London Terrorism: British "Covenant of Security" with Islamists Ends
by Daniel Pipes New York Sun July 8, 2005
Terrorism usually comes like a bolt from the blue, but not so the four explosions yesterday in London, killing at least 37. Some British Islamist leaders have been warning for months that such violence was imminent.
An Islamist British group called Al-Muhajiroun - "the immigrants" in Arabic - for some time publicly stated that Britain was immune from Islamist violence because of its acceptable behavior toward Muslims within the country's borders. In an April 2004 conversation, the 24-year-old Sayful Islam, who heads Al-Muhajiroun's Luton branch, announced that he supported Osama Bin Laden "100%" in the quest to achieve "the worldwide domination of Islam," but went on to voice an aversion to himself performing terrorist acts in Britain.
Yet, Sayful Islam endorsed terrorism in Britain in a broader sense "When a bomb attack happens here, I won't be against it, even if it kills my own children. … But it is against Islam for me to engage personally in acts of terrorism in the UK because I live here. According to Islam, I have a covenant of security with the UK, as long as they allow us Muslims to live here in peace." He further explained. "If we want to engage in terrorism, we would have to leave the country. It is against Islam to do otherwise."
Covenant of security? What is that? In an August 2004 story in the New Statesman, "Why terrorists love Britain," Jamie Campbell cited the author of Inside Al Qaeda, Mohamed Sifaoui, as saying, "it has long been recognized by the British Islamists, by the British government and by UK intelligence agencies, that as long as Britain guarantees a degree of freedom to the likes of Hassan Butt [an overtly pro-terrorist Islamist], the terrorist strikes will continue to be planned within the borders of the UK but will not occur here."
The New Statesman story drew from this the perversely ironic conclusion that "the presence of vocal and active Islamist terrorist sympathizers in the U.K. actually makes British people safer, while the full brunt of British-based terrorist plotting is suffered by people in other countries."
A Syrian immigrant to Britain who headed Al-Muhajiroun, Omar Bakri Mohammed, confirmed the covenant of security, describing companions of the Prophet Muhammad who were given protection by the king of Ethiopia. That experience, he told the magazine, led to the Koranic notion of covenant of security: Muslims may not attack the inhabitants of a country where they live in safety. This "makes it unlikely that British-based Muslims will carry out operations in the U.K. itself," Mr. Mohammed said.
But in January 2005, Mr. Mohammed determined that the covenant of security had ended for British Muslims because of post-September 11, 2001, anti-terrorist legislation that meant "the whole of Britain has become Dar ul-Harb," or territory open for Muslim conquest. Therefore, in a reference to unbelievers, "the kuffar has no sanctity for their own life or property."
The country had gone from safe haven to enemy camp. To renew the covenant of security would require British authorities to undo that legislation and release those detained without trial. If they fail to do so, British Muslims must "join the global Islamic camp against the global crusade camp."
Mr. Mohammed went on overtly to threaten the British people: "The response from the Muslims will be horrendous if the British government continues in the way it treats Muslims," explicitly raising the possibility of suicide bombings under the leadership of Al-Qaeda. Western governments must know that if they do not change course, Muslims will "give them a 9/11 day after day after day!"
When Sean O'Neil and Yaakov Lappin of the London Times asked Mr. Mohammed about his statements on the covenant, he said his definition of Britain as Dar ul-Harb was "theoretical" and he provided a non-bellicose re-interpretation:
It means that Muslims can no longer be considered to have sanctity and security here, therefore they should consider leaving this country and going back to their homelands. Otherwise they are under siege and obviously we do not want to see that we are living under siege.
In a less guarded moment, however, Mr. Mohammed acknowledged that for him, "the life of an unbeliever has no value."
Yesterday's explosions mark the end of the "covenant of security." Let's hope they also mark the end of an era of innocence, and that British authorities now begin to preempt terrorism rather than wait to become its victims.
This article derives from a larger piece in the Middle East Quarterly
MIM: In 2004 Dr. Daniel Pipes predicted that the British appeasement of Isamists would backfire on them and refers to an article "Why terrorists love Britain" can be found below:
Does the "Covenant of Security" Explain Londonistan? Like many others, I have repeatedly bemoaned and ridiculed British weakness vis-à-vis Islamism (for example, here, here, here and here). But what if there's a method behind the British madness? That's the thesis of Jamie Campbell's cover story in the New Statesman dated today, "Why terrorists love Britain." Relying on the insights of Mohamed Sifaoui, author of Inside Al Qaeda (an autobiographical account of how this French Algerian journalist posed as an Islamist and infiltrated terrorist organizations in France and the United Kingdom), Campbell suggests that hosting so many terrorists renders the UK precious to the terrorists, who in turn leave it alone.
According to Sifaoui, it has long been recognised by the British Islamists, by the British government and by UK intelligence agencies, that as long as Britain guarantees a degree of freedom to the likes of Hassan Butt [a loudmouth pro-terrorist Islamist], the terrorist strikes will continue to be planned within the borders of the UK but will not occur here. Ironically, then, the presence of vocal and active Islamist terrorist sympathisers in the UK actually makes British people safer, while the full brunt of British-based terrorist plotting is suffered by people in other countries.
Campbell then tries this thesis out on Omar Bakri, leader of al-Muhajiroun, one of the most extreme Islamist groups in the UK, who confirms it:
He tells me the story of the companions of the prophet Muhammad who, when travelling to Abyssinia, were given protection and hospitality by that nation. The result of this generosity is the Koranic notion of covenant, namely that as a Muslim it is de rigueur not to attack the inhabitants of any country in which one finds oneself living safely. This, according to Bakri, makes it unlikely that British-based Muslims will carry out operations in the UK itself.
To the extent the allowing of Islamists and terrorists safe haven on British soil is a conscious decision to keep the UK safe at the expense of others, this is an immoral and despicable policy that must be changed immediately. (August 9, 2004)
August 19, 2004 update: A reader, Yoel Natan, points out confirmation of the above thesis from Al-Muhajiroun in reportage by David Cohen of the Evening Standard. In an April 2004 article, Cohen recounts a conversation with Ishtiaq Alamgir, who goes by the name Sayful Islam. He is the 24-year-old leader of the Luton branch of al-Muhajiroun, the Islamist group:
According to Sayful, the aim of al-Muhajiroun ("the immigrants") is nothing less than Khilafah - "the worldwide domination of Islam". The way to achieve this, he says, is by Jihad, led by Bin Laden. "I support him 100 per cent."
Does that support extend to violent acts of terrorism in the UK? "Yes," he replies, unequivocally. "When a bomb attack happens here, I won't be against it, even if it kills my own children. Islam is clear: Muslims living in lands that are occupied have the right to attack their invaders. Britain became a legitimate target when it sent troops to Iraq. But it is against Islam for me to engage personally in acts of terrorism in the UK because I live here. According to Islam, I have a covenant of security with the UK, as long as they allow us Muslims to live here in peace."
He uses the phrase "covenant of security" constantly. He attempts to explain. "If we want to engage in terrorism, we would have to leave the country," he says. "It is against Islam to do otherwise." Such a course of action, he says, he is not prepared to undertake. This is why, Sayful claims, it is consistent, and not cowardly, for him to espouse the rhetoric of terrorism, the "martyrdom-operations", while simultaneously limiting himself to nonviolent actions such as leafletting outside Luton town hall.
Aug. 23, 2004 update: Further confirmation comes implicitly from a Reuters analysis of why the U.S. government is not making the sort of high-level catches its European counterparts can boast of. former officials say.
While some critics say a lack of similar high-caliber swoops in the United States indicates the Bush administration isn't doing enough to hunt terrorists at home, a range of experts and former officials across the political spectrum say key militants simply stay away because the danger of getting caught is greater in America.
Jan. 10, 2005 update: The same Omar Bakri quoted above now has determined that the "covenant of security" has come to an end in the United Kingdom due to the implementation of anti-terrorist legislation introduced after 9/11. To renew the covenant requires that the British government undo these policies and release those detained without trial. Should that not happen, British Muslims should "join the global Islamic camp against the global crusade camp." Bakri is openly threatening: "The response from the Muslims will be horrendous if the British government continues in the way it treats Muslims," explicitly raising the possibility of suicide bombings under the leadership of Al-Qaeda. Western governments must know that if they do not change course, Muslims will "give them a 9/11 day after day after day!" Bakri shouted, to what the United Press International's Hannah K. Strange characterized as "furious chanting."
Oh, and she recounts this from the conference at which he spoke:
The speakers … called for war against the kuffaar (non-Muslims) and lead chants as a projector screen showed images of dead American soldiers in Iraq. As the infamous images of two planes crashing into the twin towers of the World Trade Center replayed again and again, the rapt watchers thrust their fists in the air and chanted "Allahu Akhbar! (God is great!)." "Nine-eleven was one example of some people who chose to show us they are men, real Muslim men," said one speaker.
Is this country really threatened by violent attack? After talking to potential martyrs, Jamie Campbell wonders if our rulers have hit on a clever way to keep us safe
It is a wonderful, typically British scene. I am sitting in a Manchester curry house, wondering whether to choose the Madras or the korma. The place is humming with Arabic, and a number of extended families have gathered to eat at adjacent tables. A few children skip past. My lunchtime companion is, at 24, three years younger than me. His name is Hassan Butt, and he'd like to martyr himself in Britain for the sake of Islam. I order the korma.
In the past year, Hassan and I have become steadfast dining partners, if not exactly firm friends. Over curries, pizzas and saccharine soft drinks, in London and Manchester, I have discovered what makes him tick. "Pray to Allah that he accepts me as a martyr," he muses. "If that's tomorrow, then tomorrow. If not, then whenever Allah wills." Why don't you get on with it, I ask. "Everything needs to be done in an organised manner, with the current organisations that are working around the world."
Hassan earned himself a reputation for hyperbole when he rang the Today programme from Lahore in 2002. He asserted that, as a representative of the Islamist organisation al-Muhajiroun, he had recruited up to 1,000 British men to Islamic causes in the Middle East. He then returned quite freely to the UK, where his appetite for controversy remained undiminished.
He claims he has met a further thousand Brits who, like him, would subscribe to a martyrdom operation within Britain if given the chance. He knows of five Brits and one American, all university educated, who have left the UK in the past two months heading for a desolate jihadi training camp in Pakistan. Two weeks ago, he met with an autonomous Islamist cell in the UK which possessed large quantities of Semtex, and which was capable of launching an immediate and major attack. So presumably, I say, MI5 are tracking you pretty constantly. "Without a doubt," says Hassan.
In seeking to negotiate a rigorous course in its war against terror, the British government has alluded persistently to the inevitability and imminence of a terrorist strike against the UK. The recent "revelations" that al-Qaeda plans to attack financial institutions in London and New York will not have taken many by surprise. More than 400 have been arrested under anti-terrorist legislation since 9/11. It is, we are reminded, a case of when and not if. Whatever view one takes of this position, there can be little doubt that a combination of political prudence and expedience has prevented the opposite case - namely, that the threat to this country is low - being made either in parliament or in the media. However, many private security firms would agree that there is little risk of a terrorist attack in Britain. This explains the paradoxes inherent in the British war on terror. It explains why Britain has not yet been attacked. It explains the government's intransigence in refusing to boost the budgets of emergency planners. It explains why MI5 is only now beginning to recruit more Arabic speakers; and why the task of forcing Abu Hamza to trial was left to the Bush administration.
In reality, the threat to this country from terrorism is no greater than the threat posed by a variety of terrorist groups in the course of the past 30 years. You are still, statistically speaking, more likely to take your own life than you are to be killed by terrorists.
The decision to overstate the threat to the UK is, in itself, a plausible counter-terrorism strategy. One need not look far beyond the spate of "London terror plot" headlines to learn that no specific threat has been made against any British institution. Such a thesis - that we're safer than we've been told - leaves a couple of pressing questions. First, is it not likely after attacks in New York, Bali, Istanbul and Madrid, that Britain will be the next target for Islamist ire? And second, does not the presence of Islamist provocateurs such as Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Abu Hamza and Hassan Butt make our streets dangerous?
To address these questions I spoke to Mohammed Sifaoui, a French Algerian journalist who, posing as a terrorist sympathiser, managed to infiltrate al-Qaeda cells in both France and the UK. Flanked by secret service agents - the French government has pledged to protect him for the foreseeable future - he met me in a Parisian hotel. Sifaoui, who as a result of his bravery has become uniquely expert on the Islamist mentality, believes that Britain exhibits paradoxical behaviour in relation to terrorism. It is anomalous, for example, that Britain quite evidently provides a safe haven for those, such as Butt and Hamza, who have terrorist sympathies. "The most sought-after terrorists in the world," he says, "have found shelter in the UK . . . They propagate their ideology there. They distribute booklets on their philosophy - giving them out freely outside mosques."
In addition, Britain is used as a convenient transitional home in the travel plans of those with militant Islamic inclinations. "It's now known," he says, "that the majority of the young guys who were living in the west and who left to go to training camps in Afghanistan had a tightly outlined itinerary - they went through London to Pakistan. And then from Pakistan to Afghanistan." Hassan Butt reinforces this impression, telling me that there is now a dedicated camp in Pakistan specifically for the use of British Muslims seeking to obtain military training. According to Butt, regular groups attend the camps for periods of up to three months, and subsequently either return to the UK or remain in the Middle East.
Sifaoui goes on to suggest that the significance of the roles played by British-based Islamists in attacks abroad is unparalleled. Before 9/11, he says, "Islamists considered the UK as a secondary base for their actions. To take a few examples . . . there were terrorist attempts in France in 1995, financed from the UK - that's a reality. General Massoud's assassination on 9 September 2001 was also financed in the UK - that's a reality. The kidnapping of western tourists in the Yemen was organised by London and probably by Abu Hamza - his son was involved with it."
Post-9/11, this pattern of British Islamists being implicated in attacks abroad has hardly altered. Here are just a few examples. Zacharias Moussaoui, from Brixton, is charged with being 9/11's "20th hijacker". In 2002, Richard Reid, a Brit, tried to blow up a plane out of Paris with a bomb in his shoe. Last year, Asif Hanif, from Hounslow, martyred himself in Israel. Omar Sheikh, the man convicted of the murder of the Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl, is British.
Yet British Islamists target other countries. Why? According to Sifaoui, it has long been recognised by the British Islamists, by the British government and by UK intelligence agencies, that as long as Britain guarantees a degree of freedom to the likes of Hassan Butt, the terrorist strikes will continue to be planned within the borders of the UK but will not occur here. Ironically, then, the presence of vocal and active Islamist terrorist sympathisers in the UK actually makes British people safer, while the full brunt of British-based terrorist plotting is suffered by people in other countries.
"The question becomes a moral one," concludes Sifaoui. "Should the British authorities accept that there are terrorists in their country who kill others abroad? I think that today the British authorities must face their conscience . . . I would say the following: make the choice - ensure your citizens' security [which is totally legitimate] while putting at risk those abroad. Or put your citizens at risk and maybe save those who are abroad. If the UK . . . can accept that an attack was prepared in the UK to kill women and children in Germany, France, Turkey, Scandinavia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Morocco or Algeria - then everyone will come to their own conclusions."
I find Sifaoui's theory substantiated when I speak to Sheikh Omar Bakri, who heads up al-Muhajiroun, perhaps the most contentious Islamist group in the UK. He tells me the story of the companions of the prophet Muhammad who, when travelling to Abyssinia, were given protection and hospitality by that nation. The result of this generosity is the Koranic notion of covenant, namely that as a Muslim it is de rigueur not to attack the inhabitants of any country in which one finds oneself living safely. This, according to Bakri, makes it unlikely that British-based Muslims will carry out operations in the UK itself.
If it is true that terrorist sympathisers use their freedoms in the UK to focus on foreign operations, then two further questions must be answered. First, can this "situation" be characterised as a deliberately unethical policy, unspoken by the British government but effected by the security service? A Foreign Office source suggested to me that, technically, by proceeding in this manner, the government may be flouting UN resolution 1373 of 28 September 2001 - ironically drafted by the British. The resolution calls on states to: "(c) Deny safe haven to those who finance, plan, support, or commit terrorist acts, or provide safe havens; and to (d) Prevent those who finance, plan, facilitate or commit terrorist acts from using their respective territories for those purposes against other states or their citizens".
And, second, what of my lunch partner Hassan? Is he posturing in order to fill me, and the wider British public, with fear? What of the autonomous Semtex-ridden Islamist cell whose members are ready to launch their strike at any moment? Hassan suggests that there are Islamists who are prepared to break their covenant with the British. And he warns that "any attack will have to be massive. After one operation everything will close down on us in Britain".
The British must wait to see, therefore, whether the deliverer of the massive attack will be Hassan himself. I, for one, will not be holding my breath. Apart from anything else, I enjoy our lunches.