Ahmed Errachidi, The General Who Was Just a Cook

I needed to hone in on July 2001 and prove that Ahmed was here in London, so I took his CV and checked his employment history. Included on his CV was Christopher’s Temporary Employment Agency based near Victoria train station in London. Phone calls to a very helpful woman at the agency proved fruitless. She said it had been so long ago since Ahmed had worked for them that they probably wouldn’t have his records, and they routinely destroy their employee records after two years. I kept pressing, and she kept looking but ultimately found nothing. So in the end I thought to myself, “Screw this. I’m going to head down there.” I always believe that the face-to-face approach generally gets more results, either that or it’s the strength of my South London charm. Whichever it may be, and I’m leaning towards the latter, I jumped on the tube and found Christopher’s Agency in Victoria. I had worked from temp agency to temp agency after finishing university, but this one was somewhat different from the ones I had frequented. With no fancy shop front, Christopher’s Agency was a dimly lit, two room, dingy place on the first floor of some dingy business centre. The helpful young woman I had spoken to on the phone was there to greet me saying that she had kept looking and by some stroke of luck had found Ahmed’s pay records. I waited as the photocopier warmed up so she could make me copies, and I left excitedly, studying them as I weaved in and out of the people on my way back to Victoria tube.

On the tube I was scanning hard for my magic month: July 2001. Sure enough the records showed that Ahmed had worked on various catering assignments for Christopher’s from May to July 2001. I returned to the office literally beaming as I told the others there that I had managed to get hold of Ahmed’s work records. I held in my hands documentary evidence that Ahmed was here during the month he was supposedly in an al Qaeda training camp and that was amazing, a real breakthrough.

But there was no resting on any sort of laurels, and with the ARB looming, we felt we needed more than just these records to strengthen Ahmed’s case. There was an empty period between Ahmed finishing work with Christopher’s Temp agency and his departure for Morocco. Ahmed had told Clive that before leaving for Morocco in September 2001 he had been promised a job at a restaurant called Café Loco in Muswell Hill, in North London. He said the restaurant owner was very nice to him. They had even talked about his son Imran, and this guy had offered to lend Ahmed the money to pay for the treatment. I needed to find this man; time was of the essence. I had a name and a description from Ahmed. His name was John, a big Jewish man who drove an American car. I didn’t want to go straight back to Café Loco because they had told another one of our volunteers that they did not want to help her. They also told this volunteer, Rhumana, who by the way was one of the nicest, kind natured and soft spoken people I have met, that she was harassing them, and she should not come back there. So Café Loco wasn’t an option. I did risk a call though, and they told me John no longer owned the joint. Ahmed had told Clive that John owned another restaurant in Camden, North London, on the same road as the office of another hardworking British lawyer—Gareth Pierce. With that I was on it, on the trail around Camden’s restaurants, but no one knew “Big John” as I began to affectionately refer to a man I had never met, that is until I went into a large, red-fronted restaurant that was part American diner, part Mexican Cantina, part North African coffee shop.

The guy who owned this place knew him alright. And he gave me a little more information. He told me ‘Big John’ was Jewish Moroccan to boot and what’s more, he still owned Café Loco. I told him the full story about Ahmed – another thing I was learning on the way was honesty was more often than not the best policy. I told him we needed a signed statement that would confirm that Ahmed had been offered a job at Loco towards the end of July. The other information about Imran and John’s offer to lend Ahmed the money for his treatment would help, too. This guy was quite sympathetic. He told me to come back the following night, and he would see what he could find out for me. I asked him his name—he didn’t tell me—that was that. I returned the following evening and met the unnamed proprietor of the red restaurant. He said Big John was not in the country, but he definitely still owned Café Loco. His sister in law Cathy was the manager. He said that I should go up there, and she could put me in touch with John. But above all he reminded me that I had not seen him, had not been there, had not spoken to him. I nodded, shook his hand and headed up to Muswell Hill that very night.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s