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Militant Islam Monitor > Satire > UK Muslim who dressed as suicide bomber to protest Mohammed cartoons 'apologises' to avoid prison probation fallout

UK Muslim who dressed as suicide bomber to protest Mohammed cartoons 'apologises' to avoid prison probation fallout

February 6, 2006

Omar Khayam

MIM: Poster Boy for diversity

Bomb belt wearing- ex con - coke head- student - Omar Khayam 'apologised' in the company of an Imam and Labour MP - for being compelled by 'hurt feelings' over Mohammed cartoons to dress like sucide bomber in protest while on probation from jail

"...Khayam, flanked by Patrick Hall, the local Labour MP, and the chairman of his mosque, appeared at his home in Bedford, saying: "I understand it was wrong, unjustified and insensitive of me." He promised not to repeat his performance but said that he had no regrets about joining the protest. Friends say that he fears being prosecuted. .."

Omar Khayam, speaking outside his home in Bedford, said that he hoped he would never have to make such a protest again.

But he added that his participation in the protest outside the Danish Embassy in London on Friday remained valid because of the hurt caused to Muslims around the world by the publication of the cartoons in a Danish newspaper..."


'Suicide bomber' is freed drug dealer
By Matt Barnwell
(Filed: 07/02/2006)

A Muslim protester who sparked outrage by dressing as a suicide bomber is a convicted drug dealer who was recently released from prison, it was disclosed last night.

Omar Khayam, 22, was reportedly jailed for five and a half years in 2002 for dealing in Class A drugs, thought to include cocaine.

Khayam, who wore the bomber's outfit during the demonstration in London on Saturday over the cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammed, served around half of his sentence before being released on licence last year.

The building student is serving the remainder of the term under the supervision of the Probation Service, but could now be recalled to prison for breaching the terms of his parole.

The Islamic faith strictly forbids the taking or selling of drugs - the latter offence is punishable by death in some Muslim countries.

Khayam, from Bedfordshire, apologised yesterday to the families of the victims of the July 7 London bombings for his "suicide bomber" protest.

However, he insisted it remained valid because of the hurt caused to Muslims around the world by the publication of the cartoons.

Scotland Yard officers travelled to Bedfordshire last night and had been expected to interview Khayam.

However they returned to the capital without having spoken to him.

5 February 2006: Unchallenged, a man poses as a suicide bomber. Police stop press taking pictures


'Fake bomber' served jail sentence for drugs

By Adam Fresco and Steward Tendler


A STUDENT who dressed up as a suicide bomber while taking part in protests at the weekend had been convicted of possessing crack cocaine and was released from prison only a few months ago.

Omar Khayam, 22, had a fake explosive belt around his chest as he demonstrated in London against the cartoons.

It was revealed last night that he was jailed for six years in 2002 after a police chase in Bedford, his home town. He threw a bag containing 60 grams (2oz) of crack from the car during the chase but it was retrieved by a witness. He was let out of prison early on parole and authorities will now decide whether he should be sent back for breaking the terms of his licence.

Yesterday he apologised "wholeheartedly" to the families who lost loved ones in the suicide bombings on July 7 last year, saying that he had not intended to cause offence. He said he felt that Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper, had been provocative and insensitive in publishing the cartoons. "By dressing the way I did, I did the same as the newspaper, if not worse," he said.

Khayam, flanked by Patrick Hall, the local Labour MP, and the chairman of his mosque, appeared at his home in Bedford, saying: "I understand it was wrong, unjustified and insensitive of me." He promised not to repeat his performance but said that he had no regrets about joining the protest. Friends say that he fears being prosecuted.

The militant group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which staged the rally attended by Khayam — and which Tony Blair has said he wants to ban — has condemned Khayam's behaviour.

Earlier yesterday Scotland Yard defended its handling of the demonstrations and its refusal to arrest protesters who carried banners praising the July 7 suicide bombers. A decision has yet to be made on whether to charge anyone.

Intelligence reports suggest that some right-wing groups are plotting to disrupt rallies in London being planned by militant Islamic groups later this week. One source said: "Our worry is a counter-demonstration where, say, someone sets fire to a Koran."

Politicians from all parties have accused the police of being too soft on those who called for more terrorist attacks in the capital. But a senior police figure told The Times: "The demonstration was filmed from start to finish and those images are now being studied with a view to possible prosecutions. But the findings must go to the Crown Prosecution Service and police are sceptical that anyone will be successfully tried. Of 21 recent cases of incitement brought before the CPS, one has gone to court."


Scotland Yard sets up squad to track protesters

· London radicals may be charged with incitement
· At least four killed in worldwide violence

Tania Branigan, political correspondent
Tuesday February 7, 2006
The Guardian


Scotland Yard announced yesterday it has set up a special squad to investigate Islamic extremists who demonstrated outside the Danish embassy in London last week, promising a "swift" inquiry which could result in charges of inciting violence or murder.

The announcement came as the government condemned the "completely unacceptable" behaviour of protesters carrying threatening placards and called on the Tories to drop their opposition to a new offence of glorifying terrorism when the terrorism bill returns to the Commons next week.

At least four people have died amid violent street protests around the world against the publication in a Danish newspaper of cartoons satirising the prophet Muhammad.

Yesterday the prime minister's official spokesman said: "We understand the offence caused by the cartoons depicting the prophet and of course regret that this has happened. Such things help no one.

"But nothing can justify the violence aimed at European embassies or at the country of Denmark. We and our EU partners stand in full solidarity with them in resisting this violence and believe the Danish government has done everything it reasonably can to handle a very difficult situation."

He described the behaviour of some demonstrators in London - some of whom held placards threatening a repeat of the September 11 and July 7 attacks, and calling for the beheading of those who insulted Islam - as "completely unacceptable". But he stressed that it was for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to decide whether further action was justified.

Yesterday a Scotland Yard spokesman said a special team had been set up to investigate the incidents. The police have been criticised since the weekend for not arresting protesters on the spot. He added: "The remit of this team is to review evidence gathered by specialist officers, including police video and sound recording, CCTV and officers' written records.

"Where potential offences have been committed, we will pass evidence to the CPS and we will then take action following their advice and identify offenders who have committed crimes."

Charles Clarke, the home secretary, told the Commons that more powers were needed to combat such behaviour. In an urgent statement, made at the request of the Labour backbencher David Winnick, he urged the Tories to "think long and hard" and support the proposed new glorification offence, which was thrown out by the Lords. But David Cameron, the Tory leader, said: "Many of those people carrying the placards were clearly inciting violence or inciting hatred. That is against the law; it does not need a glorification clause."

Earlier, the Northern Ireland secretary, Peter Hain, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the police should "bear down ... very heavily" on protesters acting in an "intolerable" way and prosecute them if there was evidence they had committed offences.

MPs praised the many Muslim organisations that have condemned the demonstration, including the radical Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which the government is seeking to outlaw because of claims it backs terrorism.

One of the most controversial protesters - Omar Khayam, 22, who attended dressed as a suicide bomber - apologised for his "wrong, unjustified and insensitive" behaviour yesterday.

European commission president, José Manuel Barroso, was holding talks with EU governments in an attempt to win "a return to peaceful debate". But his spokesman denied there was any suggestion "at the moment" of reducing or halting aid to countries in which national and EU buildings were targeted.

See the cartoons
The cartoons can be seen at www.brusselsjournal.com/node/698

Full coverage
Special report: cartoon protests
Special report: religious affairs

Comment and debate
06.02.2006: Tariq Ramadan: Cartoon conflicts
06.02.2006: Leader: Threats that must be countered
05.02.2006: Peter Preston: Cartoons and freedom: why we've got to draw a line somewhere
04.02.2006: Leader: Muslims and cartoons
04.02.2006: Philip Hensher and Gary Younge: Does the right to freedom of speech justify printing the Danish cartoons?
03.02.2006: Leader: Cartoons and their context
03.02.2006: Sarah Joseph: The freedom that hurts us
02.02.2006: Agnès Callamard: Prophetic fallacy

News blog: Sense and sensibilities
Organ Grinder: Emily Bell on the cartoon controversy

Audio report
06.02.06: Rory McCarthy in Beirut
03.02.06: Chris McGreal reports from Jerusalem


Times Online February 06, 2006

Suicide bomb 'protester' apologises to 7/7 bereaved

By Philippe Naughton
Mr Khayam at last Friday's protest (Cathal McNaughton/PA)

A young British Muslim who dressed as a suicide bomber during a protest against cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad apologised "wholeheartedly" today to the families of the July 7 bombings and said it had not been his aim to cause offence.

Omar Khayam, speaking outside his home in Bedford, said that he hoped he would never have to make such a protest again.

But he added that his participation in the protest outside the Danish Embassy in London on Friday remained valid because of the hurt caused to Muslims around the world by the publication of the cartoons in a Danish newspaper.

Accompanied by the chairman of his local mosque and by Patrick Hall, Labour MP for Bedford, Mr Khayam, 22, said: "I found the pictures deeply offensive as a Muslim and I felt the Danish newspaper had been provocative and controversial, deeply offensive and insensitive.

"Just because we have the right of free speech and a free media, it does not mean we may say and do as we please and not take into account the effect it will have on others. But by me dressing the way I did, I did just that, exactly the same as the Danish newspaper, if not worse.

"My method of protest has offended many people, especially the families of the victims of the July bombings. This was not my intention. What happened in July was a tragedy and un-Islamic.

"I do not condone these murderous acts, do not support terrorism or extremism and would like to apologise unreservedly and wholeheartedly to the families of the victims. I understand it was wrong, unjustified and insensitive of me to protest in this way."

Mr Khayam's apology came as Scotland Yard announced that it had set up a special squad to investigate whether any offence was committed during the London protests on Friday and Saturday, at which other demonstrators wielded placards threatening a repeat of the 9/11 and 7/7 attacks.

Pictures of Mr Khayam, a student, will be among those studied by the Scotland Yard team, which will also examine police CCTV and sound recordings, identify and offenders and pass on evidence of any offences to the Crown Prosecution Service.

The Metropolitan Police said that it was "determined that this investigation will be as swift, efficient and thorough as possible, as is reasonable for the crimes committed".

The demonstrators' actions were also condemned by Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary. Answering an emergency Commons question, Mr Clarke said that possible prosecutions were a matter for the police and prosecuting authorities.

Mr Clarke told the Commons that he was pleased the response to the publication of the Danish cartoons had "in general been respectful and restrained in the best traditions of British tolerance".

But David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, said that the line on what was "acceptable civilised behaviour" had been crossed by some of the demonstrators last Friday.

Mr Clarke added that the Government stood "in full solidarity" with the Danish Government in "resisting this violence". At least six people have been killed in protests against Danish and other European diplomatic missions across the Islamic world in recent days.

The Home Secretary said: "Nothing can justify the violence aimed at European embassies or at the country of Denmark. We understand the offence caused by the cartoons ... but freedom of expression must be exercised with respect for the views of others, including their religious beliefs.

"Such attacks on the citizens of Denmark and people of other European countries are completely unacceptable."

The emergency question was tabled by David Winnick, the Labour MP for Walsall North, after concerns were voiced over the policing of the demonstrations outside the Danish Embassy.

Mr Winnick said it was "entirely unacceptable for a bunch of hooligans and thugs in London to demand that people be beheaded and to glorify the atrocities of July 7 and call for further atrocities to be committed in Britain".

He said that the message should go out that "never again on British soil will we see the kind of slogans and incitement to murder that so disgraced this country last Friday".

Mr Clarke replied: "I very much agree with your remarks. I do think the actions you describe were unacceptable."



I'm proud of my son - whatever's said about him

The young Muslim who dressed as a suicide bomber to protest against newspaper cartoons has been condemned and sent back to prison. Declan Walsh in Punjab hears Omar Khayam's family defend their 'bright, sensitive child'

Declan Walsh
Sunday February 12, 2006


The evening traffic trundles along the Great Trunk Road, the colonial-era highway that slices a broad arc across Pakistan's Punjab province. In a large marble-walled house down a dusty side road, Taj Riffat, chatting over a tray of sweet tea, biscuits and fried potato, speaks warmly of his son, Omar.

A quietly spoken man with owlish glasses and a neat grey waistcoat, Riffat explains that he named Omar after the great Persian poet, Omar Khayyam - whose life is the subject of a new film starring Vanessa Redgrave. The 12th-century mystic, who is also known as the 'King of Wisdom', was a romantic figure, says the retired Urdu teacher: 'He spoke about the richness of life.'

The modern Omar Khayam - a 22-year-old from Bedford - is also a sensitive soul, he adds. 'All my children were good and bright, but Omar was very bright, very intelligent - a diplomatic sort of person.'

That is a minority view 4,000 miles away in Britain, where Khayam became one of the country's most controversial Muslims last week after provoking a most undiplomatic furore.

Ten days ago he was photographed at a protest against the controversial Danish cartoons satirising the Prophet Muhammad, wearing a black bandanna, military fatigues and a black ammunition jacket - 'the fake suicide bomber'. The widely published photograph triggered a wave of anger, most powerfully from some of the victims of the 7 July London bombing, and, after a stern talking-to from his Muslim elders, Khayam apologised last Monday.

But it was too late. A day later the paroled prisoner - who had served half of a five-and-a-half-years stretch for drug dealing - was returned to prison on charges of breaching the conditions of his licence for behaving in a threatening manner.

The case crystallised many of the debates that are sweeping Britain in the wake of the ballooning cartoon crisis - between religious respect and freedom of speech; between Muslim and Western values; between peaceful protest and inflammatory grandstanding. In many ways an unremarkable figure, Khayam unwittingly pitched himself into the heart of the storm.

But the Bedford man also represents a far more personal set of dilemmas, one felt by a generation of young Pakistani Britons torn between the freewheeling liberties of modern Britain and the conservative, slow-moving values of an Islamic society a continent away. Straddling the gap between the two worlds can seem an impossible task - for father as well as son.

The Khayam family home is in Kamra, an air force town at the northern edge of Punjab, 60 miles from Islamabad, which is home to part of Pakistan's proud fleet of F-16 warplanes. When I arrived in the town as dusk fell last Thursday, I was welcomed by Taj Riffat and his burly 25-year-old son, Omar's brother, Nazish.

The interview starts with a polite but firm request - the entire conversation must be videotaped. 'It's not that we don't trust you,' he says, half apologetically, in a strong English accent, positioning the camera on a table beside a bouquet of plastic flowers. 'But we can't take a chance with the media any more.'

Once the camera is rolling, Riffat, a retired schoolteacher, is entirely unapol-ogetic for his son's behaviour. He blames everyone else for the great misfortune that has been heaped on his family - the media that hyped a 'good story', the police who arrested him, the Danish cartoonists, the parole board, the 'Jewish lobby'. Everyone except Khayam.

'He didn't say a harmful word, he didn't carry a placard, there was nothing hateful written on his uniform. So why was he arrested? I think the pressure came from the police and the shadow home secretary [David Davis, who called last weekend for police action against protesters],' he says in a calm, low voice.

The picture of Khayam at the march - a sullen-faced, closely shaven man staring at the camera - is saved on the family computer in the next room, downloaded off the internet. Both men insist that Khayam did not intend to resemble a suicide bomber.

'It's the press that made him into a suicide bomber, he didn't dress like one,' says Nazish, a computer technician who came to Pakistan to help his father through an operation. 'It's just a fashion statement. Why don't they arrest 50 Cent? London is the fashion capital and people are used to this. He was just trying to highlight a double standard. There was no hatred.'

The story of Taj Riffat's family is in many ways typical of the thousands of families that straddle Britain and Pakistan, two universes tied by an eight-hour Pakistani International Airlines flight. After graduating from the University of Lahore, Riffat moved to Britain in the early Seventies, where he started a family and taught Urdu to GCSE and A-level students.

They set up home in Queen's Park in Bedford which, according to the town website, is the most ethnically diverse place in all of Britain. Khayam was Riffat's third son by his first wife, who later died in childbirth. At Biddenham Upper School in Bedford, he was also Riffat's student. 'He was very good in Urdu,' he says.

Three years ago Riffat retired to Kamra with his fourth wife. His health was one reason for going back, he says - as a coeliac sufferer and sensitive to gluten, he finds the Pakistani diet easier to manage. But there were also cultural preferences. During our interview Nazish serves the food and the only visitor is his five-year-old son Usman, who bounds in with a shy smile.

'Right now, you haven't seen any women coming through,' he says. 'In other cultures women bring their boyfriends home. We don't do that. We have a sense of morality and respect.'

Khayam followed a different trajectory. He came to Pakistan when his grandmother died but returned to Britain because 'he didn't like it here', says his father. While looking after his ailing mother, Riffat learnt that Khayam had been arrested for dealing drugs. The 18-year-old tried to evade arrest by throwing a 60-gram bag of crack cocaine from a moving car during a police chase through Bedford.

But a witness retrieved the bag, and he was convicted with possession with intent to supply. 'I was very disappointed,' admitted Riffat. 'You can expect that sort of thing happening to decent and noble people in Britain. You can't jail them in the house. They have to go out, see their peers, mix with ordinary people.'

In jail Omar got a job as a chef, Nazish says, and became popular for his fine South Asian cooking. 'Usually during Ramadan [the Muslim holy month of fasting] they just have a sandwich and an apple. When Omar arrived everything changed. He cooked chicken and meat biryanis, kormas, jalfrezis - everything you would find in a good restaurant. There were more converts to Islam in the prison than ever before. Then there was a ban on converting because they know most of the guys were doing it for the food.'

Some reports suggest Khayam was drawn to radical Islam during his three-year jail spell, which ended with his release on licence last year. His brother, who describes Khayam as a 'moderate Muslim', denies the charge.

'He said that when there's a 23-hour lock-up, you have to make the most of the one hour you have free. He tried the gym at first, then he paid more frequent visits to the mosque.' His father interjected. 'From a religious point of view, he stayed the same. Prison had no influence on him.'

After being released last year Khayam started a bricklaying course and helped out with the family computer business in Bedford. Then came the Danish embassy protest and the suicide-bomber outfit.

When Riffat first saw the controversial image, he laughed. 'We did not take it seriously,' he said. But days later he watched Khayam apologise on national television and read reports in which the local mosque chairman called him 'a bit of an idiot'. Then, listening to the BBC Urdu radio service, he found out the Home Office has sent him back to jail.

'I am not emotional about that,' he says, but then goes on to suggest the opposite. 'Was it the condition of his parole not to join a religious gathering? To me it was against the standards of civil liberties set by British society. I have been living there for 27 years, and I have never seen such an example in my life.'

Nazish feels that his brother was picked on for being a Muslim. 'It started out as a jokey thing, but now it's become serious to a pathetic level. They shouldn't have given him that level of publicity,' he says. 'When Prince Harry wore the Nazi uniform, why wasn't there a poll to see if he should be arrested for offending the Holocaust survivors? Omar has done the same thing, in a way. It's pathetic.

'The IRA used to be branded "terrorists", but now they have been downgraded to "paramilitary group". The new terrorists are the Muslims.'

The men share Khayam's outrage at the Danish cartoons, and detect hidden hands behind the scandal. 'Muslims are bridging the gap with the West. But because the Jewish lobby did not like that, they may have backed this. This may have been their conspiracy,' says Riffat. But they reject violence and are furious at the 7 July terrorists - who, unlike Khayam, were true suicide bombers - for, as they see it, staining the reputation of British Pakistanis. 'A whole community has been sabotaged,' says Nazish.

Ultimately, though, they see Khayam as the casualty of a ballooning clash of cultures that is being played out in Bedford, London, and across the world.

'This is such a critical time. In the Middle East there's a crisis where America is on the giving end and the Muslim world is receiving,' says Nazish, after the videotape runs out and the tea has gone cold. 'Anyone makes a hiccup and things are bound to kick off. Everyone is on thin ice.'

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