Once glibly described as the â€śTottenham Ayatollahâ€? and often portrayed as a figure of fun, the radical Islamist preacher Omar Bakri Mohammed has an increasingly strong claim to the title of the godfather of British terrorism.
It is becoming clear that al-Muhajiroun (ALM), the group formed by Bakri in London less than a decade ago, has played a pivotal role in radicalising young Britons who have gone on to wreak terror in Britain and across the world.
The Sunday Times has identified more than a dozen members of ALM who have taken part in suicide bombings or have become close to Al-Qaeda and its support network. It has also established that:
At least one of the bombers who killed himself and six other people in the Edgware Road Underground blast two weeks ago associated with ALM acolytes in Britain and Pakistan.
British-born ALM recruits have travelled abroad to commit suicide bombings and other terrorist acts in Pakistan and Israel.
ALM money raised in Britain supported military training camps in Pakistan and Kashmir.
British-based ALM members have been responsible for assaults on police and an attack on an army base in Britain.
Like other British radicals, Bakri has long been regarded as little more than a loudmouth by parts of the British media and the intelligence services. With his sidekicks Anjem Choudhury, leader of ALM, and Hassan Butt, Bakri has been seen more as an irritant than a threat.
The authorities may have been lulled into a false sense of security because Bakri, who acts as ALMâ€™s spiritual leader, insisted that his followers obey a â€ścovenant of securityâ€? which, while encouraging terror abroad, forbade them from carrying out attacks in Britain.
Seven days after the September 11 attacks Bakri issued a fatwa (religious ruling) containing a death threat against President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan. Last week, in an address to the nation about the London bombings, Musharraf referred to it with indignation.
â€śThere are extremist organisations in the United Kingdom â€" Hizb ut-Tahrir and al-Muhajiroun â€" who operate with full impunity,â€? he said. â€śThey had the audacity to pass an edict against my life . . . I know that they also give sermons of hate, anger and violence. Therefore I would like to say that there is a lot to be done by Pakistan and may I suggest that there is a lot to be done in England also.â€?
M J Gohel of the Asia-Pacific Institute agrees. â€śAl-Muhajiroun is involved in the softening up process, preparing and indoctrinating people so that they are susceptible when the Al-Qaeda recruiter comes along,â€? he said.
Last November Bakri announced that ALM was disbanding. Three months later he said the â€ścovenant of securityâ€? was no longer in force. Experts note that the London bombings followed four months later.
A Sunday Times investigation shows that long before the bombings ALM supporters had built a reputation for violence and religious intolerance. Among its members are:
Abdul Rahman Saleem, known as Abu Yahya, who admitted undergoing military training in Afghanistan and to recruiting Britons to be trained abroad.
Sulayman Keeler, who was imprisoned for 28 days for assaulting a police officer at a demonstration outside Downing Street.
Amer Mirza, who was sentenced to six months for petrol bombing a Territorial Army base in west London.
More worrying is the number of ALM members associated with violence abroad. One journalist who visited an ALM safe house in Lahore before the authorities closed it said that recruits from Britain referred to Indians as â€śsubhumansâ€? and were violently opposed to homosexuals and Jews.
The house was run by Sajeel Shahid, known as Abu Ibrahim, who holds a computer science degree from Manchester. In January he was freed after three months in jail and expelled from Pakistan for his alleged support of Al-Qaeda.
Back in London, Shahid told an Arabic newspaper that he was a close friend of Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan, a computer expert now in a Pakistani prison, who planned to launch a bombing campaign in London. The plot was foiled when the London cell was arrested last year.
One of those who passed through the house is Bilal Mohammed from Birmingham, who in 2001 blew himself up in an attack on an Indian barracks in Srinagar, Kashmir.
Others in Pakistan with close links to ALM include Zeeshan Siddiqui, from Hounslow, west London, who is thought to have been in contact with the London suicide bombers. He was arrested in Pakistan in May. Siddiqui was also a close friend of Asif Hanif, one of two British-born suicide bombers who attacked Mikeâ€™s Place in Tel Aviv in 2003, killing three and injuring 60. Hanif, too, was an ALM member.