Home      |      Weblog      |      Articles      |      Satire      |      Links      |      About      |      Contact

Militant Islam Monitor > Articles > Al Muhajiroun in Pakistan - UK born Muslims plan Jihad abroad

Al Muhajiroun in Pakistan - UK born Muslims plan Jihad abroad

July 17, 2005

MIM: Omar Bakri Mohammed continues to preach Jihad and at least one of the London bombers was linked to his group. In a recent interview in a London Park he essentially taunted the UK authorities for not arresting him and threated that ' his detention would lead to anarchy.'

"Anarchy means no one will sit in this park anymore because no one can secure their life," he warns. "It becomes a cycle of blood."

Disaffected youth seduced by notion of holy war

by Nick Meo


The accents were from the north of England, but the ideology was al Qaeda lite.

It was hard to know whether the scruffy, earnest, hostile young men crowded into a smelly flat in the eastern Pakistan city of Lahore were really dangerous or just playing at being jihadis.

They didn't look like ruthless terrorists. Some were only old enough to grow wispy beards. Most of them seemed to be running away from life in Britain as much as toward holy war.

Were they just student hotheads, rebelling against their parents' values? Or were they the real thing, ready to live up to their rhetoric and sacrifice themselves in a holy war? At the time it seemed unlikely.

But that was before the London Underground bombings.

The young men at the Pakistan headquarters of al-Muhajiroun, a radical Islamic group, in 2003 wouldn't give their real names -- only their noms de guerre -- or say much about their backgrounds. They had reinvented themselves as brothers in a cause. Encouraged by the radical cleric who founded al-Muhajiroun, hundreds of young British Muslims like them had fought for the Taliban, or tried to at least, and had gone through terrorist training camps in the region.

They said they hated Britain and felt left out of the country's predominantly white society. They loathed everything about the West. The values of the kufr -- the infidels -- were sick, corrupt and empty, they said. Pornography, booze, exploitation -- they couldn't see anything in British society that was positive.

They were drawn from all over Britain but united by their cause. They were fighters for a pure Islamic state.

Al-Muhajiroun was founded by Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, a Syrian-born cleric who moved to London in 1986. In universities and mosques, the organization recruited an odd mix of intellectuals and misfits. It was formally disbanded last year, but Bakri continues to preach throughout Britain.

The organization's ideology is Islamist and supremacist, and its stated goal is the worldwide domination of Islam. The Lahore members expressed particular contempt for gays and Jews and spoke of Hindus as subhuman. They openly admitted to being inspired by Osama bin Laden and called the Sept. 11 hijackers "the magnificent 19."

Sajeel Shahid, the Lahore group's "emir," was a lad with a Manchester accent who explained that al-Muhajiroun had sent them out to Pakistan because it was ripe for an Islamic revolution. If Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf fell, he said, other apostate rulers would follow. Pakistan also is the strongest military power in the Islamic world, and the only Muslim nation to possess nuclear weapons.

Sajeel's eyes shone as he set out his ambition of reviving the caliphate -- a pure, united, Islamic theocracy stretching from Spain to Indonesia. His young acolytes looked on admiringly.

"Spain was a Muslim nation once and must be again," he said.

The previous day, Sajeel had spoken at a political rally in Lahore. He was charismatic and well received.

"Pakistanis respect us because we have given up the comforts of life in Britain to struggle for Islam," he said afterward.

But there were signs that al-Muhajiroun was involved in more than just political rallies and sloganeering. Some of its British members admitted to receiving firearms training -- for self-defense, they said -- at Kashmiri training camps in Pakistan and, until 2001, in Afghanistan. Hundreds of young British men may have passed through those camps. Others passed through the hundreds of Pakistani madrassas, the religious schools that educate the boys of the poor. Many of them were run, with Saudi money, by firebrands bent on creating a new class of young men dedicated to jihad.

The group in Lahore had the air of a cult about them, and they liked to hint that they were up to important, secret things.

One of them, who called himself Abu Mariam, boasted of the group's contribution to al Qaeda's war effort and said several British Muslims had died in U.S. bombings -- or "embraced martyrdom," as he matter-of-factly put it.

Hassan Butt, their spokesman in 2001, said soon after the Sept. 11 attacks that hundreds of British fighters had been sent into Afghanistan, and he spoke enthusiastically about the war they would fight one day on British streets, against military and political targets. It all seemed a bit far- fetched, even in the days after the attacks on New York and the Pentagon when any horror seemed possible.

Wouldn't "military action" risk a terrible backlash against British Asians, few of whom wanted to fight in a holy war?

Butt was dismissive.

"Our fathers' generation has been soft for too long," Butt said. "Too many of them sell alcohol and pornography. It is time they made some sacrifices for Islam. The young generation is ready."

Ironically, a few months later, the 22-year-old Butt surrendered to British police after his wealthy businessman father, a pillar of Manchester society, persuaded him to leave al-Muhajiroun.

Some of those linked to al-Muhajiroun, such as failed shoe-bomber Richard Reid, have been jailbirds and losers or loners. But most of the members I met seemed to be bright kids at odds with their families and society, angry young men looking for an identity.

"I could have made a lot of money in computers," one of them said, "but what is that compared to serving Islam?"

Later, in 2003, I was contacted by a renegade al-Muhajiroun member who said he had become repelled by their beliefs.

I arranged a meeting at the Red Fort, a Mogul-era castle in the middle of Lahore, mindful of the fate of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was decapitated after trying to meet Islamic terrorists.

Badly dressed and socially awkward, Ali Qureshi seemed unimposing, but behind the buck teeth and silly giggle was a thoughtful young man.

At first, he said, he had been attracted by the foreign group's glamour and the fundamentalists' promise of fighting for social justice. He claimed that in 2001, Bakri had sent thousands of British pounds collected in British mosques to the Taliban, and that he had sent hundreds of young recruits to Afghanistan, where many died fighting U.S.-led coalition forces.

For Qureshi, the turning point came when the father of a British teenager begged him for news of his son, and the group ordered him to say nothing about the 15-year-old boy.

"They catch these young guys and do brainwashing on them," he said.

Where are they now, these young jihadis? None of them looked tough enough for guerrilla warfare in Afghanistan or Iraq, and the whole operation had an amateurish air.

But as we learned on July 7, it only takes a few fanatics who stop talking about jihad and start doing it to destroy our sense of security forever.

Nick Meo is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the London Times and the Independent.


MIM: This article falsely claims that none of the London bombers were linked to Al Muhajrioun In at least one case a bomber from Leeds was said to have ties to AM and the suspect from Jamaica, a convert to Islam, has been linked to AM in the US notably Junaid Barbar a Pakistani who was arrested in New York with confessed links to Al Qaeda. More disturbing then a lack of factual accuracy is the writier seems to express some grudging admiration for Bakri.


Imam's fiery message speaks to radical British Muslims
- Seth Rosen, Special to The Chronicle
Sunday, July 17, 2005

Click to View

London -- "Everything changed with the 19 magnificent terrorists of 9/11," thunders Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed. A raucous rejoinder of "Allah Akbar," or God is great, rings out from the more than 60 men who fill the Collingwood Hall community center on a Saturday night in East London.

The room is so crowded that some of the audience -- mainly young men under 25 -- must sit on the floor while others watch from the hallway.

Long before the deadly July 7 bombings in London, Bakri's detractors warned that behind the lurid sound bites and incendiary language was an extremist whose sermons might be interpreted by his followers as justification for terrorist attacks in Britain.

Bakri, the founder of al-Muhajiroun (the Emigrants), a radical group whose goal is the worldwide domination of Islam, held off his critics by saying that Muslims in Britain lived under a "covenant of security" that prevented them from bringing any harm to the nation that sheltered them. But in his Collingwood speech, he said the government had flouted the contract, and all bets were off.

"The British government is sitting on a box of dynamite, and they have the matches," he warned.

Though none of the suicide bombers has been linked to Bakri, his message of Islamic supremacy has reportedly inspired hundreds of young Britons to become holy warriors. In addition to London, he has preached in Leeds, where most of the London bombers lived, and in Luton, where police found a parked car carrying high explosives that they suspect was used by the bombmaker.

Under pressure from the government, Bakri dissolved al-Muhajiroun last October, but he continues to preach in community centers and parks. In the past year, his furor has been turned on the British government.

In an interview, Bakri listed three developments he said breached the "covenant of security" with Britain: First, new laws, such as the Terrorism, Crime and Security Act of 2001, allowed the government to arrest individuals suspected of terrorist activities without charging them.

The second was a communiqué distributed last year by the Muslim Council of Britain to more than 1,000 mosques that urged imams to help the government combat terrorism. "Mosques are no longer houses of sanctity because imams are obliged to report anyone who comes to speak about jihad and supporting (Osama) bin Laden," Bakri said.

The final straw, he said, was that members of Parliament were electioneering at mosques, violating the houses or worship.

"Why do they force us to take a stand?" Bakri asked. "Do you think you can continue in this anarchism without paying the price?"

Bakri's message resonates with young British Muslims, who are bombarded by daily images, on television and the Internet, of Palestinian suffering, fighting in Fallujah and the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison. A March 2004 poll by the British group ICM Research found that 13 percent of British Muslims surveyed felt that further attacks by al Qaeda on the United States would be justified.

According to Bakri, al-Muhajiroun had 1,200 active members across Britain before it was disbanded, though some analysts have put the figure in the low hundreds, and it operated under more than 80 different names. The group ran information and recruitment stalls in 30 cities and actively recruited on college campuses, said Anjem Choudahry, the sheikh's top assistant, and many of those activities continue, though not under the name al-Muhajiroun.

"Muslims in Britain have two choices: They can compromise and take the Islam Blair wants you to take, or follow the true Islam," Sayful Islam, the former head of the Luton branch of al-Muhajiroun, said in March. "For too long, we have followed the White House. It's about time everyone followed the Black House of Islam."

However, he insisted that Bakri's followers would never cross the line and attack their own nation. "A threat is not posed by those in the U.K. because we have families here," he said. "It would have much more of a negative impact on Muslims than a positive one."

Bakri presents an intriguing message to young, frustrated Muslim men who feel ostracized from mainstream British culture and alienated from their tradition-bound parents, most of whom were born in Pakistan and Bangladesh and have little notion of what it is like to grow up as a Muslim in the West. Philip Lewis, author of "Islamic Britain," said the sheikh supplies his young followers with the moral high ground to criticize their parents and British society, which they view as racist.

Besides being an erudite Islamic scholar, Bakri is charismatic, charming, the consummate salesman. He takes the time to get to know his followers, shaking the hand of all those gathered outside the community center before his speech. He proudly boasts of his pingpong prowess and often challenges supporters to matches.

Instead of whipping his audience into a frenzy, he uses humor as an effective tool to get through to the young men. When a bee flew toward him during the lecture at the community center, Bakri took off his white loafer and shook it facetiously at the buzzing nuisance. The bee was sent by the police, he chortled, and "soon it will be every man for himself as we run out the door."

"The sheikh is so funny," said Noor Uddin, one of his followers. "Sometimes I can't even hear what he's saying because I'm laughing too hard."

In his lectures and interviews with the press, however, Bakri often is precariously balanced between the right to preach his interpretation of Islam and the criminal offense of incitement of violence.

In Internet sermons, he implores Muslims to fulfill their duty of jihad and to support the mujahedeen abroad. The BBC reported last April that Bakri defended the March 2004 Madrid train bombing and said British Muslims should kill and be killed for Islam.

"He's been preaching like this for years, and nothing has happened," said Abu Bakar Siddique, a former member of al-Muhajiroun, as he walked home from the Saturday evening lecture. "He never influences anyone to use violence or make a bomb."

Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert at St. Andrews University in Scotland, said Bakri was walking a fine line.

"There are no confirmed links between Bakri and al-Muhajiroun and terrorist acts, but ... potential recruits could be found among their ranks," he said.

Tamara Makarenko, a British terrorism analyst, said the group had sent several hundred people to Pakistan over the past decade, a charge that Choudahry, Bakri's deputy, denies.

"They did it in an indirect way," Makarenko said. "They would say they 'open the doors.' Whatever individuals did when they got there was their own business."

Britain's tolerance of radical preachers like Bakri had come under fire even before the attacks in London. Several members of Parliament have publicly called for the sheikh to be deported.

"If he starts making threats again, legal action will be imminent," said Lord Nazir Ahmed, a member of the House of Lords. "He's very much on the borderline."

Sitting in a park in Tottenham Hale, in Northeast London, looking out on a rambunctious game of soccer, Bakri said he expected to be arrested at any time and had not slept in his home since it was raided last year. He said that his detention would lead to anarchy.

With his glasses and a gray overcoat covering his white juba robe, he looks more like a professor lecturing on a verdant university campus than someone who could survive in the caves of Tora Bora. But when he begins to discuss anarchy, he leans forward on the bench and raises his voice an octave.

"Anarchy means no one will sit in this park anymore because no one can secure their life," he warns. "It becomes a cycle of blood."



Al-Muhajiroun As we have been repeatedly reminded by prominent Moslems in this country, it is unfair to paint the community as extremists. But some extremists do exist, and prominent among them is the organisation Al Muhajiroun.

It wants this country to become an Islamic state, and refuses to condemn terror attacks here. In fact, it applauds the perpetrators of the murders of 11 September.

Richard Watson had access to the organisation, and met some of their recruits.

Watch the report

It's like diving off the biggest diving board into the unknown. It's a complete shift from what I used to be. Before, I believed in democracy, freedom, so it was about doing what I liked and making most out of this life. Enjoyment to the max, whereas I embraced Islam all of that changed.

This is the story of how Simon became Solomon. How a party loving teenager from Crawley became a devout Muslim. And how he, unlike the vast majority of his moderate Muslim brothers and sisters, went on to join one of the most radical Islamic groups operating in Britain today.

I don't believe in democracy. It's man made. You're talking about a government that taxes the people to death. It oppresses many millions of people in the world. It wouldn't be such a shame to have them overturned. You're talking about one man, Tony Blair, sends a bunch of aircraft into Iraq, bombs a bunch of people. You're talking about another man, Osama Bin Laden, who sends a bunch of aeroplanes into America and bombs a bunch of people - what is the difference? You tell me.

On a spring evening in east London Sulayman Keeler is taking his son to a meeting organised by Al-Muhajiroun. The group says it's involved in a purely ideological battle for the creation of an Islamic state here in Britain. They assemble at a community centre rented for the night. The women don't want to be filmed and some men fail to turn up because they don't want to be identified. This is the face of extreme political Islam. Al-Muhajiroun holds these meetings three or four times a week across the country. The organisation emerged in the mid-1990s after its British-based leaders split from the equally radical international movement for a global Islamic state known as Hizb ut-Tahrir.

The topic today is knowledge...

Sulayman and others in the group think overturning a democratic government and opposing Shari'a law would be a force for good in Britain and reject what they call the secular approach adopted by the vast majority of British Muslims.

Look to capitalism, it has only existed for 75 years and it's crumbling already. Communism is finished. The only other ideological belief around now, not a religion, Islam is not a religion. Let's make it clear. It's a political ideological belief.

Active membership of Al-Muhajiroun is probably measured in the low hundreds. But the police are increasingly concerned that if home grown terrorists they may come from within the organisation nationally or from a group they've influenced.

I noticed how when Tony Blair came out, George Bush came out at the same time and he said, "You're either with us or you're with the terrorist. And what did we Muslims say? We said, "We're not with you, we're with the terrorists." Allah Akbar. .Allah Akbar.

The organisation says members would be banned from taking violent action on British soil. Nevertheless, the police and intelligence agencies are focusing on the recruiters and recruited. Sulayman became a Muslim eight years ago. But tonight it's Wayne Derby about to convert.

I bear witness

I bear witness.

That's there none worthy of worship.

That there's none worthy of worship.

Except Allah and Mohammed, the messenger of Allah.

Except Allah and Mohammed, the messenger of Allah

Wayne now has become Osama.

So Osama becomes the latest recruit to Al-Muhajiroun, a troubled man finding a new path.

Going back before I decided to convert to Islam, my life wasn't any sort of life. I was drinking alcohol, lack of work, lack of family around me, didn't have no family. Now I've got one billion point, so many brothers around me. I couldn't ask for a bigger family in my life now. You've got all these governments doing wars and doing things and like, they're actually saying, like, they're fighting, like, Bin Laden and that saying he's a terrorist. But I look at it as Tony Blair and Bush being terrorists.

The group broke to pray. Afterwards further discussion left no-one in doubt about Al-Muhajiroun's view on 9/11.

When they speak about September 11th, when the two planes magnificently run through those buildings, OK and people turn around and say, "hang on a second, that is barbaric. Why did you have to do that?" You know why? Because of ignorance.

You describe the 9/11 attack, planes flying into the Twin Towers and said it was magnificent, how can you justify that whether you're a Muslim, a Christian or a Jew?

For us it's retaliation. Islam is not the starter of wars. If you start the war we won't turn the other cheek.

The killing of innocent civilians can't be right?

It can't be right according to you. According to you it can't be right. According to Islam it's right. When you talk about innocent civilians, do you not kill innocent civilians in Iraq? Do you not kill innocent civilians indiscriminately in Afghanistan? How do you -

I wouldn't describe that as magnificent.

Islamically speaking it's magnificent. I don't believe in democracy. For - from my perspective it's a magnificent day in history because it changed history.

A few days I caught up with Sulayman Keeler in west London. I wanted to ask him if he agreed with the Al-Muhajiroun stance on the 9/11 attacks.

It's up to them to justify it really.

Would you use the word magnificent?

I would, yes.

You would?

Yes, any of those superlatives. But the fact of the matter is that 3,000 Islam people died.

But you talk about 3,000 so-called innocents. What about the 200,000 innocents in Afghanistan? What about the one million children in Iraq who died as a result of America's foreign policy? Let's remember who we're talking about. You're crying about the fact that America, the oppressor, has been punched in the nose. That's what happened.

So what drives young men like Sulayman to join Al-Muhajiroun? Rather than embracing a gentler version of Islam. How did the bright strong-willed Simon Keeler turn into the campaigning zealot he is today. Are there clues in his home town of Crawley? We traced his brother who still lives in the town.

I used to live in there. My brother lived on the other side.

His room was on the other side.

Yeah. Quite a nice view from up there.

Simon's dad left home when he was a toddler. He was brought up by his mum and step dad who worked for the RAF on bases in Lincolnshire and Hampshire. When the family moved to drawly, Simon stayed behind to finish exams, then came onto the town on an engineering apprenticeship. After that there were periods of unemployment while Colin joined the army.

I come back I'd have some money, I mean Simon was out of work then. So he wouldn't have. I'd take him down the pub, nightclubbing, Brighton, Brixton, London, we used to go everywhere. Good night out.

Simon and Colin had made good Muslim friends in the town who prayed at the Langley Green Mosque. Soon both boys became more interested in Islam after a spell working in France, Simon and Colin went their separate ways.

He disappeared off to Morocco. I carried on doing what I was doing for a year-and-a-half. I come back, and then I noticed that when I come back, he'd been back for six months or so, and he was more religious. He was going to the mosque more regularly. He'd stopped drinking and he had started becoming more a good Muslim.

Simon was becoming more radical. He went to meetings held by the extreme cleric Abu Hamza who preaches support for Bin Laden.

The guy with the hook.

Abu Hamza?

Yeah, he's up there going on about how the West and how bad, how evil it is. This was before the 9/11 bombing. Basically I've gone up there with my brother and I didn't believe in his point of view.

Shortly after this the brothers' paths parted. Colin has left Islam behind and hasn't seen Simon, now Sulayman, for three years. Colin and his girlfriend Heidi , who lost her best friend in the Twin Towers, were shocked when I told them Al-Muhajiroun and Sulayman described it the event magnificent.

They've got their opinion. I think that's wrong. You don't have to kill someone to prove you're a good Muslim much what's the point in that.

But Sulayman is convinced it's his brother who's on the wrong path.

He should be more concerned his life. He needs to have another think about his purpose in life. For me and his concern about what I do, I joined Al-Muhajiroun with complete conviction.

Many Muslims say to us, look Al-Muhajiroun are giving Muslims a bad name, they're brain washing young people, they'e a dangerous group. What do you say to that?

We are a dangerous group. We pose a danger to this Government and the governments of the world. Not because we're big in build or anything like that, but because of what we carry.

The message they're carrying is worrying to most mainstream Muslims to organise opposition.

Today's topic that I've chosen is to talk on Al-Muhajiroun. I'll tell you what I think of Al-Muhajiroun, but I want to hear it from you.

At youth group in Oldham young men gather to discuss Al-Muhajiroun's activities.

The whole idea of Islam being hijacked by a minority organisation of thugs, that's what they are, we need to reclaim Islam back to the mainstream. This is the challenge we have as Muslims.

They're benefiting from this country - the NHS, the education, good transport, communication - everything they're benefiting from all this. And we as reasonable Muslims we appreciate all that.

The other thing they say to us is we don't believe in freedom and democracy. We don't respect democracy in this country. What do you make of that?

Why are they in this country? Why don't they go to Saudi Arabia? This is an organisation which is banned throughout the Middle East. Not a single Muslim country accepts this organisation.

They like democracy and freedom, which is why they're here. They can't go to the Middle East because they won't get that freedom there.

Many were worried about the possibility of a terror attack here.

We're going to get the back lash. We're going to get, people will say, "He's one of them." And we're not. What can we do?

Al-Muhajiroun's website makes it clear that a so-called Covent of security means their members are not permitted to strike their neighbours on British soil. When it comes to Al-Qaeda coming to Britain to strike, then their argument changes.

I wouldn't condemn them. I wouldn't condemn the act. It's retaliation.

Sulayman's political activities with Al-Muhajiroun have landed him in trouble before. He was arrested at this rally after getting into a fracas with a far-right BNP. He spent two weeks in Brixton Prison after assaulting a prison officer several years earlier.

Is he capable of doing something more serious, such as condoning and supporting terrorism?

Supporting, probably. Doing anything about it, I don't know. I honestly believe he wouldn't. I don't believe he would bomb something. He's got a family and kids.

First thing they said to me when I phoned them up was "Oh, no what's he done?"

Maybe they're expecting for me to be arrested or something like this. At the end of the day, our struggle in this country is purely ideological. They shouldn't be concerned, you know. I'm not planning anything.

This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

Printer-friendly version   Email this item to a friend