|Chapter One: The problem with British universities
Since the 1930s, there has been copious and incontestable evidence that the values of democratic tolerance and freedom of speech, which have lain at the heart of UK university life, have repeatedly been exploited by groupings and individuals who do not support these values but work to exploit and undermine them.
For more than sixty years, radical groupings have used the fundamental liberties of UK academe to agitate and in some cases plan for its extinction. Examples include: Communist and Fascist groups in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s (including a recent revelation that around 750 teachers were attempting to spread communist propaganda in British schools in the wake of the Second World War32), revolutionary student organisations in the late 1960s and 1970s, and Islamist, Far Right and Far Left groups today. British academe has always been seen as a safe haven by the enemies of the open societies of the West.
The UK is not unique in this issue. Universities have always been hotbeds of radical thought, some of it more extreme than others and as an example of this, it can be argued that the modern Jihadist ideology was developed in the Egyptian universities of the 1970s.33
Indeed, hard evidence has emerged that in the past decade, universities have been infiltrated by radical Islamist cells who exploit the conditions of campus life in order to organise attacks on the liberal democracies of a number of Western states, including the UK, France, Spain, Germany and the USA.
Speaking on the BBC’s Today programme, Baber Siddiqi from the Luqman Institute, which works with young British Muslims, is adamant that there is a problem at universities and that students are, potentially, at threat. He said: “When young Muslims go to university, they have often feel a sense of insecurity and so the radical groups provide a social forum and then develop personal relationships. They invite you to lectures and sermons and even follow these up with indoctrination in your own homes and communities. In some cases, they have even been known to appoint minders to look after you.”
He went on to say: “These groups won’t specifically advocate violence but they will bring people to the edge and then create a pool of people that are susceptible for further recruitment. They have links to groups in the Islam world who operate in conflict areas and who have similar ideologies and the transition from the first groups to the even more radical groups and getting involved in violence is a quick one. We have engaged one or two people who were on the fringe and who were prepared to engage in violence. But we have moved them out of this mindset and they are at ease with their religion and do not have these sentiments of violence and hatred.”
But it is not just the extremist Islamic elements that have used higher education for their own, nefarious, aims. The Far Left terror groups of the 1970s and 1980s such as Action Directe, had their groundings in universities.
On the other hand, the Far Right has not been slow to act and organisations such as the British National Party (BNP), while of course not terrorists, have made great strides to improve their standing in the community and are trying to attract a better-educated class of member. While not illegal, the presence of BNP activists in some universities and even schools can cause fear to many minority groups.
Intelligence organisations have also made great use of the British education system, from the Stasi’s recruitment of individuals such as Robin Pearson, the communist youth student who went on to lecture at Hull University to recent reports about Chinese spy rings across Europe and in Australia.34 Some lecturers were also highly critical of reports that the Central Intelligence Agency has a scheme to sponsor trainee spies through university anthropology courses, something the British Association of Social Anthropologists called: “ethically dangerous and divisive”.35 Perhaps the most famous example of intelligence organisations using universities to recruit was the Cambridge spy ring of Philby, Burgess et al.
So while it is clear to see that there is a precedent for universities being used by groups with their own agendas, what makes British universities susceptible?
British universities, whether they are the historic centres such as Cambridge or Oxford or the modern ex-polytechnics, are known for their upholding of free speech and liberal values. While this is of course laudable, there is also evidence that universities justify the presence on their campuses of radical student groupings in order to uphold the tradition of free speech without paying close attention to whether these groups exist to further the university’s values of liberal democracy or knowing whether these groups operate internally in ways consistent with democratic practice and university codes of practice.
A democratic culture of radical thought is thereby subverted into a dangerous culture which easily allows it to become a base for the destruction of liberal democracy.
Furthermore, it is widely understood both within the EU and beyond that UK universities are now wholly market and recruitment led, and that they put a premium on the recruitment of students from outside the EU who pay much higher tuition fees than home or EU students. International students may include those whose aim is not to study but to wage war against democracy, to establish cells and networks in the UK, for use against UK targets, using the status of student and the freedoms implicit in university life as a cover for their activities.
It is also widely understood that weaker universities, in seeking to attract sufficient students to pay academic salaries, will accept students though a process universities term “clearing,” which provides admission to students, frequently without character references or hard evidence of either academic achievement, identity or a permanent address.
Finally, it is known that British universities are some of the best equipped in the world. In one recent terrorism case, a judge noted that sources of bomb-making equipment can be found in colleges and universities. While this sort of equipment can, of course, be found elsewhere, nuclear reactors, such as the one that is owned by Imperial College London, cannot. Other universities will have access to dangerous chemicals or pathogens or have staff well-versed in nuclear physics.
Despite the possibility that students may not be who they claim to be, it seems that universities are somewhat unaware of the threat this poses to academe or the UK more generally.
For these reasons, and because of recent events widely reported in the UK press but now sub judice, there is prima facie evidence that the UK is at risk from radical student groupings in British universities.
Chapter Two: Target Britain
It is not just Britain’s universities that are well known for their permissiveness and liberal attitudes. Despite popular misconceptions about the image of the UK, the nation has always benefited and indeed embraced new cultures, one has only to look at the constantly-evolving English language to see how true this is (as opposed to the French who have government organisations dedicated to preserving the language unchanged and unspoilt). Yet, while the vast majority of those who have come to this country do so in good faith, there will always be others who will come here to take advantage of the freedom they can enjoy.
Of all the places that people from abroad come to in the UK, London is undoubtedly the number one destination. What is more, London is the home of some 25 universities as well as hundreds of colleges and schools and people from around the world come to study at them, spreading views, both welcome and not.
In the late 1990s, the UK began to come under criticism from some of its allies for its willingness to harbour certain individuals who were deemed subversives or terrorists in other nations and the term Londonistan was used to describe how London was now the centre for the radical Islamic movement. The Government finally woke to this problem and of the 21 organisations outlawed in Britain since February 2002, 16 are Muslim.36 In the past, these groups have used London as a headquarters and have been scrupulous about not attacking targets on British soil and thereby cutting off their support.
On 15 June 2002, at an Islamic community centre in Milan, Italy, a cleric with alleged ties to Al Qaeda was overheard in conversation with an Arab from Germany, according to a transcript of the wiretap later published in Italy. The Arab spoke of his 10-person cell in Germany and the group’s interest in Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands, Turkey, Egypt, Italy and France. “But the nerve centre is still London,” he reported.37
However, this laissez faire attitude was cruelly exposed with the July attacks. One French defence ministry official was quoted as saying: “It may not be the moment to say it, but London is paying for its mistakes, for allowing all those radical organisations from Saudis to Pakistanis to set up shop in London, put out newsletters, make recruits and gather funds to finance their activities.”38
As one former White House counter-terrorism official, Steven Simon, called it, London became “the Star Wars bar scene” for Islamic radicals,39 attracting a polyglot group of intellectuals, preachers, financiers, arms traders, technology specialists, forgers, travel organisers and foot soldiers.40
French authorities claimed that London and Leicester were key recruiting grounds, not just for the UK but for the whole of Europe, cities where spiritual indoctrination took place before individuals were returned to their communities to either await orders, establish their own cells or pursue largely independent activities.41 It is claimed that international groups such as Islamic Jihad, al Gamaa al-Islaamiya, the Algerian Groupe Islamique Armée, Hamas and Hizballah all have members operating in the UK.42
There has also been criticism from the USA about the situation in London. One former senior US intelligence official said that there had been difficulties between the US and UK in counter-terrorism procedures owing to British concerns over human rights, civil liberties and the British justice code.
He was critical of what he saw as dangerous and unnecessary delays in arresting radical clerics in London, such as Abu Qatada, a radical Palestinian preacher wanted on terror charges in Jordan, and Abu Hamza al-Masri, an Egyptian who took UK citizenship and came to London in the 1970s: “They have a really hard time understanding that people that like Masri and Abu Qatada are real goddamn problems. It took a long, long time before they began taking those threats seriously...There is a certain amount of reluctance on the British to move quickly. What they never seem to realise is that by the time they know they have a problem it is too late.”43
The culmination of all these factors was that a former British student earned the unwelcome distinction of becoming Britain’s first suicide bomber when he blew up a bar in Israel, while at least one of the September 11 hijackers studied in the UK. We have also seen plots believed to be linked to British Islamic groups including the planned bombing of US embassies in Albania and Italy and, of course, more recently the 7 July bombings.
In the early 1990s, radical Islamists made a concerted effort to infiltrate student Islamic groups at British universities. Omar Sheikh, the murderer of reporter Daniel Pearl had been a student at the London School of Economics (LSE). In a 1994 Sunday Times interview, he claimed that in November 1992, the Islamic society had shown a film called “The destruction of a nation” which showed Bosnian Muslims being butchered by Serbs.
Once the then director of the LSE, John Ashworth, realised the influence of radical Islamic student groups, he worked with the student union to try to rid the groups of external and radical influences.44 Yet the LSE’s name still regularly crops up today in relation to terrorist groups. It is not the only university to be named, Manchester and the School for Oriental and African Studies are often mentioned, while Sussex was accused by the Union of Jewish Students as being one of the three worst places for a Jewish student to attend university due to anti-Semitism on campus. A recently leaked Government report specifically pointed out Imperial and Brunel universities in London.
Indeed, many universities have continued to be used as recruiting centres with leafleting at stalls for new students and on the streets. Despite the ban by the NUS on such groups as Al Muhajiroun they, as has been admitted by their former leader Omar Bakri Mohammed, responded by simply changing their names and using more innocuous titles for their front groups.45
The Government is in no doubt about this. In the leaked Government paper, entitled Project Contest,46 it is specifically stated that: “A number of extremist groups are actively recruiting young British Muslims. Most do not advocate violence. But they can provide an environment for some to gravitate to violence...They target middle class students and affluent professionals through schools and college campuses.”47
The vast majority of Muslim students have nothing to do with or even oppose the extremist elements, or indeed may have been victims. Yet the fact is, those elements still do exist and they still exert some influence. Three such organisations continue to be banned by the National Union of Students (NUS) from officially operating on campuses.
As well as the radical Muslim elements, there have also been increases in other forms of extremist politics in universities. Whether it be protesting against globalisation or the war in Iraq, student politics has taken on a more physical nature than in the past. Today’s activist knows direct action achieves more media exposure and is therefore more likely to make an impact. While it would be fair to say that the student population as a whole is more apathetic than that of the 1960s and 1970s, those that do get involved are more passionate than ever before.
Turkish political writer Necati Alkan said: “Youth, especially the university youth, becomes the most fertile hunting field for the terrorist organisations. In the past, although the ideological yeast of many terrorist organisations came from abroad their dough has been kneaded in the university canteens, dormitories and clubs.
“In spite of the fact that the principal leaders of these organisations remain in the background, the active leaders have grown up within the universities. It is observed that the leaders or the majority of the leader payroll of the terrorist organisations are the people who left their university education.”
“Terrorist organisations perceive our universities as the places to collect their personnel and train their staff. It is understood that a considerable number of personnel that take part in the rows of the eminent terrorist organisations have been provided from the universities.”48
But what makes young people in one of the world’s richest, most liberal nations decide to take up arms or support terrorism? Charles Guthrie, former Chief of the Defence Staff has asked, pertinently: “Why do some young Britons, with no obvious Islamic background go to Afghanistan and embrace terrorism? Why do more Pakistanis join Al Qaeda and the Taliban when India has far more Muslims and as far as it is known, none have joined the Taliban.” 49
Abdul Haqq Baker, chairman of Brixton mosque, said many young British Muslims were being failed by mainstream mosques serving the Pakistani, Bangladeshi and other communities, and were instead being recruited by radical Islamist groups operating around the fringes of the community.
In 2001, Mr Baker, whose mosque has close ties with the local community and police, warned that London was a massive hub for extremists. “There are hundreds of disaffected young Muslims who are tired of their parents’ understanding of Islam and how it is taught in the mosques. They’ve got these other people speaking to them in English and in Arabic, and they are being won over. They are not strong individuals, they are impressionable. They like the fiery rhetoric of jihad; they like to hear they are living among the infidel. Hence the success of Abu Hamza.”50
An article in Jane’s Intelligence Review quoted a former member of a London mosque that was attended for a while by a Guantanamo Bay captive. He described the activists as being: “Predominantly young, passionate and articulate. They distribute their leaflets after prayers and they pick up people who want some adventures.”
The member of the mosque also described the radical’s activities as akin to those of Communist recruiters of the past, saying: “There are only a handful, but they have their network, they know who to target and they are patient and well organised.”51
What seems apparent is that the modern young terrorist supporter or sympathiser is a far cry from the uneducated, uncivilised image that is so often portrayed. The September 11 hijackers were the cream of the Al Qaeda movement, well-educated, highly motivated and rigorously trained. Pierre Lacoste, a former head of the French Direction Générale de la Securité Extèrieure – the British equivalent of MI6 – claimed: “These are terrorists of a new generation: doctors, engineers, family men – and all able to draw on the best resources that modern society can provide.”52 Indeed, the cell in Hamburg that was connected to the September 11 attacks was composed of student visitors to Germany.
This thought is backed up in a study by Dr Marc Sageman, a forensic psychiatrist, who has found that the typical Al Qaeda recruit is better educated than his or her parents and that the majority of recruits have gone to college. This, Sagemen claims, refutes the image of the terrorists being relatively ignorant, naïve and unsophisticated in the ways of the world. On the contrary, Sageman’s findings support the opposite argument that these new groups are familiar with the West as well as the Middle East and can speak several languages.53
Sageman found that three quarters of the terrorists that he surveyed came from professional or semi-skilled backgrounds, including architects, physicians, police and students and that the vast majority were married, thereby doing away with the stereotype of the terrorist being a single man, lacking any attachment to society as a whole and not being weighed down by their responsibilities or fears of reprisals on his family.54
Sageman also noted that the method of recruitment had changed resulting in members joining rather than being recruited, the strategic importance of Western operatives and the increasing use of female operatives.55 This was being achieved by what he terms passive propaganda, which involved the use of websites to propagate Salafism as a means of countering the ills afflicting Muslim communities worldwide.56
But why join up? The new wave of British recruits into Al Qaeda and its affiliates tend to be second-generation immigrants whose parents came to the UK but who are now faced with an identity crisis between, for example, being British and Pakistani or British and Bengali. These youths may have a feeling of not being accepted in British society, which is lacking in Muslim role models and which is experiencing a rise in racial tension in places like the Midlands and Yorkshire, due to poor employment prospects and politicians whipping up fear over immigration. Indeed, a survey conducted by the German market research firm GfK Worldwide found that Muslims are being viewed with high levels of disapproval across Europe. The report also noted that there had been an increase in anti-Semitism across the Continent.57 Meanwhile, researchers from the British Psychological Society noted that Islamophobia was well established among schoolchildren in regional towns and cities where ethnic groups form only a tiny proportion of the population58
For some young people, the most logical step is to claim that one is Muslim, not British, Pakistani or whatever, but Muslim. Of course, when an unscrupulous figure or group then comes along, one who has perhaps fought with courage and distinction in Bosnia or Iraq, they can use this to take advantage of the disillusioned but awestruck Muslim youth.
These young figures are, as has been seen, well-educated, often middle class and have been radicalised in the West. They are devoted to Islam and are highly knowledgeable about and sensitive to what is going on in the Middle East. However one researcher believes that many young British Muslims know more about what is going on in Chechnya, Iraq or Palestine than they do in say, their ancestral home of Pakistan59 perhaps indicating a desire to get involved with global injustices rather than the more mundane and less glamorous aspects of domestic politics.
The war in Iraq has played a major part in aiding the recruitment of a fresh generation of supporters. While the invasion of Afghanistan as a response to the events of September 11 was largely accepted by the global community, the invasion of Iraq was not and it drew people from across the political and social spectrum together in condemnation of the war. Indeed, the continuing failure to find weapons of mass destruction only seems to add weight to the arguments of opponents of the war.
Iraq was also mooted as one of the major reasons why young French radicals, in particular a number of boys from the Riquet district of Paris, had joined the Iraqi jihad. One boy, known only as Salah, had left France to study in Syria, but is now suspected of providing logistical support for fighters in Iraq. Another Riquet inhabitant, Thamer Bouchnak, was arrested on the eve of a flight to Syria and he provided much of the intelligence on Salah. Young French radicals are also said to have undertaken basic exercise and weapon familiarisation lessons in the wooded Buttes-Chaumont Park.60
Chapter Three: Islamists on UK campuses
Through information that is openly available in the media we have identified a number of individuals and organisations that have attended or are using British higher education institutions for non-democratic or even illegal activities. These individuals and organisations include those associated with Islamism, the Far Right, and animal rights extremism. The radical Islamic students and groups are those most closely associated with terrorism. Of course, there are many individuals who have obtained degrees and then gone on to commit criminal or even traitorous deeds, but before the 1990s Britain did not seem to suffer from having young individuals who used higher education for terrorist aims.
Some of the individuals whom we have identified apparently already held their strong views before they went to university, others become radicalised or changed in some other way during their studies.
The presence in higher education of would-be Islamist terrorists gives credence to the findings of Dr Sageman who found that the typical Al Qaeda recruit is upper middle class, has been educated in the West and is from a professional background. Some, like Omar Sheikh, were educated at fee-paying schools, before heading to Afghanistan, Bosnia and Chechnya.61
The London bombers and UK campuses
Over the past five years, a number of individuals, both British nationals and foreigners, have studied at British universities and then have gone on to either commit or attempt to commit terrorist atrocities or became involved with the global Jihadist movement. While terrorist groups still manipulate the disenfranchised and the poor for their aims, there is evidence of a concerted effort to recruit better educated individuals.
A number of these individuals describe their time at university as the time when they evolved from being religiously devout to fully radicalised. At least one was captured in Afghanistan, while another had connections to the shoe-bomber Richard Reid.
At the time of going to press, it has been revealed that a number of those individuals involved in the 7 and 21 July bombings in London had close links with British academe. The Metropolitan Police has confirmed that Mohammad Sidique Khan, 30, Hasib Hussain, 18, Shehzad Tanweer, 22, and Germaine Lindsay, 19, carried out the 7 July bombings. Hasib Hussain killed 12 people in a bus explosion in Tavistock Square. He was a youthful tearaway said to have been radicalised on a trip to Pakistan in 2003 and was arrested for shoplifting in 2004. Mohammad Sidique Khan killed six at Edgware Road. He was the oldest of group; married with one daughter. Khan, who had studied at the University of Leeds, had been employed as a teaching assistant at Hillside Primary School in Leeds since 2002. He knew Hussain and Tanweer through the Muslim communities of West Yorkshire. Khan travelled to Karachi with Tanweer in 2004. Unconfirmed reports link him to the infamous Finsbury Park mosque.
Shahzad Tanweer killed seven people on a Circle Line train at Aldgate. A sports science student from Leeds Metropolitan University, his family run a fish and chip shop in the Beeston area and have said they were "shattered" by his involvement.
Tanweer had visited Pakistan in 2003 and 2004, where he met a member of the banned Jaish-e-Muhammad (Army of Muhammad), which has operational links with al-Qaeda. On his second visit, he was accompanied by Khan. There is also a suggestion that Tanweer may have been recruited by Hizb ut-Tahrir.62
Germaine Lindsay, 19, killed 25 with a bomb on the Piccadilly Line near King’s Cross. A carpet fitter from Aylesbury, from a Jamaican background, he converted to Islam and married a British woman, also a convert; she is pregnant with their second child. H met up with the other bombers at Luton, but how he first became involved with them remains unknown.
Khan, Hussain and Tanweer were all from the same area of Leeds and all three had been banned from mosques in the Beeston region of the city. A lecturer at Leeds Metropolitan Univesity, Razaq Raj, said that he did not know why they had been banned. “It could be for all sorts of reasons,” said Raj, a member of the Leeds Islamic Centre. He said mosques in Leeds were not homes to radical fundamentalism. Raj said he had strong links with the Islamic societies at both of the city’s universities and had never heard of any fundamentalist influence there.
He went on to say: “The last thing we want is radical groups in Leeds. I can tell you categorically that at Leeds Metropolitan University and Leeds University there are no radical groups there. If there was a problem, I would report it. I’ve never had to.”63 However, Shehzad Tanweer, who detonated the bomb on the Circle Line studied sports science at Leeds Metropolitan University but dropped out to concentrate on religious studies. According to a relative, Tanweer, who was a keen sportsman, had argued with family and friends about the need for violent retaliation over US abuse of Muslim prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.64
A Leeds-based chemistry student, Magdi al-Nashar, was apparently cleared of involvement by the Egyptian Government after being arrested in Cairo at the request of British officials.
A good education, top-class schooling and a character described as likeable, mature and committed, Saajid Badat seems an unlikely would-be terrorist. However, upon his arrest in November 2003, Badat was found with plastic explosive, specially adapted shoes and a length of detonating cord that had come from the same source as that of Richard Reid, the other erstwhile shoe-bomber.
Badat had attended Gloucester’s elite Crypt grammar school taking four A-levels - in physics, chemistry, biology and general studies - before being offered a place at City University in London.65 It is believed that Badat, who while strictly religious when living in Gloucester but otherwise not radicalised, began to change when he moved to London and started attending the Finsbury Park mosque. It has been suggested that this was due to arguments with his father, who did not want him to attend university. In 1998, Badat suddenly quit his degree course and began a three-year world tour, visiting India, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Presumably at this point, Badat became fully radicalised and received some kind of training to prepare him for his mission, which was, like Reid’s, to create an explosion on an airliner flying from Amsterdam to the US. However Badat suffered a change of heart and decided against the operation. He dropped out of sight and then began a five-year degree at the moderate College of Islamic Knowledge and Guidance in Blackburn, but left after two years.66
Nevertheless, he did not dispose of the explosives and these were found under his bed upon his arrest in November 2003.67 Badat initially refuted the accusations, but when faced with overwhelming evidence from the police, who visited some 15 different countries as part of the investigation, he admitted guilt.68 Badat and Richard Reid were also linked to Nizar Trabelsi, a Tunisian who is now in jail in Belgium for terrorism offences.
Badat’s guilty plea was hailed as a victory by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, head of the Anti-Terrorist Branch: “Three years of intensive and painstaking international investigation brought us to the point where Saajid Badat had no option but to plead guilty to this horrendous offence. We must ask how a young British man was transformed from an intelligent, articulate person who was well respected, into a person who has pleaded guilty to one of the most serious crimes that you can think of.”69
Undoubtedly the most controversial figure in Britain in relation to Islamist terrorism, Babar Ahmad was first arrested in December 2003. He was then released but was re-arrested in August 2004. Babar Ahmad has been accused of running websites that support terrorism and urging Muslims to rise up and fight a holy war.
Upon his arrest, Ahmad, who worked for Imperial College London, suffered numerous injuries and accused the police of shouting at him “Where is your god now?” However, all charges against the police were dropped.
Ahmad has been the subject of an extradition order by the US State Department which was finally granted by a senior district judge in May 2005.
Several Muslim groups slammed this decision and had already reacted with fury over the circumstances of his arrest. The Muslim Council of Britain said: “It is unacceptable that under the Extradition Treaty 2003 there is no longer any need for the US Government to prove to a UK court or even to the Home Secretary that there is a prima facie case against British citizens.”70
John Hardy, appearing for the US State department, said two websites run by Ahmad urged Muslims to use “every means at their disposal” to train for jihad. Hardy told the hearing that one site, called azzam.com, which operated via service providers in the US from 1997 to 2003, included a posting reading: “Military training is an Islamic obligation, not an option.” Hardy went on to say: “This case in terms of evidence concerns publications on websites of the United States, which publications the Government said sought and incited and solicited contributions to terrorist causes in Afghanistan and Chechnya...”“[These] websites carried material inciting murder in both those countries and elsewhere and ... the Government says, were established, operated and maintained by this defendant.”
The US also claims Mr Ahmad had plans for one of its Navy battle groups in the Gulf, including comments on how ships were vulnerable to attack.71 The case has been sent to the Home Secretary for final approval. Ahmad has the right to appeal and this would be decided in the High Court.72
Ahmad stood in the recent general elections as a candidate for the Peace and Progress party in Brent North
Omar Sheikh (Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh)
Sheikh, who was found guilty of murdering American journalist Daniel Pearl, had been a student at the London School of Economics (LSE) in the 1990s. Before that, he had attended to a private school in Snaresbrook, east London.
During his childhood Omar Sheikh became known as a troublemaker, drinking and smoking heavily as well having an interest in older girls - all factors that made his exasperated father relocate the family to Lahore, Pakistan. He returned to England to complete his sixth form and then went on to win a place at the LSE.
In an interview, he described how he joined the LSE Islamic Society during his first week at university. Between 1990 and 1993, the LSE has been described as being a breeding ground for Islamic extremism 73 and in 2001, a Russian spokesman accused LSE of being a centre for supporting and fundraising for Chechen groups.74
During his time at university, Sheikh is said to have attended a variety of mosques around London and he was invited to join a Muslim charity, the Convoy of Mercy, which was working in Bosnia at the height of the conflict. So inspired was Sheikh by the sacrifice of the Muslim fighters that he joined the Harkat-al-Mujahideen, a Pakistani militant group fighting in Kashmir. He was then invited to attend a training camp organised by al-Qaeda in Khalden, Afghanistan.
After one month of training in hand-to-hand combat, small arms and explosives, Sheikh was sent on his first mission to arrange the kidnapping of American and British tourists in India. Posing as "Sharma", a British student of the LSE who had been left a village in his father’s will, he talked his way in among a group of British travellers and invited three of them, Myles Croston, Paul Rideout and Rhys Partridge to accompany him to the village. When the party arrived they were greeted by armed terrorists. They spent the next few weeks chained to a stake and tormented by Sheikh, until they were freed after an armed raid by Indian police.75
Sheikh has also been linked to a drive-by shooting in Calcutta that killed five policemen in 2002 and has also been named as one of the key financiers of Mohammed Atta, the suspected hijack ringleader of the September 11 attacks. It has also been reported that he was a former member of Pakistan’s Inter Service Intelligence. However, neither of these claims has been substantiated. He is currently incarcerated in Pakistan, awaiting execution for the murder of Daniel Pearl.
Moussaoui, who was arrested in Minnesota on 16 August 2001 after his flight instructor drew police attention to his suspicious behaviour, received a master’s in international commerce from South Bank University in London.
A spokesman for South Bank said there was no record of any difficulties or problems encountered by the university in connection with Moussaoui during his studies and there has been no further contact between him and the university since 1995. Colin Knapp, Moussaoui’s course director, said: “He was reasonably hard working, reasonably committed and quite quiet. At first, he had a problem with some of the language but there is nothing which stood out.”76
Moussaoui was said to have been a fan of rock music, basketball and other Western interests until he was radicalised, while studying in England. He had attended the Finsbury Park mosque and according to his brother, suddenly became anti-white and racist and of the opinion that no woman should drive or study.77
French authorities began monitoring Moussaoui in 1996, when they observed him with Islamic extremists. In 1998, he attended the Khalden terrorist training camp in Afghanistan,78 allegedly returning the next year as well. In September 2000, he visited Malaysia and stayed in an apartment where two of the September 11 hijackers had lived in January of that year. In October Riduan Ismauddin, the leader of Jemaah Islamiah (a militant Islamic group dedicated to the formation of a fundamentalist Islamic nation in South East Asia) sent cohort Yazid Sufaat to Malaysia to provide Moussaoui with $35,000 and travel documents.79
Moussaoui is currently on trial in the US for his part in the September 11 attacks. On Friday April 22 2005, in one of the court sessions at the end of the current trial phase, Moussaoui surprised the whole audience by pleading guilty to all of the charges against him, while at the same time denying having any intention of a massacre like September 11. He said that it was not his conspiracy and that he intended to free blind sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman. According to him, his master plan was to hijack a Boeing 747-400, since the plane is one of a few that could reach Afghanistan from the US without any intermediate stops.80
A Palestinian terrorist leader who spent five years at Durham University, Shallah is said to have been targeted for assassination by Mossad after he was blamed for ordering an attack in Tel Aviv, which killed five people. Shallah was born in Gaza and studied for his first degree at Egypt’s Zakazik University. He was funded by the Muslim Brotherhood during this time and through them met future leaders of the Islamic movement. Ramadan Shallah studied for a PhD at Durham between 1985 and 1990 and wrote a thesis on Islamic banking in Jordan. In it, he called for a replacement of the western-style banking by one in accordance with Islamic law.
A source from Durham University described him as “dour, reticent and serious looking”. She added: “He was a quiet man - who dressed in western clothes - and kept himself to himself.”
But Shallah’s thesis goes some way to portraying his extremist views. It calls for an “Islamization” of financial institutions in Jordan, with a complete ban on paying or receiving interest, prohibited by Islamic law. This would mean a replacement of all western-style banking systems. “Islamization”, it goes on to say, should also go into the world of insurance, re-insurance, underwriting, shareholding and direct investment.
His work dramatically starts with a quote from the Koran warning of a “war from Allah and his apostle” to be waged against those who persist in charging interest. This is alongside a quote from former US President Thomas Jefferson stating: “Banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies.”
Interest, Shallah claims, has a “dangerous effect in disrupting the moral and socio-economic structure of society, through its destructive impact on both consumption and production”. He states that all banks should have control boards to keep it in accordance with Sharia (Islamic law) and that there should be co-ordination between these bodies to know when to issue “fatwas” (religious decrees). He also recommends the mass media be “fully exploited” to spread the message of Islamic finance- interestingly Shallah later became noted for his work in propaganda.81
Shallah went on to teach Middle Eastern Studies at the University of South Florida. He was head of the World and Islam Studies Enterprise, a think tank affiliated to the university before taking over as the head of Islamic Jihad, following the assassination of the then leader Fathi Shiqaqi.82
A diary belonging to Zeeshan Siddique, from Hounslow, west London was found in Peshawar, North West Pakistan, where he was arrested by Pakistani security officials in 2005. Siddique is said to have gone to Pakistan to wage holy war and his diary is full of vitriol against the west. He wondered how Muslims could live in London the "vital organ of the minions of the devil", now that the "kufr", or unbelievers, have transformed the world into "a battlefield for the Muslims".
At times, the diary refers to "the guys" and "the wagon" and "the relaxing place", passages which Pakistani security officials have reportedly told The New York Times may refer to other extremists and plans for terror attacks.
On March 11, for instance, the writer apparently visited friends and learned "bad news". "The relaxing place was done over," he wrote, and "7-8 of the guys taken whilst asleep."
"Told guys need 2 make a move soon," he added. "Cant stik round." [sic]
Then, just four days later, the diarist was told that "the situation is really bad" and that he should "just sit tight & wait it out until things get a bit better". On 5 April, typing in block capitals, he vows to undertake "an all out immense effort" to "rejoin my contingent".
According to The New York Times, Siddique is being held because of suspected contact between him and an Al Qaeda member arrested for involvement in a failed terror plot against London in 2004.
As a schoolboy growing up in west London, Siddique attended Cranford Community College. In July 2005, it was reported that at Cranford he knew Asif Hanif, the 21-year-old Londoner who became Britain’s first known suicide bomber when he blew himself up in a bar in Tel Aviv in April 2003.
Officials in Hounslow say that Siddique was an ordinary, average student at Cranford from 1992 to 1997. Their statement also confirms that he and Asif Hanif knew each other.83
It is said that MI5 officers have flown to Pakistan to observe interrogations of Siddique, who is claimed to be a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, by that country’s intelligence agencies. 84
Born in Uganda, Abbasi’s family moved to the UK in 1989 where they settled in Croydon, south London. He sat his GCSEs at Edenham High School before moving on to John Ruskin College in Croydon to sit his A-levels. According to reports, he was a conscientious and friendly schoolboy, liking pop music and rollerblading.
After completing his A-Levels, he moved on to Nescot College in Epsom to study for a two-year computing course which included topics such as industrial networking and satellite communications. As opposed to his schooldays, apparently none of his Nescot lecturers could remember Abbasi and after one year he dropped out of college to travel across Europe.
It was at this point that Abbasi’s life dramatically changed. Prior to his travels, Abbasi had not been an ardent Muslim and stopped attending the mosque when he was 12. However, when he was in Switzerland, Abbasi was mugged and after receiving support from a Kashmiri refugee, his interest in Islam was reawakened. He returned home, discovered that his local mosque in Croydon was not to his tastes he began to attend the Finsbury Park mosque. In 2000, he moved into the mosque and began to cut off links with his former life.
At some point after this, he left for Afghanistan. It is alleged that Abbasi attended four separate Al Qaeda training courses from January to August 2001 at the al-Farouk training camp, near Kandahar, and also at nearby camp, Ubaida. He was taught urban warfare, assassination techniques, intelligence collection and surveillance. His critics allege that he volunteered to participate in suicide operations and met Osama bin Laden three times. It is said that he fought alongside Al Qaeda and the Taliban against US and coalition forces in Afghanistan. When he was captured by the Northern Alliance at the fall of the last Taliban stronghold of Kunduzm85 it was claimed he had hand grenades strapped to his legs and was carrying a military radio.
Taken to Guantanamo Bay, Abbasi was released in January 2005. In a so-called autobiography, Abbasi describes how a lack of self-esteem during childhood spurred him into militancy and enrolling in courses in Afghanistan. He claims that he, along with other British Muslims, received arms training and mountain and urban warfare courses. However, he also denied Al Qaeda membership saying: “I have never wanted or ever pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden.” But he did believe that it was his duty as a Muslim to volunteer for jihad.86
Upon his return to the UK, Abbasi was freed by the police, as any confession obtained in Guantanamo Bay would not be admissible in court in the UK.
Other terrorists found on UK campuses
Suspected or confirmed terrorists who have studied in Britain in recent years include the lecturers Dr Azahari Husin, 45, who went to Reading University, and Shamsul Bahri Hussein, 36, who read applied mechanics at Dundee. They are wanted in connection with the Bali bombings in October 2002, when 202 people, including 26 Britons, died.
Afzal Munir, who was 25 and studied IT at the University of Luton and Aftab Manzoor, also 25 and of Luton, both died fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan.87
Omar Khyam, a computer studies student from Sussex, was charged along with Rahman Adam, Nabeel Hussain, Jawad Akbar, Waheed Mahmood and a youth who cannot be named, along with Pakistani national, Salahuddin Amin, for conspiring to cause an explosion with intent to endanger life.88 At the time of the initial arrests, police said they had seized more than half a tonne of fertiliser that could be used to make bombs. Khyam, an excellent schoolboy cricketer who used to dream of playing for England, was brought home by his family after heading for Pakistan early in 2000.
While studying for his A-levels in Reigate, Surrey, Khyam, then 18, had told his mother that he was going on a study trip to France. The next the family knew was when he called them from Pakistan. By now "very anti-Western, anti-British and anti-American", according to an aunt, he was brought back after family members serving with the Pakistani intelligence service found him. He appeared to settle and began a computer course. Several of the accused were regulars at a local internet café where police seized computer equipment in the belief that it may have been used as communication point for coordinating a terror attack.89 The Sunday Telegraph claims that MI5 are investigating a weak link between Germaine Lindsay, the Jamaican-born bomber, and Khyam.90
Asif Mohammed Hanif, the suicide bomber who blew himself up in Mikes Place, a seafront bar in Tel Aviv in April 2003, killing himself, three others and injuring 65, and his accomplice and would-be bomber, Omar Khan Sharif, were both British and university educated. Sharif’s explosives failed to detonate and he fled the scene. His body was found 12 days later in the sea. It is claimed that Britain’s security services knew years before the Israeli suicide bombing that Sharif and Hanif had links to Al-Muhajiroun and Hizb ut-Tahrir but “decided that they were not potential terrorists”.91
Sharif’s wife, Tahira Tabassum was found not guilty of failing to alert authorities to a terrorist in July 2004, but jurors failed to agree verdicts against his brother and sister, Zahid and Parveen Sharif. Parveen denies a further charge of inciting a terrorist act.92 The case was due to be reheard in November 2004, but has yet to happen.
Urslaan Khan, from Yarm near Middlesbrough, was picked up by a Kurdish security police patrol in northern Iraq in November 2003. The Manchester University Arabic Studies student was found travelling on his British passport. It was believed he travelled to Iraq to join Ansar al-Islam, which is described by the United States as its main terrorist adversary in post-war Iraq. Washington has accused the group of having ties to Osama Bin Laden’s terror network. Khan was later released and claimed that he had merely visited Iraq as part of his studies. He had been spending a year in Egypt, but decided to take a bus trip to Baghdad.
Noteworthy Islamist groups on UK campuses
Despite facing opposition from student groups, moderate Islamic societies, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, feminists and the lesbian, gay and bisexual community, extremist Islamist groups still manage to retain a small influence in British academe. The following groups – Hizb ut-Tahrir, Al Muhajiroun and the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPACUK) are all officially banned on British campuses though the two former organisations – Hizb ut-Tahrir and Al Muhajiroun are accused of carrying on their work, under the mask of cover names and front groups. As the Project Contest report argues, these groups - along with the less organised ones who follow a particular extremist doctrine - are usually British based brands of organisations that originated in the Middle East and Asian sub-continent.
Most of the organised groups will not advocate violence themselves nor does membership or sympathy indicate someone is predisposed towards terrorism. However, it may indicate that a few of an organisation’s members are more open to exposure to even more extremist doctrine. Until the events of 7 July, there was a feeling that despite the claims of the likes of French and Russian governments, these groups were vocal, yet able to achieve little. Speaking shortly after the London bombings, Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf, himself once the subject of a death threat from Islamic groups said: “There are extremist organisations in the United Kingdom, Hizb ut-Tahrir and Al Muhajiroun, who operate with full impunity. They had the audacity to pass an edict against my life…I know that they also give sermons of hate, anger and violence.”
As Musharraf spoke, security forces raided the house of Hakeem Ehsan Jigranwi, president of the Punjab chapter of the Pakistani wing of Hizb ut-Tahrir in the eastern city of Lahore, detaining him and another man.93
It was announced on 5August 2005 that the Government is to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir and Al Muhajiroun, a decision that will no doubt please Musharraf and the several other governments who have called on Britain to curtail their activities in the UK. Home Secretary Charles Clarke also said: “A full database of individuals around the world who have demonstrated the relevant behaviours will be developed, and will be available to entry clearance and immigration officers through the current warnings index. It is important that we come together to send a clear signal to people who seek to create division or promote terrorism that their activities will not be tolerated by our communities or by the Government.”
The Project Contest report also backs up the claims of those who believe that the extremist groups use cover names and front groups to access those areas where they are banned. It says: “There is evidence of the presence of extremist organisations on campuses and colleges (often when an organisation is named as a banned organisation on a campus, its members will set up a society under another name – 1924 Society, Muslim Media Forum and Muslim Cultural Society all have extremist tendencies)”.
Hizb ut-Tahrir on UK campuses 94
Arabic for Party of Liberation, Hizb ut-Tahrir was founded in 1953 by Taqiuddin an-Nabhani, a religious judge of Jerusalem, as a breakaway sect from the Muslim Brotherhood. It claims to be dedicated to the re-establishment of the Khilafah state and the removal of imperialistic non-Islamic control from Islamic societies. It is said that Hizb ut-Tahrir has offshoots in 21 countries,95 in several of which it is banned. Each group is set up independently of its cousins in other nations and as such, different groups often contain different nationalities. For example, in the UK, Hizb ut-Tahrir is comprised predominantly of Bangladeshis and Pakistanis, while in the Netherlands, there are many more Turks.96
According to the Community Security Trust, while the international Hizb ut-Tahrir claims to operate at the political level, with its workings being transparent, in fact it is not. And while its management is based in the UK, its leadership is in Lebanon.97 Its members have been involved in assassination attempts, including the killing of President Anwar Sadat of Egypt. The organisation denounces Israel’s occupation of Palestine and has issued a number of anti-Semitic statements. Furthermore, it is anti-Hindu (because of the war in Kashmir), anti-Sikh, homophobic, anti-feminist and resentful of the West’s influence on Islam.98 It has organised a conference in 2003 on whether Muslims could be British - the conclusion was that they couldn’t. It is estimated that some 10,000 people attended the conference.99
Unsurprisingly, it is beliefs such as these that resulted in the NUS according Hizb ut-Tahrir a no-platform policy, which in effect excludes the group from any kind of official student support or from campaigning in universities.
But despite this ban, Hizb-ut-Tahrir has continued to rear its head in British campuses. A 2003 edition of BBC’s Newsnight demonstrated the influence of the group at Kingston University, where, unknown to the academic authorities, Hizb-ut-Tahrir was trying to recruit young Muslims to its cause.100 The university’s Islamic Society came under fire for not reporting the presence of Hizb ut-Tahrir on Kingston’s campus.
A former Islamic Society president defended his society’s toleration of Hizb-ut-Tahrir: “What could we have done, tell me? You’re telling us to go to the kufr against a Muslim, is that what you are saying we should have done?”101
The group has always retained close links with universities. Hizb ut-Tahrir’s first UK-based Internet site was hosted by Imperial College London, but following complaints to the college authorities, the site was closed until a new host could be found.102
It is banned in most Middle-Eastern countries and banned and repressed in Central Asia, Russia and Turkey. However, this is also partly due to the governments of those nations not standing for any opposition to their rule. In 2003, Hizb ut-Tahrir was outlawed in Germany on charges of anti-Jewish propaganda. It seeks the reincarnation of the Caliphate and believes that Muslims can live only under Sharia law. Furthermore, this law should be extended everywhere Muslims live, including Britain.
Hizb ut-Tahrir’s campaigning in the early 1990s was focussed on moderate Muslims. In response to their activities on campuses, a policy document called “Combating religious extremism” was published and sent to all vice-chancellors.
However, despite the actions taken by universities and the NUS, keeping Hizb-ut-Tahrir off UK campuses is no easy task. It has been claimed that 50 years’ experience of running covert operations in the Middle East against repressive regimes has given Hizb ut-Tahrir the skills to run rings around British institutions. “British academia doesn’t have a chance of stopping them.”103
According to one commentator, Hizb ut-Tahrir is able to get around its ban by use of the Internet. Leaflets handed out at Leicester University in 1999 announcing a meeting on “Occupied Palestine” gave a website of a previously unknown organisation, the Muslim Student’s Website, but the address was the same as that on a student pack produced by Birmingham University. It was subsequently found that the meetings at Birmingham were a front for Hizb ut-Tahrir.104
More recently, Hizb ut-Tahrir has made headlines with its presence in Uzbekistan being partially blamed for that government’s repression of dissidents. Activists from Hizb ut-Tahrir also attacked the Uzbekistani Embassy in London in May 2005 in response to the accusations of mass murder by government forces in Tashkent. The Uzbek Embassy was daubed with red paint and slogans and 37 protestors were arrested for causing criminal damage.105
Central Asian diplomats have accused Hizb ut-Tahrir of raising funds and running propaganda leaflets from homes and offices in the UK. They have apparently handed over lists of addresses, leaflets and tape recordings to UK authorities of what they claim are ringleaders stirring up hatred against their regimes.106
Their presence has also been felt during the recent election in the UK. Leaflets and brochures advertising the Stand for Islam website were posted in north west London. This Hizb ut-Tahrir website calls for Muslims to consider their place in the global community but not to support any of the UK political parties, none of which apparently serve Islamic interests.
“We believe that the longer the party political system occupies our time and energy here, the longer we will be denied our full potential.”
For example, Labour’s War on Terror, Conservative immigration policies, Liberal Democrat leniency on drugs legislation and Respect, which achieved Islamic support in some quarters, comes under fire for its opposition to faith schools and support of homosexuals. George Galloway’s friendship with Saddam Hussein and his previous support for the Soviet Union receive particular ire from Hizb ut-Tahrir.107
Following the leaking of Project Contest to the media, a spokesman for Hizb ut-Tahrir said: “The proximity between some individuals and organisations in the Muslim community and the British Government has serious implications for the real interests of our community. If sincere, these individuals and organisations must now ask themselves why the British Government, which pursues a brutal colonialist foreign policy over the entire Muslim world, is so keen to fund them, promote them and support them. Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain is launching a nationwide awareness campaign to show the Muslims what the Government and her proxies in the Muslim community are doing. The Muslims of Britain must study this document so that they realise the reality of the plans that intend to subvert Islam at the hands of Muslims. We will also be making strong representations to affiliates of the MCB to abandon the organisation as its affiliation to government no longer accredits it the impartiality and independence the Muslim community requires.”108
In the aftermath of the London bombings, it was announced that the Government would seek to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir, due to comments on terrorism and its support for extremist actions.
The organisation, naturally, spoke out against this, claiming that it was in fact a peaceful group that promoted non-violent discussion and debate. They also said: “With respect to the London bombings, we once again state in explicit terms that Islam forbids the killing of innocent civilians - we again express our denunciation of the London bombings of 7 July 2005. Prior to that we have also expressed our denunciation of the attacks of September 11 2001. We would also like to point out for the record that we have no relationship whatsoever, by word or deed, with the organisation al-Muhajiroun”.109