Formerly treated as something of a laughing-stock, Al Muhajiroun was thrust into the public spotlight in the aftermath of the July bombings in London. The organisation’s leader, Omar Bakri Mohammed, who had been a hate figure in some elements of the British press, left the country in August for Lebanon and the Government promptly revoked the order allowing him indefinite leave to remain in the UK. It was claimed that the Government was in the process of pressing treason charges against Omar Bakri when he left the country. The Prime Minister had already named Al Muhajiroun and its successors as one of those groups that would now be given proscribed status.
About a week after the 7 July bombings, Omar Bakri announced that the reason that the bombings happened was down to the actions of the UK: “I blame the British government, the British public and Muslim community in the UK. The public did not make enough effort to stop the government pursuing its policies in Afghanistan and Iraq. By re-electing Blair, it shows it did not have any sense of responsibility”.110 It has also been suggested that at least one of the suspected 21July bombers had been reprimanded by more moderate Muslims at Finsbury Park mosque for handing out leaflets supporting Al Muhajiroun.
While there is little evidence to suggest that Al Muhajiroun has actually committed a terrorist act, it is known to support those that do and it is claimed that several individuals have passed through Al Muhajiroun’s ranks before progressing on to more deadly activities. Its comments and its policy of trying to recruit students to its cause have led it to being banned by the NUS from British universities.
Al Muhajiroun was created by Omar Bakri, a former Hizb ut-Tahrir member, and began operations in the UK in 1996. Through various statements and activities, the organisation quickly achieved notoriety, in particular through its planned conference (which was cancelled) “The Magnificent 19” which praised the September 11 perpetrators and comments such as: “The fact that Americans were attacked was no surprise, what was surprising is that they came under such a devastating attack in their own country. The attacks were really a magnificent operation in every way. They were magnificent terrorists.” Omar Bakri and Al Muhajiroun spokesman Anjem Choudary have always denied that Al Muhajiroun engages in any military activity, claiming that it is a “purely ideological organisation,”111but like Hizb ut-Tahrir, it is banned from UK campuses and some its followers have been implicated in terrorist acts.
This was a sensible decision according to some. M J Gohel of the Asia-Pacific Institute said: “Al Muhajiroun is involved in the softening up process, preparing and indoctrinating people so that they are susceptible when the Al-Qaeda recruiter comes along”.112 Omar Bakri split from Hizb ut-Tahrir following disputes with the leaders of that group. He specified the differences, saying: “Muhajiroun believes in twinning Da’wa (the call to Islam) and Jihad, whereas Hizb ut-Tahrir does not believe that Jihad can be waged by agents not affiliated to the Islamic state.”113 Omar Bakri came to the UK in 1986 and with support from friends still in Hizb ut-Tahrir, built up the Al Muhajiroun movement in the UK, before it finally achieved true independence in 1996.114 At one end of the spectrum, Al Muhajiroun promotes the Islamic way of life and seeks to instruct on the central tenets of the religion. However, at its most extreme, the group seeks to introduce fifth columns to help implement Islam fully into society and then to establish Al-Khilafah (the caliphate) in order that Islam becomes the World order.115 Al Muhajiroun members have made the headlines for acts of violence and religious intolerance. Sulayman Keeler was imprisoned for 28 days for assaulting a police officer at a demonstration outside Downing Street. Meanwhile, Amer Mirza was sentenced for six months for petrol bombing a Territorial Army base in West London.
The Sunday Times reported that an Al Muhajiroun safe house in Lahore, where Indian people were described as subhuman and homosexuals and Jews were violently opposed, was run by a Sajeel Shahid, also known as Abu Ibrahim, who holds a computer science degree from Manchester.116 Until recently, the Government did not consider Al Muhajiroun a terrorist organisation, but there is clear evidence to suggest that for several years, Al Muhajiroun has been acting as a terrorist organisation in terms of the definitions we employed earlier in this report.
Al Muhajiroun is accused of serving as a radicalising agent in the process of turning young British Muslims against Britain and into militants and serves as a portal through which some of them have been encouraged to pass on their way to becoming terrorists.117 It does this by exploiting feelings of disaffection with society or the Government and then using this for its own ends.
They print skilful articles, such as “Free yourself from the matrix of love” which advises students not to get into relationships with the opposite sex while at university and which concludes: “We need to free our minds from the spider-web of deceit, impracticality and decadence of western society which is plagued with the disease of freedom and utilitarianism”.
Another article explores the dilemmas of a Muslim student when it comes to drinking and partying with university friends.
Following its split from Hizb ut-Tahrir, Al Muhajiroun is said to have directed much of its energies to university campuses. Articles such as “The seven deadly sins”, which criticises “homosexuality, lesbianism and fornication” amongst other things, were never likely to win support from student groups. Nevertheless, according to the Union of Jewish Students, despite the NUS ban, Al Muhajiroun activists are still present at several universities, notably Manchester, though they sometimes tend to use cover names.118 In 2000 Omar Bakri claimed that when one student union reinforced the ban against Al Muhajiroun: “We use the names of societies, like the Pakistani Society, the Bangladeshi Society, etc, to get in. When a college like the London School of Economics bans us, we set up stalls outside the campus, where the students can reach us but the authorities can do nothing.”119 In 2001 it was reported that Al Muhajiroun was understood to be targeting universities and colleges in London, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Coventry, Derby, Leicester, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle and Nottingham. In the past, the group has also turned up at student events at Oxford and Cambridge universities. In September 2003, Al-Muhajiroun was attacked for putting up inflammatory posters on university campuses. The posters said: “The last hour will not come until the Muslims kill the Jews”.
They also handed out a leaflet entitled “The only place is the battlefield between the Muslims and the Jews”.
In an article in 2002 in Jane’sIntelligence Review, it was said that Al Muhajiroun was still active in recruiting Muslim students at British universities and that it had claimed to have sent up to 700 Jihadists to fight in Islamic causes abroad.120 Some of these Jihadis have been implicated in a number of terror attacks. It is claimed that Omar Khan Sharif, the would-be suicide bomber in Israel, was affiliated to Al Muhajiroun. It was also claimed that in January 2001 a young British suicide bomber who was associated with Al Muhajiroun blew up an Indian army barracks. He was identified as a pupil studying for his A-levels at a sixth-form college. It is also said that at least one of the 7 July bombers had associated with Al Muhajiroun members in Britain and Pakistan.121 The group’s spokesman, Choudary appeared on the BBC World programme, Hardtalk, in May 2003. He was grilled about his support for suicide bombers and he said that he could not oppose such action if it was in line with Sharia law. He believed that the interpretation of the law could be met in different ways, including laying down one’s life for a martyrdom operation.
When asked why the Palestinian spokesman in London had claimed that Al Muhajiroun’s presence in Palestinian affairs was not wanted, he claimed that Muslims had an obligation to ignore any secular authority and he decried the Muslim Association of Britain as being a secular organisation that would happily compromise its beliefs to appease the masses and the British Government.
Choudary also denied any link between Al Muhajiroun and any Jihadi or military operations that would result in suicide bombings and announced that he would tell would-be suicide bombers to remain in the UK. However, he refused to condemn the killing of innocent civilians in Israel if it did not go against Sharia law.122 In October 2004, Choudary announced that Al Muhajiroun was to end activities and that Muslims needed to stop being part of disparate groups and instead come together to fight in a global crusade. However, the group has re-emerged under a cover-name, The Saviour Sect, now The Saved Sect. Other former Al Muhajiroun members are involved with the Al-Ghurabaa (The Strangers) organisation123. A spokesman for the Community Security Trust suggested that the new group held a meeting at the Friends Meeting House in central London early in 2005. The Times newspaper claimed that the meeting was led by the infamous Omar Bakri and was attended by some 600 people. Videos were shown of the hijacked airliners hitting the Twin Towers. Omar Bakri is reported as saying: “I declare we should ourselves join the global Islamic camp against the global crusade camp”.
Another speaker said that Western Governments would face “a 9/11 day after day after day”. He added: “Whether they be stones, whether they be sticks, whether they be knives, whether they be bombs, whatever they may be, prepare as much as you can”.124 It is also claimed that Saviour Sect members were behind an attack in April 2005 on Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) members who were discussing the forthcoming UK general election. The demonstrators stormed into the Regent’s Park mosque, denounced the MCB, described the Prime Minister as being a devil and decreed that Muslims who voted were committing a crime against Islam. MCB leader Iqbal Sacranie was assaulted in the demonstration.125 Al Muhajiroun activists have also been active in other parts of London, with followers handing out leaflets and scuffling with police in Southall, north-west London. In August 2005, The Sunday Times published an expose of the group, which had been infiltrated by a journalist masquerading as a recent graduate. The reporter described how Omar Bakri and his followers promoted hatred of non-Muslims, encouraged their supporters into acts of violence, including suicide bombings and described the 7 July bombers as “The Fantastic Four”.126 In April 2004 Omar Bakri Mohammed said a group calling itself Al Qaeda Europe was “very well organised” and predicted that a terrorist attack was “inevitable”.
In an interview with Portugal’s Publicanews magazine, Bakri said: “It’s inevitable because several (attacks) are being prepared by several groups.” He said a group calling itself Al Qaeda Europe “has a great appeal for young Muslims . . . I know that they are ready to launch a big operation”.
The Secret Organisation Group of Al Qaeda of Jihad Organisation in Europe made its unverified claim about the London attacks on the Arabic website Al-Qalah (The Fortress) about three hours after the last of four bombs exploded in central London. The statement said: “Rejoice for it is time to take revenge against the British Zionist Crusader government in retaliation for the massacres Britain is committing in Iraq and Afghanistan. The heroic mujaheddin have carried out a blessed raid in London. Britain is now burning with fear, terror and panic”.127
MPACUK on UK campuses: Islamic or Islamists, pressure group or extremist organisation?
MPACUK is quite unlike Hizb ut-Tahrir or Al Muhajiroun and its inclusion in this work is to be attributed to the fact that it is banned by the NUS from operating on campuses. Though it can be extreme, it is not, as far as we have been able to ascertain, a terrorist organisation nor does it advocate violence against the state. However, according to the NUS, it is afforded a no-platform policy due to incidents of homophobia128, anti-Hinduism and anti-Semitism.129
MPACUK’s raison d’êtreis to encourage the various facets of the Muslim community to take a more active part in politics and to debate those issues that affect them. They believe that if British Muslims get involved in the political process instead of merely criticising it, their lot will be significantly improved.
Indeed this work is to be lauded and there is no doubt that MPACUK’s efforts to reach across communities are playing a vital role in addressing the issues of disaffected young Muslims. Much of the organisation’s ire is directed at those older members of the Muslim community, whether they be religious or business leaders, who refuse to discuss topical issues with the young. MPACUK is unhappy that Imams often don’t speak English or are forbidden to so in mosques under the rulings of local committees. They also oppose the concept that Muslims are forbidden to vote in a secular country. The argument against voting states there are God’s laws and there are manmade laws and that the two are incompatible in a secular country such as ours. Therefore Muslims should not be voting. Zulfi Bukhari, one of the founding members of MPACUK said: “This law was dreamt up by an Arab, in a country which has no concept of democracy, it is irrelevant to this nation.”
As for the mosques themselves, Bukhari said: “We need young Imams who speak English and who can get involved in political, not partisan, politics. The leaders are failing to address those issues which are most relevant to young people. When the Iraq war broke out, my mosque was discussing the finer points of charity, when you could see people wanted to talk about the war. The Muslim community needs to grow up.”
Bukhari also believes that if mosques were more able to address the needs of today’s youth, it may have gone some way to averting the London bombings. He pointed out: “In the case of the Leeds bombers, their local mosque banned the discussion of politics. How many times were there when someone could have sat down with one of those men and stopped the tipping point? At the way things are going, if there was a suicide bomb in two years time, the Muslim community would be equally unprepared. We need to address these things now.”
The average age of MPACUK members is 23 and as such, they can appear to get more than a little agitated over certain issues. The organisation was highly active during the 2005 general election. It opposed Muslim leaders who were happy to kowtow to Government wishes and it opposed those MPs who are pro-Israel or supported the war in Iraq. Prominent targets included Foreign Minister Jack Straw, Lord Patel of Blackburn, a moderate Muslim and friend of Jack Straw and MP Mike Gapes. Indeed, during the Channel 4 documentary “Operation Muslim Vote”, MPACUK’s leader tussled with Patel and his supporters along with the Imam and fellow worshippers at Bicknell Street mosque in Blackburn.
However, MPACUK became accused of anti-Semitism during the election campaign when it - falsely - labelled Labour candidate Lorna Fitzsimons as being Jewish (implying there was something dishonourable or underhand about this). They retracted the statement, but not before they had come under fire for these unacceptable comments.130 MPACUK exhibits particular ire for Muslim figures that oppose it in any way. Ajmal Masroor, who had been adopted as the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for West Ham in the 2005 general election, stood down because he put out a plea for support on the MPACUK website. At that time MPACUK’s comments on Lorna Fitzsimons were being investigated and as such, due to the supposed
anti-Semitic nature of the site, Masroor resigned as a candidate.
MPACUK reacted with fury, denouncing Masroor as a traitor, claiming that he had undermined and destroyed MPACUK’s reputation, thereby hurting Palestinians and Muslims in Britain. An article on the MPACUK site said: “If however we send a signal out to all traitors and Muslim leaders within power, that ‘we will put your head on a pole before you think of double crossing us’, do you really think those with tendencies to betray the community will do it? Not with an active community ready and willing to hold them to account they won’t. It’s a simple equation for traitors. Which one gives them more benefit and which one do they really want to face the wrath of. In the case of Masroor, he felt that it was easier to face the sleeping forgetful Muslims by betraying them, than the Zionists in the press and political parties. So when they threatened to expose his personal flaw he betrayed us. Sadly for him, he chose to betray the wrong group. MPACUK do not forget and we are definitely NOT asleep”.131 [Emphasis added]
The subject of Israel is one that drives many of MPACUK’s discussions and its exuberance on the matter has got it into trouble on more than one occasion. When the organisation was set up in 1998, discussion on Israel came quickly to the forefront. Bukhari noted that Israel would never negotiate from a position of strength and therefore it needed the West to moderate it. However, he believes that the peace process was dominated by Israel and, as a result, it is doing the Palestinians no favours whatsoever.
MPACUK is accused of reproducing material by holocaust deniers David Irving and Michael Hoffman. The Union of Jewish Students claims the MPACUK website has, in the past, included anti-Semitic pictures, including one of a Star of David transposed over the burning Twin Towers and others accusing Jews of presiding over a global conspiracy.
MPACUK was quick to condemn the events of 7 July 2005. It claimed that poor teaching in mosques and the inability of student union leaders to provide help, served to breed extremism and that only by getting more involved in the political process could Muslims make things better. “There is no evidence that any British born Muslim is linked to this attack. If however a link is found, imagine the backlash from the public, and the British Government.
“Are we going to hope that no British born Muslim, angry and frustrated at an unjust foreign policy will not take this action in the future?
“All of us will suffer if we leave this to chance. Only when we teach our young that we can make a difference in the world wide peacefully, politically, through Britain’s democratic system will our young finally leave any thoughts of violence and use the political process to take on the people in power who choose to send Britain on unjust murderous campaigns around the world.
We could have stopped this attack, if we had tried harder to make Britain’s foreign policy more humane. Instead we were taught to sit in endless talks about Islamic trivia and feel more pious for it. We are the victims of our own pacified state.”132
This may seem laudable but MPACUK could not resist criticising Jewish groups for their comments on the attacks, in an article entitled: “Zionist Fed Advises Community To Hijack Tragedy To Help Israel.”133 MPACUK also runs Internet message boards and forums that, like any such outlets, can get very fiery. The statements made by some on these forums are indisputably anti-Semitic and conspiratorial. “Zionists” are often blamed for all the ills of the world; Bush is described as a tool of the “Zionists”, an accolade he sometimes shares with Saddam Hussein.
However, Bukhari defends what is written claiming that the website administrators allow anything on the website, whether it be by radical Muslims, Zionists or the Far Right, as long as it does not include swearing. By doing so, he claims, proper debate can be instigated. Bukhari said that he has received emails from those who are in total opposition to his and MPACUK’s views thanking him for allowing them their statements to be posted unchanged. He said: “We have however taken a principled stand on not censoring comments as if we censor we cannot understand the mind set of the community. The plus side also extends to having regular contributions from members of the Jewish and non-Muslim community who feel free to comment and put counter arguments forward. This we believe also bridges the gap between people within a constructive framework.”
Bukhari claims that MPACUK was totally surprised when the NUS ban was ordered. He claims there are no anti-Hindu articles and that MPACUK has no position on homosexuality and that the article that the NUS raised in relation to the issue was actually a tongue-in-cheek piece laughing at the reaction of the Muslim community to gay people. As for the anti-Semitism, Bukhari said that MPACUK had gone out of way to challenge anti-Semitism in the Muslim community and at one event in a university in the west of the country he was threatened when he challenged a guest imam who delivered an anti Semitic sermon. He added: “On the other hand we advocated working with Jewish people who opposed the illegal occupation of Palestinian land by Israel and came under a lot of flack by a hard core group of Muslims and stood our ground. The NUS ban in our view was orchestrated by the Jewish Society who take any criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism and these types of bans though unwelcome are to be expected. Most organisations or individuals who believe in the rights of the Palestinian people are branded anti-Semites unfortunately.”
MPACUK is clearly not a terrorist organisation and its effort to encourage Muslims to engage in the political process is something one might wish to support. Its spokespeople are involved in debates and appear in the media and the Government has made overtures towards them in order understand the views of young people.
However, MPACUK is in a tricky position. It is an organisation comprised of young people and as such they can be particularly vocal over certain issues, when perhaps a bit more tact would be desirable. Despite Bukhari’s comments, there is no denying that questionable comments do appear on the MPACUK website and while freedom of speech is to be lauded, the presence of such comments harms MPACUK’s chances of entering into the mainstream. On the other hand, if MPACUK began to recruit older members of Muslim society, it is entirely possible their message could be diluted and their efforts to rouse the Muslim community could be impeded. It may therefore fairly be regarded as being on the fringes of Islamist activity whilst at present still Islamic.