Birmingham and its links to militant Islam By Sam Knight, Times Online
Westwood Heath and Hay Mills, where men were arrested in connection with the London bombings
Until this morning, Birmingham had been left largely untouched by the London bombings. The only role of its large and influential Muslim community had been to condemn the attacks on the capital, despite a history of extremism in the city.
Khalid Mahmood, Labour MP for Perry Barr in Birmingham, has led calls in the House of Commons for tougher action against extremist groups and has demanded that Britain's Muslim population expose those on the radical fringes of the religion.
"The mainstream Muslims need to speak out," Mr Mahmood told the House of Commons on July 20, as he described the dangers of groups such as al-Muhajiroun, which has held conferences and boasts of extensive recruitment in Birmingham and the West Midlands.
And on July 18, the Sunni Council, the largest British Sunni Muslim group met in Birmingham to issue a fatwa, a ruling on a point of Islamic law, declaring the London suicide bombings "haraam" or strictly forbidden.
Explaining the fatwa, Grand Mufti Muhammad Gul Rehman Qadri said: "Anyone who commits suicide will be sent to Hell... It is the explicit saying of the Holy Prophet who ordered his followers to seek peace and harmony wherever they should live, not to cause death and destruction or to live counter to the laws of that host country."
But over the last six years, radical Islamists from Birmingham's 150,000-strong Muslim community have been linked to a series of attacks in the Middle East.
In 1999, five men from Birmingham were arrested in Yemen in connection with the kidnapping of 16 tourists in the country. Four of the tourists were killed in a botched rescue attempt by the Yemeni army and Shahid Butt and Sarmad Ahmed, both from Birmingham, were sentenced to serve five years in prison in Aden.
Four years later, officers from Scotland Yard's anti-terrorism branch were given a list of men and organisations in Birmingham and the West Midlands by Israeli security forces after Omar Khan Sharif, a 27-year-old from Derby, killed himself in Israel after failing to detonate his bomb in a Tel Aviv bar.
Mr Sharif's accomplice, Asif Mohammed Hanif, from Hounslow, in West London, became Britain's first confirmed suicide bomber when he killed himself and three people the same night in Tel Aviv in April 2003. Both men were thought to have been funded by organisations in the West Midlands.
Birmingham hosts annual conferences every year from the broad and mixed world of Britain's Muslim community.
Along with mainstream groups, radical and fringe sects hold large meetings in Birmingham, including Hizb Ur-Tahrir and al-Muhajiroun, two groups condemned by President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan in a speech last week in which he said "there is a lot to be done in England" to combat Islamic extremism.
"There is Hizb Ur-Tahrir and al-Muhajiroun, who operate with full impunity in that area," said General Musharraf, referring to Britain as a whole. "They had the audacity of passing an edict against my life and yet they operate with impunity."
In 2003, a Hizb Ur-Tahrir conference entitled "British or Muslim?" attracted 10,000 people to Birmingham, prompting the Home Office to commission a study on the group and warn of the spread of fundamentalist doctrine in the region.
Hizb Ur-Tahrir, which calls for a worldwide Islamic caliphate, has been banned from British university campuses by the National Union of Students after holding controversial recruitment sessions.
The fringe group, founded in Jerusalem in 1953, separated into factions in the early 1990's, when Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, the leader of its London branch, broke away to form al-Muhajiroun, which espouses violent struggle in the name of Islam.
Al-Muhajiroun, which has boasted of recruiting British Muslims to fight in the Bosnian war and offering advice to others who seek a role in extremist Islam, was officially disbanded last year.
Moazzam Begg, a Briton from Birmingham, was among four men from the West Midlands picked up by American forces in Afghanistan in 2001 and taken to Guantanamo Bay. The other three were from Tipton, about 20 miles from Birmingham.
The quartet have always denied their involvement in fundamentalist Islam and were released this year after pressure from the British Government. Last week, Mr Begg condemned the recent attacks in London.
"If it's an Islamic group and they are doing it for reasons of the war in Iraq or Guantanamo Bay, I say this to them unequivocally not in my name. I completely condemn it from A to Z," he said.
Terror suspects very probably amateurs, say Italian police By Bruce Johnston in Rome (Filed: 02/08/2005)
Italian police interrogating the suspected Shepherd's Bush July 21 bomber said yesterday he was "very probably" a member of a loose group of amateurs rather than an Islamist militant ring.
Hussain Osman, 27, who was arrested in Rome on Friday, had no links to known terrorist cells, said the police official Carlo de Stefano at a press conference in the Italian capital.
An armed police officer on patrol in Whitehall, central London, yesterday
Investigations "lead us to believe as very probable that he belongs to a spontaneous group rather than a structured organisation that had broader terrorist projects", he said.
Police confirmed that Osman had gained a British passport after using false Somali papers to apply for asylum in Britain in 1996. He was born in Ethiopia as Hamdi Issac, and lived for six years in Italy in the 1990s.
An Italian woman told the newspaper La Repubblica that she had been the suspect's girlfriend when they were both 16 and living in the Italian capital. She described him as her former "handsome Hamdi-Bambi", who loved rap music, America and girls.
Later, however, she said she feared that he had made his Christian Ethiopian wife convert to Islam and wear a veil. He is understood to have had two children with an Ethiopian woman in London.
Mr de Stefano said he will be extradited to Britain "soon", though the formalities, even under a new fast track European Arrest Warrant, could take up to 90 days, as Osman is likely to contest the request.
Italian judicial sources said yesterday that the Crown Prosecution Service had been asked to prepare unspecified extra paperwork to comply with the request to hand over Osman, after its original submission was deemed "incomplete". If a hearing were not scheduled by Sunday, the British request would expire.
The CPS would not be drawn yesterday on the specific nature of the missing documents concerning the extradition. A spokesman said: "We are working very hard to ensure that the Italian authorities have everything they need in time."
While this might mean Osman walking free, such a scenario was effectively avoided when a judge upheld his arrest yesterday on Italian charges of conspiracy in international terrorism.
Lawyers said the Italian charge should not interfere with any attempt to bring him into British custody alongside the three other suspects. The international terrorism charge will most likely be used as a safety net device, lawyers said.
Osman's lawyer, Maria Antonietta Sonnessa, said he wanted to remain in Italy. She has claimed that her client "did not wish to kill anyone".
Mr de Stefano added that Osman's two brothers, who have also been arrested in Italy in connection with his case, were not linked to any terrorist investigation. One brother, Italian resident Remzi Issac, was charged with possessing false documents.
Mr de Stefano said that he had no information to back up reports that Muktar Said Ibrahim, suspected of being the July 21 ringleader, had recently been in Rome with Osman. He did acknowledge however that Osman had made a call on the mobile phone he was using during his journey from London to Rome by train to another registered in Saudi Arabia.
Mr de Stefano described how investigators monitored Osman's mobile phone calls before arresting him. On Friday, the day of the arrest, police recorded conversations in which Osman talked in Ethiopian dialect used in a border region between Eritrea and Somalia.
"We had the growing feeling that we had really found the fugitive and we decided to take action," he said.
Italian police were also able to confirm Issac's identity by the presence of a wound on the suspect's right leg, which British police claim one of the unsuccessful bombers sustained as he tried to jump over a barrier to escape Shepherd's Bush Tube station following the failed attack.