Police apologise to east London raid family

Guardian Unlimited | Tuesday June 13, 2006
by Peter Walker and David Fickling

The Metropolitan police today bowed to demands for an apology from the family targeted in an east London terror raid, after the man shot by an officer spoke for the first time of fears for his life.
The assistant commissioner, Andy Hayman, issued the apology "for the hurt that we have caused" this afternoon, hours after an emotional press conference in which Mohammed Abdul Kahar described how a police officer fired at him from close range without identifying himself first.

"I apologise for the hurt that we have caused in tackling the terrorist threat in the UK," Mr Hayman said. "The police service is trying its utmost to work closely with all the communities and in particular the Muslim community."

But he defended the decision to deploy armed officers, citing the examples of the 2004 Madrid train bombings and the killing of a police officer during an anti-terror raid in Manchester in 2003. 

"The police now have to take appropriate precautions to protect themselves, the public, and those inside the premises ... during anti-terror operations," he said.

Mr Kahar, 23, today spoke publicly for the first time since the raid on his family home in Forest Gate on June 2, in which he and his 20-year-old brother were arrested.

He said he had been woken by the screams "like I had never heard before" of his brother, Abul Koyair, at 4am. Assuming it was a robbery he ran downstairs with his brother directly behind him.

"I saw an orange spark," Mr Kahar said. "I fell against the wall. I slipped down.

Speaking quietly and haltingly, at times having to stop because he was overcome by emotion, Mr Kahar said he had been shot from a distance of "two to three feet" by a man at the bottom of the stairs.

He said the bullet passed through the right-hand upper part of his chest and exited through his shoulder.

Mr Kahar was insistent that the gunshot was not a mistake. "He [the policeman] looked at me straight away and shot. We had eye contact and he shot me straight away."

He stressed that the man did not identify himself as a policeman. "He was saying 'Just shut the fuck up, stay there, stay there'."

Mr Kahar said he was dragged out of the house and dropped on to the pavement before being given a tissue to put against his wound.

"At that time I knew it was the police as I saw a police van outside the house. I heard them bring my mum out. She was screaming and crying."

Mr Kahar's brother told the press conference how he had been the first family member to wake up, hearing the sound of breaking glass and thinking it was a burglary.

He left his bedroom and followed his brother downstairs.

"I heard a loud bang and saw a big flash. And then everything was so quiet. No one said anything. I thought it was like a dream at first.

"[Then] I realised that my own brother had got shot for no reason. They tried to murder my brother."

Mr Koyair was handcuffed and led out to the street where he was made to sit on his knees with his face to the ground.

At Paddington Green station, he was asked a series of questions, including whether his name was Abu Hamza, and if he recognised the names of around a dozen extremist Muslim groups.

He said: "I did not recognise any of them until they said al-Qaida."

Under persistent questioning from reporters as to whether he supported militant Muslim groups, Mr Kahar described himself as an ordinary Briton who loved his country. He said he worked up to 60 hours a week at the Royal Mail and Tesco: "I just want to work and keep my family, support my mum and dad".

He insisted he had no idea why police had targeted his family home.

"I was asking myself the question while I was in custody - who did this? I have no idea. I'm in the dark the same as everyone else.

"I believe the only crime I had done in their eyes was being Asian with a long beard."

Mr Kahar said he had been severely traumatised since the raid and was unable to sleep, frequently enduring flashbacks.

But he insisted the family was not focusing on financial compensation.

"First and foremost I want some sort of apology to me and my family."

Mr Hayman's statement today follows a similar apology to the local community last Thursday for the "disruption and inconvenience" caused by the raid.

But that earlier apology came before the two brothers were released without charge on Friday, and made no reference to the "hurt" caused by the operation.

Earlier today, Mr Kahar's sister, Humeya Kalam, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that she had been "petrified" during the operation, in which police were looking for a suspected bomb factory.

"I heard doors being smashed, windows being broken. I woke up, opened my door and saw a person dressed all in black, gun pointing towards me," she said.

The press conference came amid mounting questions over heavy-handed police tactics in the raid.

The prime minister, Tony Blair, yesterday told a Downing Street press conference: "I retain complete confidence in our police and our security services in tackling the terrorist threat we face.

"I don't want them to be under any inhibition at all in going after those people who are engaged in terrorism. We have to, as a country, stand behind them and give them understanding in the very difficult work they do."

Ken Livingstone, the London mayor, today accused the Independent Police Complaints Commission of helping to "smear" the embattled Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, by failing to prevent leaks of its report into the fatal shooting of the Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes.

Mr Livingstone applauded Sir Ian's record on neighbourhood and community policing in the capital and dismissed the current attacks upon him as largely a campaign by the rightwing press.

Sir Ian has been under increasing pressure over both the east London raid and the fatal shooting of Mr de Menezes by anti-terrorism police at Stockwell underground station, south London, last year.