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Context of 'Spring 2005-Early 2007: Radical London Imam Bakri Admits He Has Been Informant for British Intelligence'

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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

London imam Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed establishes the radical Islamist organization Al-Muhajiroun, which will go on to be linked to several terror attacks (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004 and April 30, 2003). Bakri, who works as an informer for British intelligence at some point (see Spring 2005-Early 2007), had fled Syria in 1982 after taking part in a failed Muslim Brotherhood rising against the government and had been expelled from Saudi Arabia as an Islamist dissident in 1985. He had previously headed the British branch of the international movement Hizb ut Tahrir, but had split with its international leaders. Al-Muhajiroun becomes known for touring university campuses and shopping precincts to look for recruits and also for holding marches and rallies across Britain. In addition, Bakri establishes Britain’s first Shariah court, which has no legal standing, but which enables him to settle disputes for a fee. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 105-107]

Entity Tags: Al-Muhajiroun, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, leader of the Britain-based Al-Muhajiroun militant group, is interviewed. He says, “I believe Britain is harboring most of the Islamic opposition leaders of the Muslim world.… Because the British elites are very clever, they are not stupid like the Americans. Remember these people used to rule half of the world.… The British are not like the French and the Germans, they don’t slap you in the face, they stab you in the back. They want to buy some of these Islamic groups.” Asked if there ever has been “a secret deal between some Islamists and British security whereby radical Muslims would be left alone as long as they did not threaten British national security,” Bakri replies: “I believe all the people referred to as ‘moderate’ Muslims have at one time or another struck deals with the British government. But the British have been unable to corrupt radical groups” like Bakri’s group. He then defines moderate Muslims as “The Muslim Brotherhood in [Britain], UK Islamic Mission, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Iranian opposition groups, [and] the so-called [Iranian] Ahlul Bait groups.” Bakri also says, “I think everything I say and do is monitored.” He admits to being questioned by British intelligence “on at least 16 occasions,” but denies helping them. He says that the authorities have attempted to penetrate his organization, “as the British are desperate to buy intelligence.” Speaking about British intelligence agencies, he says: “their understanding of Islam is poor. But I believe the really clever people are the elites in this country, as they know how to divide Muslims.” [Spotlight on Terror, 3/23/2004] Bakri’s comments will take on new meaning when it is later revealed that he was an active informant for British intelligence (see Spring 2005-Early 2007).

Entity Tags: Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Muslim Brotherhood, UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Al-Muhajiroun, UK Security Service (MI5)

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

The four London bombers captured on closed circuit television. From left to right, Hasib Hussain, Germaine Lindsay, Mohammad Sidique Khan, and Shehzad Tanweer, pictured in Luton train station at 07:21 a.m., Thursday, July 7, 2005.The four London bombers captured on closed circuit television. From left to right, Hasib Hussain, Germaine Lindsay, Mohammad Sidique Khan, and Shehzad Tanweer, pictured in Luton train station at 07:21 a.m., Thursday, July 7, 2005. [Source: Scotland Yard]England suffers its worst terrorist attack when four bombs go off in London during the morning rush hour. At 8:50 a.m. bombs go off on three London Underground trains within 50 seconds of each other. A fourth bomb goes off at 9:47 a.m. on a double-decker bus, near Tavistock Square. Fifty-six people, including the four bombers, are killed. The bombings become popularly known as ‘7/7.’ [Daily Telegraph, 7/7/2005; Daily Mail, 7/8/2005; CNN, 7/22/2005] The alleged bombers, all British residents between the ages of 18 and 30, are Mohammad Sidique Khan, Hasib Mir Hussain, Shehzad Tanweer, and Germaine Lindsay. All were British nationals of Pakistani descent, except Lindsay, who was born in Jamaica, but moved to England when he was five. [Daily Telegraph, 7/16/2005; BBC, 7/21/2005] In 2004, Khan had been the subject of a routine threat assessment by the British intelligence agency MI5, after his name came up during an investigation into an alleged plot to explode a truck bomb in London. However, MI5 did not consider him a threat and did not place him under surveillance. [BBC, 7/17/2005; London Times, 7/17/2005] According to the Independent, Tanweer had similarly been scrutinized by MI5 that year, but was also not considered a threat. [Independent, 12/17/2005] Khan and Tanweer had flown to Pakistan together in November 2004, returning together in February 2005. However, what they did during their stay is unclear. [BBC, 7/18/2005; CNN, 7/20/2005] Less than a month before the bombings, the British government lowered its formal threat assessment one level, from “severe general” to “substantial,” prompted by a confidential report by the Joint Terrorist Analysis Centre (JTAC). JTAC, which is made up of 100 top intelligence and law enforcement officials, concluded, “At present there is not a group with both the current intent and the capability to attack [Britain]” (see Mid-June 2005). [New York Times, 7/19/2005; London Times, 7/19/2005] The attacks also coincide with the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, attended by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George W. Bush, amongst others. [Guardian, 7/7/2005] Consequently, 1,500 officers from London’s Metropolitan Police, including many anti-terrorist specialists, are away in Scotland as part of the force of 12,000 created to police the event. [Press Association (London), 7/7/2005; London Times, 7/10/2005]

Entity Tags: Germaine Lindsay, Mohammad Sidique Khan, Hasib Mir Hussain, Shehzad Tanweer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The cover of the Sun, a British tabloid, shortly before Bakri left Britain.The cover of the Sun, a British tabloid, shortly before Bakri left Britain. [Source: The Sun]Radical London imam Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed is allowed to leave Britain, and flies to Lebanon. He is believed to hold joint Syrian and Lebanese citizenship, but had been living in Britain since gaining political asylum there in the 1980s. The BBC reports that his departure comes “amid speculation he was to be investigated for treason.” One day after his departure, the Sunday Times will publish a story quoting Bakri praising the recent 7/7 London bombings, referring to the four suicide bombers as the “fantastic four,” and encouraging his supporters to be martyrs (see July 9, 2005 and Shortly Afterwards). He also had recently said that he would not report a potential bomber to the police, adding that he would stop any potential attack himself. While the British government makes no move to stop Bakri from leaving, two days after he leaves it will be announced that authorities are considering if there is enough evidence to charge him with a crime, possibly through little-used laws against treason. Bakri says he is only going abroad for a holiday and will be glad to return to face possible criminal charges. [BBC, 8/9/2005] But Bakri will not return, even though there are no reports of charges being filed against him. One year later, the British government will announce that it is formally prohibiting Bakri from returning. [CNN, 7/21/2005] He continues to inspire his militant group Al-Muhajiroun, which continues to operate in Britain by periodically changing its name (see July 19, 2006).

Entity Tags: Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, Al-Muhajiroun

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

After 9/11 and, in particular, after the 7/7 bombings in London (see July 7, 2005), British security officials are asked about the wide latitude granted to radical Islamists in Britain in the 1990s and after (see Before 1998). Off-the-record statements by officials emphasize that they were wrong in their assessment of Islamist radicalism, and that they should have paid more attention. For example, in a 2006 book by authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory, an anonymous official says: “The French would periodically bombard us with warnings and get very worked up and we decided they were over-exaggerating on Islamic extremists colonizing London. Fact is, they were right and we were wrong, and we have not stopped apologizing since. Frankly, we were not equipped to deal with this menace. For 30 years everything was geared to combating terrorists from Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries in Ireland. That danger was still with us when the French were screaming about Islamic terror cells. We did not know how to monitor these people or how to combat the threat of suicide attacks. We did not have the techniques. We missed our chance to deal with this a lot sooner than we did, but a lot of countries made the same mistake.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 109-110] Most or all of the leading radicals worked with the British security services, were informers for them (see June 1996-February 1997, Early 1997, Spring 2005-Early 2007), and were also monitored by other informers (see Summer 1996-August 1998 and (November 11, 1998)). Several attacks in countries other than Britain were assisted by radicals based in London (see Early 1994-September 23, 1998, 1994, Summer 1998 and After, and November 13, 2001 or Shortly Before).

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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