Pilot angry at terror slur

November 28, 2003

An aviation student at Leeds University told of his shock this week when he discovered that he had been identified as a suspected terrorist and subjected to a Special Branch investigation.

Mimbar Ali said his Asian name prompted police suspicion when he applied for temporary membership of a flying school as part of his course.

"At first I thought it was some sort of joke, then I was in shock," he told The THES . "I couldn't understand why they were investigating a UK national.

I have lived in this country for 18 years.

"While I realise they have a job to do, I was made to feel like a second-class citizen."

Dylan Dowd, manager of Leeds Flying School, was approached by officers asking questions about Mr Ali's background. The school runs flying lessons on behalf of Leeds University as part of its aviation technology and pilot studies programme.

Mr Dowd described his incredulity at the inquiry. Officers claimed Mr Ali had failed to fill in an application form correctly.

"When they asked for records and information about Mr Ali, I was very uncomfortable," Mr Dowd said. "I thought the inquiry was in breach of data protection rules." He said the form had no irregularities.

Colin Harvey of the Human Rights Research Unit at Leeds expressed concern about the case. "At times of heightened tension as a result of credible security threats, there is a real risk of compromising core constitutional values," he said.

"While there are limitations to human rights and equality guarantees when national security is raised, the police, like other public bodies, must try to ensure that civil liberties are not severely eroded."

North Yorkshire police said it was their responsibility to check the backgrounds of people applying to learn to fly in this country. "An individual applied to join a flying club but did not enter all the required details, and applied on a form that was superseded some time ago," said a spokesman. "We made inquiries to gather that information."

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