongoing experience from Mohammed’s wife Saudah Ali. In her detailed statement on the issue, Ali claimed she and her husband first encountered problems when they arrived in the United Kingdom and attempted to board a connecting flight to their usual intransit in Turkey.
Ali said she and their 16-month-old son, Sulaimaan, were separated from Mohammed for three hours as he was being questioned by British intelligence officers before they were eventually allowed to catch a later flight. “Tariq told me that they asked him about the Arabic books he had with him which were his university school books and also details of where we lived in Medinah and about his car licence and so on,” Ali said.
She claimed they were stopped again as soon as they arrived in Turkey. “After a few hours they told Tariq he could not enter Istanbul, as we were planning on staying there for two nights and then going on to Medinah. They wanted him to go back to London,” Ali said.
She said after being held back for almost 12 hours they were finally allowed to board a flight to Saudi Arabia. Although the couple thought their woes were over as they never had issues with travelling to and from the country they have called home for over five years, their worst fears were realised as they were greeted by Saudi officials upon arrival.
Ali said their belongings, including a large amount of cash, used to pay the living expenses for the rest of the year were seized and she was separated from her husband and was transported to their apartment. “On arriving at the apartment I could tell that it was searched as things were turned upside down and my laptop and old phones were missing,” she said.
She claimed that since then she had not been able to see her husband, who was being held at Buraidah Central Prison, and was only able to speak with him over the phone on one brief occasion. “Everyday I continued calling the office asking about him and to talk to him and they told me he was only allowed to talk to me once which he did and so I couldn’t speak to him again.”