AN ISLAMIC organisation facing a ban under terrorism laws has launched a campaign to recruit university students using an anti-racist front organisation.
An undercover Sunday Times investigation has established that the party, Hizb ut-Tahrir, has been recruiting under the name Stop Islamophobia at University College London (UCL), the School of African and Oriental Studies, Luton University and other institutions.
Hizb ut-Tahrir wants to establish a transnational state governed by Islamic law. It is reported to have thousands of members in Britain. One member said suicide bombers in Israel would go "straight to heaven".
It was formerly led in Britain by Omar Bakri Mohammed, the radical preacher who referred to the September 11 hijackers as the "Magnificent 19". Bakri left the party in 1996 and went on to set up Al-Muhajiroun, which is also facing proscription.
In August Tony Blair said that Hizb ut-Tahrir, which urged Muslims not to vote in the election, would be outlawed. The party has been proscribed in much of the Middle East and in Germany, where it is appealing against a ban for distributing anti-semitic literature. The party denies being anti-Jewish or supporting violence.
The Sunday Times began the investigation after a report by Professor Anthony Glees of Brunel University, which said colleges had become breeding grounds for extremists.
The report said that Hizb ut-Tahrir, which recruited openly on campuses until earlier this year, "has issued a number of anti-semitic statements. Furthermore, it is anti-Hindu (because of the war in Kashmir), anti-Sikh, homophobic, anti-feminist and resentful of the West's influence on Islam."
Glees last week criticised Hizb ut-Tahrir's use of a front organisation under a misleading and politically correct name as a "lethal cocktail". He said it was "capitalising on the advantages that exist in a free society".
The National Union of Students has called on universities to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir from campuses, accusing the party of "supporting terrorism and publishing material that incites racial hatred".
The undercover reporter visited campuses posing as a postgraduate student eager to help Hizb ut-Tahrir. He found Stop Islamophobia campaign stalls in freshers' fairs at Luton University, the School of African and Oriental Studies and Queen Mary — both part of London University — and London Metropolitan University.
Ostensibly the campaign's goal is to fight anti-Muslim prejudice in the wake of the London bombings. It asks students to sign a petition against the anti-terrorism legislation.
At UCL the group was not recruiting directly at the freshers' fair but members of the college's Muslim Media Forum wore Stop Islamophobia armbands. The reporter struck up a conversation with those manning the forum's stall, expressing interest in Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Among them was Shazad Ali, a former UCL student. Ali, although not a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, offered to introduce the reporter to the group. He said it did not matter what name the party used to spread its philosophy.
Members had a duty to "spread their message, not their name". Ali said: "You definitely can't have (Jews) as close friends." A few days later, at a human rights demonstration at the Uzbek embassy in London, Ali introduced the reporter to Thaqib Razaq, 18, an A-level pupil and a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Razaq, from Walthamstow, northeast London, described how he had asked a Hizb ut-Tahrir "sheikh", a senior member, what would happen if he became a suicide bomber. He said the reply was: "I can strap a bomb to myself and kill as many people as I can. I'm going to die shahid (martyr) and go to jannah (heaven)."
Razaq pointed out, however, that the sheikh had advised him that a more practical way to secure Palestinian freedom might be to establish a caliphate (transnational Islamic state) "to give voice to the Muslims".
Razaq said: "Stop Islamophobia is set up by us. But we don't actually push it like that. The moment they link Hizb ut-Tahrir with Stop Islamophobia, they'll bring the whole campaign down."
Razaq invited the reporter to the basement of a friend's restaurant in Walthamstow to begin the initiation. He explained the "party method", which he said was non-violent but demanded complete dislocation from democracy and British secular values.
"You don't work with the system," said Razaq. "Our political work is outside the system in order to create that Islamic change. We want influential people, but when you win them over you win them over to the framework of Islam."
At Queen Mary, Atif Choudhury, who ran the Stop Islamophobia Campaign at the college's freshers' fair, reiterated Hizb ut-Tahrir's non-violent standpoint but refused to condemn Islamic organisations such as Al-Qaeda that support violence.
Leaflets issued by the campaign at a number of freshers' fairs listed Hizb ut-Tahrir as one of its supporters, but a Hizb ut-Tahrir spokesman said he had no knowledge of Stop Islamophobia.
Hassan Choudhury, national co-ordinator of Stop Islamophobia, also denied any link with Hizb ut-Tahrir even though Razaq said that he had joined Hizb ut-Tahrir at the same time as him.
Choudhury declined to comment, but he has written for New Civilization, a Hizb ut-Tahrir publication.
Any evidence of Hizb ut-Tahrir's continuing recruitment on university campuses is likely to cause concern that students may be lured towards violent extremism.
In a 2003 report by the Saban Center, a right-leaning think tank in Washington, Hizb ut-Tahrir, founded in 1952 in east Jerusalem, was described as a "conveyor belt to terrorism".
The government's concerns about Hizb ut-Tahrir were set out in August when Blair detailed a 13-point plan to tackle terrorism. "We will proscribe Hizb ut-Tahrir and the successor organisation of Al-Mujahiroun," he said.
Last week the government released a list of 15 proscribed organisations. It did not include Hizb ut-Tahrir, but a Downing Street spokesman said other suspect groups would be proscribed later: "The prime minister's position hasn't changed."