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Al-Muhajiroun was a participant or observer in the following events:
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]
Ronson’s footage of Omar Bakri Mohammed, left, leading followers in prayer inside the Scout hut. [Source: Jon Ronson]Reporter Jon Ronson is making a documentary about Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, a radical London imam and leader of the militant group Al-Muhajiroun, and is allowed to attend a training camp meeting led by Bakri. Ronson is taken to a well-stocked gym in a Scout hut in a forestry center near Crawley, Britain. There are punchbags, treadmills, and a TV that is showing videos promoting militant action. Ronson watches as Bakri gives a lecture in front of about 30 young men. Bakri tells his audience: “There is a time when a military struggle must take place in [Britain]. Jihad. It’s called conquering. One day, without question, [Britain] is going to be governed by Islam.… You must be ready to defend yourselves militarily.” Ronson, who has a humorous edge to his reporting, calls the place Bakri’s “secret jihad training camp,” not believing that “Bakri’s people were violent or motivated enough to actually initiate a jihad or commit acts of terrorism.” But he will later find he is incorrect. For instance, Omar Khyam will get interested in radical Islam in late 1998, and soon join Al-Muhajiroun. He and other members of the group will be sentenced to life in prison after attempting to build a large fertilizer bomb in 2004 (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). [Guardian, 4/30/2007] In late 2000, Bakri will say he has recruited 600 to 700 volunteers for jihad in the last few years (see December 10, 2000).
Bin Laden sends a fax from Afghanistan to Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, a London-based Muslim imam who dubs himself the “mouth, eyes, and ears of Osama bin Laden.” Bakri publicly releases what he calls bin Laden’s four specific objectives for a holy war against the US. The instruction reads, “Bring down their airliners. Prevent the safe passage of their ships. Occupy their embassies. Force the closure of their companies and banks.” Noting this, the Los Angeles Times will wryly comment that “Bin Laden hasn’t been shy about sharing his game plan.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/14/2001] In 2001, FBI agent Ken Williams will grow concerned about some Middle Eastern students training in Arizona flight schools. He will link several of them to Al-Muhajiroun, an extremist group founded by Bakri. Williams will quote several fatwas (calls to action) from Bakri in his later-famous July 2001 memo (see July 10, 2001). However, he apparently will not be aware of this particular call to action. These students linked to Bakri’s group apparently have no connection to any of the 9/11 hijackers. In another interview before 9/11, Bakri will boast of recruiting “kamikaze bombers ready to die for Palestine.”
(see Early September 2001) [Associated Press, 5/23/2002]
Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading radical imam who informs for the British authorities (see Early 1997), tells a rally of Islamist extremists in London that they should attack aircraft over London, and shows them a plan for doing so. The scheme is called the “MUSLIM ANTI-AIRCRAFT NET,” and Abu Hamza explains it to his audience with the aid of a diagram on a sheet that drops down behind him when he starts to speak. Abu Hamza sets aside his usual style of whipping his listeners up into a frenzy, instead choosing to speak “like a college professor.” He tells them that the purpose of the net “is to make the skies very high-risk for anybody who flies.” The equipment consists of a series of wire nets, held in the air by gas-filled balloons. When an aircraft is caught in the net, one of the mines attached to it explodes, destroying the aircraft. The diagram contains an image of a US fighter diving into one of the traps. Abu Hamza concludes: “This is not very clever, but it will work. Now invent your own idea and never give up.” The meeting is attended by an unnamed informer for the French intelligence service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE), who is amazed by the plan. Abu Hamza has an agreement with the British authorities that he can pursue terrorist activities abroad, but that there should be no violence in Britain (see October 1, 1997). This would appear to be a breach of the agreement, and the informer thinks that if a fellow informer for the British police is present, action must be taken against Abu Hamza. However, nothing is done against Abu Hamza over the plan, which seems not to be implemented. The meeting is also attended by Omar Bakri Mohamed, who has a deal similar to Abu Hamza’s with the British authorities (see August 22, 1998) and is head of the Al-Muhajiroun organization. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 103-105]
FBI agent Ken Williams. [Source: FBI]Phoenix, Arizona, FBI agent Ken Williams sends a memorandum warning about suspicious activities involving a group of Middle Eastern men taking flight training lessons in Arizona. The memo is titled: “Zakaria Mustapha Soubra; IT-OTHER (Islamic Army of the Caucasus),” because it focuses on Zakaria Soubra, a Lebanese flight student in Prescott, Arizona, and his connection with a terror group in Chechnya that has ties to al-Qaeda. It is subtitled: “Osama bin Laden and Al-Muhjiroun supporters attending civil aviation universities/colleges in Arizona.” [Fortune, 5/22/2002; Arizona Republic, 7/24/2003] Williams’ memo is based on an investigation of Sorba that Williams had begun in 2000 (see April 2000), but he had trouble pursuing because of the low priority the Arizona FBI office gave terror investigations (see April 2000-June 2001). Additionally, Williams had been alerted to suspicions about radical militants and aircraft at least three other times (see October 1996; 1998; November 1999-August 2001). In the memo, Williams does the following:
Names nine other suspect students from Pakistan, India, Kenya, Algeria, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002] Hijacker Hani Hanjour, attending flight school in Arizona in early 2001 and probably continuing into the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001), is not one of the students, but, as explained below, it seems two of the students know him. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ; Washington Post, 7/25/2003]
Notes that he interviewed some of these students, and heard some of them make hostile comments about the US. Additionally, he noticed that they were suspiciously well informed about security measures at US airports. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002]
Notes an increasing, “inordinate number of individuals of investigative interest” taking flight lessons in Arizona. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ]
Suspects that some of the ten people he has investigated are connected to al-Qaeda. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ] One person on the list, Ghassan al Sharbi, will be arrested in Pakistan in March 2002 with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002). Al Sharbi attended a flight school in Prescott, Arizona. He also apparently attended the training camps in Afghanistan and swore loyalty to bin Laden in the summer of 2001. He apparently knows Hani Hanjour in Arizona (see October 1996-Late April 1999). He also is the roommate of Soubra, the main target of the memo. [Los Angeles Times, 1/24/2003; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 521]
Discovers that one of them was communicating through an intermediary with Abu Zubaida. This apparently is a reference to Hamed al Sulami, who had been telephoning a Saudi imam known to be Zubaida’s spiritual advisor. Al Sulami is an acquaintance of Hanjour in Arizona (see October 1996-Late April 1999). [Mercury News (San Jose), 5/23/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 520-521, 529]
Discusses connections between several of the students and a radical group called Al-Muhajiroun. [Mercury News (San Jose), 5/23/2002] This group supported bin Laden, and issued a fatwa, or call to arms, that included airports on a list of acceptable terror targets. [Associated Press, 5/22/2002] Soubra, the main focus of the memo, is a member of Al-Muhajiroun and an outspoken radical. He met with Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, the leader of Al-Muhajiroun in Britain, and started an Arizona chapter of the organization. After 9/11, some US officials will suspect that Soubra has ties to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. He will be held two years, then deported to Lebanon in 2004. [Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001; Los Angeles Times, 1/24/2003; Arizona Republic, 5/2/2004; Arizona Monthly, 11/2004] Though Williams doesn’t include it in his memo, in the summer of 1998, Bakri publicized a fax sent by bin Laden to him that listed al-Qaeda’s four objectives in fighting the US. The first objective was “bring down their airliners.”
(see Summer 1998). [Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001]
Warns of a possible “effort by Osama bin Laden to send students to the US to attend civil aviation universities and colleges” [Fortune, 5/22/2002] , so they can later hijack aircraft. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002]
Recommends that the “FBI should accumulate a listing of civil aviation universities and colleges around the country. FBI field offices with these types of schools in their area should establish appropriate liaison. FBI [headquarters] should discuss this matter with other elements of the US intelligence community and task the community for any information that supports Phoenix’s suspicions.” [Arizona Republic, 7/24/2003] (The FBI has already done this, but because of poor FBI communications, Williams is not aware of the report.)
Recommends that the FBI ask the State Department to provide visa data on flight school students from Middle Eastern countries, which will facilitate FBI tracking efforts. [New York Times, 5/4/2002]
The memo is addressed to the following FBI Agents:
Dave Frasca, chief of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters;
Elizabeth Harvey Matson, Mark Connor and Fred Stremmel, Intelligence Operations Specialists in the RFU;
Rod Middleton, acting chief of the Usama bin Laden Unit (UBLU);
Jennifer Maitner, an Intelligence Operations Specialist in the UBLU;
Jack Cloonan, an agent on the New York FBI’s bin Laden unit, the I-49 squad; (see January 1996 and Spring 2000).
Michael S. Butsch, an agent on another New York FBI squad dealing with other Sunni terrorists. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 7/10/2001 ; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ]
However, the memo is not uploaded into the FBI’s information system until the end of the month and is apparently not received by all these people (see July 27, 2001 and after). Williams also shares some concerns with the CIA (see (July 27, 2001)). [Mercury News (San Jose), 5/23/2002] One anonymous government official who has seen the memo says, “This was as actionable a memo as could have been written by anyone.” [Insight, 5/27/2002] However, the memo is merely marked “routine,” rather than “urgent.” It is generally ignored, not shared with other FBI offices, and the recommendations are not taken. One colleague in New York replies at the time that the memo is “speculative and not very significant.” [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ] Williams is unaware of many FBI investigations and leads that could have given weight to his memo. Authorities later claim that Williams was only pursuing a hunch, but one familiar with classified information says, “This was not a vague hunch. He was doing a case on these guys.” [Mercury News (San Jose), 5/23/2002]
Entity Tags: Jennifer Maitner, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Fred Stremmel, Ghassan al Sharbi, Hani Hanjour, I-49, Jack Cloonan, Elizabeth Matson, Islamic Army of the Caucasus, David Frasca, Michael Butsch, Al-Muhajiroun, Zakaria Mustapha Soubra, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, Al-Qaeda, Rod Middleton, Osama bin Laden, Radical Fundamentalist Unit, Mark Connor, Ken Williams, Abu Zubaida
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Mohammed Junaid Babar. [Source: London Times]In early November 2001, a young man using the name Mohammad Junaid appears in several print interviews in Pakistan. He appears unmasked in video interviews shown on CNN in the US and ITN in Britain. He says that he is going to fight US soldiers in Afghanistan with the Taliban even though he is a US citizen and his mother was in the World Trade Center on 9/11 and barely survived the attack. He says, “I will kill every American that I see in Afghanistan, and every American I see in Pakistan.” In fact, his full name is Mohammed Junaid Babar. [Boston Globe, 11/6/2001; London Times, 5/3/2007] He is a long-time member of Al-Muhajiroun, a radical Islamist group based in Britain but which also has a New York branch that Babar is involved with. [Guardian, 4/30/2007]
Placed on Watch List and Monitored - Babar is immediately placed on no-fly watch lists and monitored by intelligence agencies. The Washington Post will later report, “US counterterrorism officials said Babar first hit their radar screen in late 2001…” [Washington Post, 7/25/2005] Jon Gilbert, who interviews him in Pakistan in November 2001, will later say, “The authorities had been diligently tracking him since the day our first interview had been aired.” Babar left the US shortly after the 9/11 attack, and apparently had no ties with Islamist militants prior to his departure.
Babar Lives in Pakistan, Works with Al-Qaeda - He does not return there for some time. Instead, he lives in Pakistan and frequently makes trips to Britain (but is not stopped from coming or going, despite being on the watch list). He becomes increasingly involved in helping al-Qaeda with logistics, such as fund-raising, supplying equipment from overseas, and helping to set up training camps in Pakistan’s tribal regions. He also becomes actively involved in a fertilizer bomb plot in Britain. in 2002, he sometimes he attends talks by radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri with other members of the fertilizer plot in London’s Finsbury Park mosque. [Washington Post, 7/25/2005; Guardian, 4/30/2007; London Times, 5/3/2007]
Monitored Meeting with Key Militants - Meanwhile, intelligence agencies continue to monitor him. Details on such surveillance are scanty, but he apparently is monitored meeting with lead 7/7 London bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan in England in 2003 (see 2003). Newsweek will also later mention that “Babar was tracked flying off [in early 2004] to South Waziristan in Pakistan, where he attended what some analysts believe was a terror summit that included the notorious al-Qaeda operative Adnan Shukrijumah and Dhiren Barot, the operative suspected of casing New York financial institutions a few years earlier” (see March 2004). His Internet use at a public library is also monitored, and he is said to exchange messages with al-Qaeda operatives. [Newsweek, 1/24/2005]
Arrested in US - Babar finally returns to the US on April 6, 2004, although why he does this is a mystery since his confederates in the fertilizer bomb plot had been arrested in Canada, Britain, and Pakistan just days earlier, and their arrests had been immediately publicized (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). Babar is arrested by the FBI four days after his arrival, and quickly begins completely cooperating with the authorities (see April 10, 2004).
Suspicions He Was US Agent Since 2001 - The London Times will later comment, “Some suggest that he may have already been an FBI agent” before he was arrested. [London Times, 5/3/2007] The BBC will similarly say, “Inevitably there were suspicions that he’d been an FBI agent all along.” [BBC, 5/25/2007] But while that issue remains unclear, he proves to be an increasingly valuable source of information about al-Qaeda as more is learned about what he knows. One US law enforcement official will say in late 2005, “This guy’s connection to different cells and plots just seems to be expanding. He is the fish that is getting bigger.” [Washington Post, 7/25/2005]
Six alleged members of the fertilizer bomb plot: Salahuddin Amin, Anthony Garcia, Waheed Mahmood, Momin Khawaja, Jawad Akbar, and Omar Khyam. [Source: Metropolitan Police/ CP Jonathan Hayward]In early 2003, the British intelligence agency MI5 is tracking a suspected al-Qaeda leader living in Britain known as Mohammed Quayyum Khan (a.k.a. “Q”) (see March 2003 and After), and they see him repeatedly meeting with a Pakistani-Briton named Omar Khyam. Quayyum is believed to be an aide to al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi. [BBC, 5/1/2007] By around March or April 2003, investigators begin monitoring Khyam, and soon discover he is a ringleader in a fertilizer bomb plot on unknown targets in Britain. [BBC, 4/30/2007]
Surveillance Intensifies - By the beginning of February 2004, surveillance intensifies. Thousands of hours of audio are recorded on dozens of suspects. The investigation soon focuses on a smaller group of Khyam’s close associates who are originally from Pakistan and had attended training camps in mountainous regions of Pakistan in recent years. Most of these men have links to Al-Muhajiroun, a banned Islamist group formed by radical London imam Omar Bakri Mohammed. The plotters are monitored discussing various targets, including nightclubs, pubs, and a network of underground high-pressure gas pipelines. In February 2004, MI5 intercepts a phone conversation between Khyam talking to his associate Salahuddin Amin, in Pakistan, about the quantities of different ingredients needed to construct a fertilizer bomb. An al-Qaeda operative in Pakistan had encouraged Amin to bomb targets in Britain.
Fertilizer Found and Replaced - Later in February, employees at a self storage depot in London call police after discovering a large amount of ammonium nitrate fertilizer being stored and suspecting it might be used for a bomb. Investigators discover the fertilizer belongs to Khyam and his group, and has been stored there since November 2003. The fertilizer is covertly replaced with an inert substance so a bomb cannot be successfully made from it.
Arrests Made - Investigators discover that Khyam is planning to fly to Pakistan on April 6, and the decision is made to arrest the suspects before he leaves the country. On March 29, a bomb plotter named Momin Khawaja is arrested where he is living in Canada. Weapons and a half-built detonator are found in his house. The next day, Khyam and seventeen others are arrested in England (see March 29, 2004 and After). Aluminum powder, a key bomb ingredient, is found in a shed owned by Khyam. Amin, still living in Pakistan, turns himself in to authorities there a few days later. Another key member of the group, Mohammed Junaid Babar, is not arrested and flies to the US on April 6. But he is arrested there four days later and quickly agrees to reveal all he knows and testify against the others (see April 10, 2004).
Five Convicted in Trial - The suspects will be put on trial in 2006 and Babar will be the star prosecution witness. Five people, including Khyam, will be sentenced to life in prison in 2007. Trials against Khawaja in Canada and Amin in Pakistan have yet to be decided. Curiously, Quayyum, who has been alleged to the mastermind of the plot and the key al-Qaeda link, is never arrested or even questioned, and continues to live openly in Britain (see March 2003 and After). [Guardian, 5/1/2007]
Asif Hanif (left) and Omar Sharif (right) holding AK-47 rifles and a Koran. Apparently this is from a video filmed on February 8, 2003, in the Gaza Strip. [Source: Public domain]In March 2003, the British domestic intelligence agency MI5 arrests eight members of the Islamist militant group Al-Muhajiroun in the city of Derby. Two other Britons, Asif Hanif and Omar Sharif, are also identified as members of the group, but they are not arrested. MI5 is also aware that Sharif is connected to the Finsbury Park mosque where radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri preaches. [Daily Mail, 5/5/2003; ISN Security Watch, 7/21/2005] When police raided Abu Hamza’s mosque in January, they even found a letter from Sharif to Abu Hamza inquiring about the proper conduct of jihad. The letter contained Sharif’s address in Derby. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 90-91] MI5 does not monitor either Hanif or Sharif, and instead simply keeps their names on file, believing them to be harmless. Later that same month, Italian undercover journalist Claudio Franco, posing as a Muslim convert, visits the London office of Al-Muhajiroun and meets Hanif. Hanif, unaware that he is being formally interviewed, tells Franco that he is sorry the poison ricin was allegedly seized in a raid elsewhere in London (see January 7, 2003) before it could be used in an attack. The next month, Hanif and Sharif travel to Israel and are killed on a suicide bombing mission which kills three others (see April 30, 2003). After the bombing, Al-Muhajiroun’s official leader, Anjem Choudary, calls the two bombers martyrs. The group’s spiritual leader, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, admits he knew both men. But the group is not banned. [Daily Mail, 5/5/2003; ISN Security Watch, 7/21/2005] Other members of the group will attempt to build a large fertilizer bomb in early 2004 (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004), but the group will still not be banned, then or later. (It will disband on its own in late 2004 (see October 2004).) Investigators also fail to discover that Mohammad Sidique Khan, the lead bomber in the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), knew both men, was friends with Sharif and attended the same small mosque as he did (see Summer 2001), and traveled to Israel weeks before they did in a probable attempt to help with the bombing (see February 19-20, 2003).
Bombing damage at Mike’s Place. [Source: Associated Press]On April 30, two British citizens, Asif Hanif and Omar Sharif, attempt to bomb Mike’s Place, a cafe in Tel Aviv, Israel, located very close to the US embassy.
Hanif’s bomb goes off, but a security guard prevented him from entering the cafe, so just three people are killed and 65 are injured. Only Sharif’s detonator goes off, so he flees the scene, being chased by several people. He manages to run away, but his dead body is found in the ocean nearby two weeks later. A British inquest will later suggest he drowned, although why he did remains unknown. The two men are Britain’s second known Islamist suicide bombers (see December 25, 2000). They had lived in Britain most of their lives and only arrived in Israel a couple of weeks earlier, after a short stay in Syria. Hamas takes credit for the bombing and later shows a video of their last testaments in which Hanif states: “It is an honor to kill all these people. It is an honor.” [Daily Telegraph, 9/6/2006] The two are believed to have been members of the radical British militant group Al-Muhajiroun. The group’s leader, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, says Sharif had recently attended a course at his school, studying Islamic law. A reporter claims to have interviewed Hanif by chance at Al-Muhajiroun’s London office a month before the bombing. They also attended the Finsbury Park mosque, where radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri preaches. [Observer, 5/4/2003; ISN Security Watch, 7/21/2005; BBC, 7/9/2006] The pair apparently were featured in a recruitment video for Abu Hamza in March 2000. In 2002, a pair of activists working against Abu Hamza, Neil Doyle and Glen Jenvey, tricked Abu Hamza into sending them some recruitment videos, and one showed two masked men holding assault rifles claiming to be fighting in Bosnia. Only in 2004, after Hamas released the video of Sharif and Hanif’s last testaments, did it become clear they were the masked men in the 2000 video as well. [Sunday Mercury (Birmingham UK), 9/19/2004] Mohammad Sidique Khan, the lead suicide bomber in the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), traveled to Israel seven weeks before the bombing, and it is suspected he assisted the bombing in some way, because he had known the two men since at least 2001 (see Summer 2001 and February 19-20, 2003).
Anthony Garcia (left) and Omar Khyam (right) facing the camera, in Pakistan in 2003. Both will be sentenced to life in prison for the fertilizer bomb plot. [Source: Corbis]In the summer of 2003, a group of young Pakistani-Briton men rent a room in a hostel in Lahore, Pakistan. The group is very noisy at night, talking and playing music, which draws complaints from neighbors. One neighbor will later tell the Times of London that it was obvious they were violent militants: “We knew what they were doing and we were afraid at those boys being here, but we couldn’t do anything about it.” The neighbors finally call the police after hearing a series of late night explosions coming from their room. The group tells police that a propane gas cylinder had exploded. But the police do not believe it and begin a surveillance operation.
Investigation - Investigators learn the group recently traveled to Malakand, a very mountainous region of Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan. It is known that al-Qaeda maintains training camps there. Members of the group are also seen making regular visits to an office complex in Lahore where Al-Muhajiroun and other militant groups rent space. Most of the group members are linked to Al-Muhajiroun back in Britain. One member of the group is Omar Khyam, who is a key figure in a fertilizer bomb plot in Britain that will be foiled by British intelligence in March 2004 (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). Another member is Mohammad Sidique Khan, the head suicide bomber in the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005). Yet another member is Mohammed Junaid Babar, an al-Qaeda operative living in Britain who is important enough to attend a key al-Qaeda summit in 2004 (see March 2004).
Return Home - Khan returns to Britain in August 2003 and Khyam returns one month later (Khyam is already under surveillance in Britain). It is unknown when Babar returns exactly, but in early April 2004 he flies from Britain to the US, is arrested, and begins telling all he knows about his associates in return for a reduced sentence (see April 10, 2004). He only knows Khyam by his alias “Ausman” and Khan by his alias “Ibrahim,” and it is unknown just how much he reveals about their training together in Pakistan.
Warnings - But the Pakistani ISI will later claim that they twice gave warnings to British intelligence about the monitored group in Lahore. Apparently the ISI decided the group was not a threat in Pakistan but was planning a bombing in Britain. A high-ranking ISI official will later claim: “There is no question that 7/7 could have and should have been stopped. British agencies did not follow some of the information we gave to them.” [London Times, 5/1/2007]
Surveillance - If the ISI does not in fact warn British intelligence, then it is likely the British have at least some awareness of this group in Lahore attending training camps through another source. British intelligence has been closely monitoring Mohammed Quayyum Khan, who is believed to be a key al-Qaeda operative living in Britain and sending funds and militant recruits to Pakistan (see March 2003 and After). Quayyum remains in phone contact with Khayam in Pakistan. He also is monitored as he talks on the phone with Salahuddin Amin, a member of the fertilizer bomb plot who lives in Pakistan. [BBC, 5/25/2007]
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).
Radical London imam Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, head of the British-based extremist group Al-Muhajiroun, says in an interview with a Portuguese magazine that attacks on London are “inevitable,” “because several (attacks) are being prepared by several groups.” He says that one “very well organized” group in London calling itself al-Qaeda Europe “has a great appeal for young Muslims,” adding, “I know that they are ready to launch a big operation.” He does not explicitly endorse an attack within Britain. But asked if a British Muslim is allowed to carry out a “terrorist attempt” in a foreign country, Bakri replies, “That is another story.” He explains: “We don’t make a distinction between civilians and non-civilians, innocents and non-innocents. Only between Muslims and unbelievers. And the life of an unbeliever has no value. It has no sanctity.” [Reuters, 4/19/2004] Presumably, British intelligence takes his warnings seriously, because a group of Al-Muhajiroun supporters were arrested earlier in the month while attempting to build a large fertilizer bomb for an attack in Britain (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004).
Hassan Butt. [Source: BBC]An article in the New Statesman examines the “covenant of security”—an apparent long-standing tacit agreement between radical Islamist militants and the British government to leave each other alone. Mohammed Sifaoui is a French-Algerian journalist who managed to infiltrate al-Qaeda cells in both France and Britain. He says that, for many years, militants have used Britain as a safe haven and in return have refrained from attacking inside Britain, but have used this haven to plot attacks on other countries. Sifaoui comments: “The question becomes a moral one. Should the British authorities accept that there are terrorists in their country who kill others abroad? I think that today the British authorities must face their conscience.” Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, a radical London imam and head of the British militant group Al-Muhajiroun, tells the New Statesman that he agrees with Sifaoui’s premise that Britain is a safe haven. He tells a story about the companions of the prophet Mohammed who were given protection and hospitality when traveling to Abyssinia. This resulted in a notion in the Koran of a covenant, whereby a Muslim is not allowed to attack the inhabitants of a country where they find safe refuge. Bakri concludes that it is unlikely British-based Muslims will carry out operations in Britain itself. But Hassan Butt, a former spokesman for Al-Muhajiroun, suggests that there are British militants who are prepared to break their covenant with the British. He warns that “any attack will have to be massive. After one operation everything will close down on us in Britain.” [New Statesman, 8/9/2004] Ironically, several months before this article is published, a group of Al-Muhajiroun supporters were arrested before they could explode a large fertilizer bomb in Britain (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). In early 2005, Bakri will say that the covenant of security with Britain has been broken and will imply that attacks inside Britain are now permissible (see January 17, 2005).
The extremist British-based Islamist group Al-Muhajiroun quietly disbands. The group, led by radical imam Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, boasts that it has 700 members in Britain. The group issues a statement vaguely claiming there is a “new reality” in the Muslim world which means its existence is no longer necessary. The group’s website is also closed down. [Sunday Mercury (Birmingham UK), 10/17/2004] Many of the suspects in a British fertilizer bomb plot that was foiled earlier in the year had links to Al-Muhajiroun (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). Two new groups soon emerge, the Saviour Sect and Al-Ghuraaba. These groups are led by Bakri. In July 2005, shortly before the 7/7 London bombings, a Sunday Times reporter will go undercover and pose as a new recruit to the Saviour Sect for two months. The Times will conclude, “the Saviour Sect and Al-Ghuraaba [are] Al-Muhajiroun in all but name.” [Sunday Times (London), 8/7/2005]
Several weeks before the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), a Sunday Times reporter went undercover, posing as a new recruit in radical London imam Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed’s militant group Al-Muhajiroun. (Technically, the group disbanded the year before, but the Times reporter discovers the two new offshoots, the Saviour Sect and Al-Ghuraaba, are “Al-Muhajiroun in all but name” (see October 2004).) The reporter was accepted into the group, and for two months he attends private meetings of about 50 core followers usually led by Bakri. Shortly after the 7/7 bombings, Bakri publicly denounces the bombings, saying he is against the killing of innocents. But on July 9, the Times reporter hears Bakri tell his followers: “So, London under attack. Between us, for the past 48 hours I’m very happy.” He draws an analogy, saying: “The mosquito makes the lion suffer and makes him kill himself. If the mosquito goes up a lion’s nose then he will make him go mad. So don’t underestimate the power of the mosquito.” Several weeks later, in another private meeting, he praises the four 7/7 suicide bombers as the “fantastic four.” He tells his followers to “cover the land with our blood through martyrdom, martyrdom, martyrdom.” He reiterates that while he is against the killing of “innocents,” the victims of the 7/7 bombings were not innocent because they were not good Muslims. “They’re kuffar [non-believers]. They’re not people who are innocent. The people who are innocent are the people who are with us or those who are living under the Islamic state.” [Sunday Times (London), 8/7/2005]
John Loftus (right) is asked a question from an audience member while on Fox News on July 29, 2005. [Source: Fox News]In an interview on Fox News, counterterrorism expert John Loftus claims that Haroon Rashid Aswat, named in recent reports as the mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings earlier in the month (see July 7, 2005), is actually an agent of the British intelligence agency MI6. Loftus says: “[W]hat’s really embarrassing is that the entire British police are out chasing [Aswat], and one wing of the British government, MI6 or the British Secret Service, has been hiding him. And this has been a real source of contention between the CIA, the Justice Department, and Britain.… He’s a double agent.” The interviewer clarifies, “So he’s working for the Brits to try to give them information about al-Qaeda, but in reality he’s still an al-Qaeda operative.” Loftus replies: “Yeah. The CIA and the Israelis all accused MI6 of letting all these terrorists live in London not because they’re getting al-Qaeda information, but for appeasement. It was one of those you leave us alone, we leave you alone kind of things.” Loftus then explains that Aswat has been wanted by US prosecutors in Seattle since 2002 for attempting to help set up a training camp in Oregon (see November 1999-Early 2000). “[W]e’ve just learned that the headquarters of the US Justice Department ordered the Seattle prosecutors not to touch Aswat [because] apparently Aswat was working for British intelligence. Now Aswat’s boss, the one-armed [London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri], he gets indicted two years later. So the guy above him and below him get indicted, but not Aswat. Now there’s a split of opinion within US intelligence. Some people say that the British intelligence fibbed to us. They told us that Aswat was dead, and that’s why the New York group dropped the case. That’s not what most of the Justice Department thinks. They think that it was just again covering up for this very publicly affiliated guy with [the British militant group] Al-Muhajiroun. He was a British intelligence plant. So all of a sudden he disappears. He’s in South Africa. We think he’s dead; we don’t know he’s down there. Last month the South African Secret Service come across the guy. He’s alive.” The host asks: “Yeah, now the CIA says, oh he’s alive. Our CIA says OK let’s arrest him. But the Brits say no again?” Loftus replies: “The Brits say no. Now at this point, two weeks ago, the Brits know that the CIA wants to get a hold of Haroon. So what happens? He takes off again, goes right to London. He isn’t arrested when he lands, he isn’t arrested when he leaves. [Even though] he’s on the watch list. The only reason he could get away with that was if he was working for British intelligence. He was a wanted man.” Loftus finally explains that Aswat’s relationship with British intelligence began in the late 1990s with the war in Kosovo. The US, Britain, and radical Muslims were all on the same side, helping the Muslims in Kosovo fight the Serbians. Loftus says that Al-Muhajiroun was involved in recruiting British Muslims to fight in Kosovo, and Aswat was part of that effort. [Fox News, 7/29/2005] Two days after Loftus’s comments, the Sunday Times reports that senior British officials “deny ‘any knowledge’ that he might be an agent for either MI5 or MI6.” [Sunday Times (London), 7/31/2005]
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).
Using new legislation that outlaws the glorification of terrorism, the British government bans the British militant groups Al-Ghuraaba and the Saviour Sect (a.k.a. the Saved Sect). The two groups were formed in late 2004, when radical imam Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed disbanded his group Al-Muhajiroun (see October 2004). But Bakri continued to lead the two new groups and after sending a reporter uncover to infiltrate the groups, the Sunday Times concluded the two groups were “Al-Muhajiroun in all but name” (see July 9, 2005 and Shortly Afterwards). In announcing the banning of the two groups, Home Secretary John Reid says that he is “committed to ensuring that those organizations that change their name do not avoid the consequences of proscription.” [London Times, 7/19/2006] However, just three months later, the Sunday Times will report that the two groups continue to operate after simply merging back together and changing their name yet again, this time to Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah. The group now mainly operates through the Internet, since Bakri has moved to Lebanon (see August 6, 2005). Anjem Choudary, another long-time leader of Al-Muhajiroun still living in Britain, apparently continues to run the group’s operations there. [Sunday Times (London), 10/29/2006] Despite Reid’s promise not to be deterred by a simple name change, as of 2008 the “new” group has yet to be banned.
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