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Context of 'August 22, 1998: Leading London-Based Radical Bakri Reveals Deal with British Authorities'

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Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, a leading Islamist radical based in London, calls for the assassination of British Prime Minister John Major. Bakri says that Major is “a legitimate target; if anyone gets the opportunity to assassinate him, I don’t think they should save it. It is our Islamic duty and we will celebrate his death.” Bakri makes this call at some point after Major’s appointment to succeed Margaret Thatcher, but before the end of the Gulf War, the event that inspires Bakri’s statement. However, Bakri will later say that this did not apply in Britain and that such assassination could only be properly carried out in a Muslim country. He is interviewed by the police but not charged, one of almost a dozen such incidents when a decision not to prosecute Bakri is taken. He will later call for the assassination of Major’s successor, Tony Blair (see December 10, 2000). [Terrorism Monitor, 7/7/2005; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 113] Bakri works as an informer for British intelligence at some point (see Spring 2005-Early 2007), although it is unclear whether he is doing so at this time.

Entity Tags: Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

When asked why militant Islamic groups based in London never attack in Britain, leading imam Omar Bakri Mohammed says that he has a deal with the British government: “I work here in accordance with the covenant of peace which I made with the British government when I got [political] asylum.… We respect the terms of this bond as Allah orders us to do.” [Terrorism Monitor, 7/7/2005] Bakri will confirm this in a later interview: “The British government knows who we are. MI5 has interrogated us many times. I think now we have something called public immunity.” [MEMRI, 10/24/2001] Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will point out that other London imams, such as Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997) and Abu Qatada (see June 1996-February 1997), had a similar arrangement: “The [imams] all claimed that Islamist radicals felt safe in London as they were protected by what they called the ‘covenant of security.’ This, they explained, was a deal whereby if extremist groups pledged not to stage attacks or cause disruption in [Britain], the police and intelligence agencies left them alone. British government ministers were appalled at the suggestion that they had entered into such a pact. But other countries were left to wonder aloud why [the British government] continued to ignore warnings that radical organizations were using London as a safe haven, and allowing these extremists to behave as if they were immune from prosecution.… To European eyes, these men seemed to do as they pleased.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 108]

Entity Tags: Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, UK Security Service (MI5), Daniel McGrory, Abu Qatada, Sean O’Neill, Abu Hamza al-Masri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

“A few months” before the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), journalist Ron Suskind interviews radical London imam Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed. Suskind had recently heard from a British intelligence official that Bakri “had helped [British domestic intelligence agency] MI5 on several of its investigations,” in Suskind’s words, and he asks Bakri about this. According to Suskind, Bakri looks flustered and says, “I’m upset you know this.” Asked why he helped the British, he replies: “Because I like it here. My family’s here. I like the health benefits.” In early 2007, Suskind calls Bakri on the phone. After the 7/7 bombings, Bakri moved from London to Lebanon (see August 6, 2005), but by the time Suskind reaches him, Bakri has moved again to Tripoli, Libya. Bakri admits that he misses Britain and his role there. He says that the British government misses him too, “whether they admit it or not.” He adds: “We were able to control the Muslim youth.… The radical preacher that allows a venting of a point of view is preventing violence. Now, many of us are gone or in jail, and we’ve been replaced by radical jihadis, who take the youth underground. You don’t see them until the day they vent with the bombs.” Suskind will later comment: “Bakri enjoyed his notoriety and was willing to pay for it with information he passed to the police.… It’s a fabric of subtle interlocking needs: the [British authorities] need be in a backchannel conversation with someone working the steam valve of Muslim anger; Bakri needs health insurance.” Bakri’s role as an informant will not be made public until Suskind mentions it in a book published in August 2008. Suskind will not make clear when Bakri’s collaboration with MI5 began or ended, or even if he was still collaborating when they spoke in early 2005. [Suskind, 2008, pp. 200-202] In 2002, Roland Jacquard, a French counterterrorism expert and government adviser, said that “every al-Qaeda operative recently arrested or identified in Europe had come into contact with Bakri at some time or other.” [Time, 5/27/2002]

Entity Tags: Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, Ron Suskind, UK Security Service (MI5)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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