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Profile: Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed
Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed was a participant or observer in the following events:
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.
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]
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]
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]
[Source: Public domain]In early April 2000, Arizona FBI agent Ken Williams gets a tip that makes him suspicious that some flight students might be Islamic militants. Williams will begin an investigation based on this tip that will lead to his “Phoenix memo” warning about suspect Middle Easterners training in Arizona flight schools (see July 10, 2001) [New York Times, 6/19/2002] It appears that Lebanese flight school student Zacaria Soubra has been seen at a shooting range with Abu Mujahid, a white American Muslim who had fought in the Balkans and the Middle East. [Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001; Arizona Monthly, 11/2004] Abu Mujahid appears to match Aukai Collins, a white American Muslim who had fought in the Balkans and the Middle East, who also goes by the name Abu Mujahid, and is an FBI informant spying on the Muslim community in the area at the time (see 1998). Collins also claims to have been the informant referred to in the Phoenix memo, which again suggests that Collins was the one at the shooting range with Soubra. [Salon, 10/17/2002] On April 7, Williams appears at Soubra’s apartment and interviews him. Soubra acts defiant, and tells Williams that he considers the US government and military legitimate targets of Islam. He has photographs of bin Laden on the walls. Williams runs a check on the license plate of Soubra’s car and discovers the car is actually owned by a suspected militant with explosives and car bomb training in Afghanistan who had been held for attempting to enter an airplane cockpit the year before (see November 1999-August 2001). [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 43-44] On April 17, Williams starts a formal investigation into Soubra. [Arizona Republic, 7/24/2003] Williams will be reassigned to work on an arson case and will not be able to get back to work on the Soubra investigation until June 2001 (see April 2000-June 2001). He will release the Phoenix memo one month later. After 9/11, some US officials will suspect Soubra had ties to terrorism. For instance, in 2003, an unnamed official will claim, “Soubra was involved in terrorist-supporting activities, facilitating shelter and employment for people… involved with al-Qaeda.” For a time, he and hijacker Hani Hanjour attend the same mosque, though there is no evidence they ever meet. Soubra’s roommate at the time of Williams’ interview is Ghassan al-Sharbi. In 2002, al-Sharbi will be arrested in Pakistan with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida. While Williams will focus on Soubra, al-Sharbi will also be a target of his memo. [Los Angeles Times, 1/24/2003] In 2004, Soubra will be deported to Lebanon after being held for two years. He will deny any connection to Hanjour or terrorism. [Arizona Republic, 5/2/2004] Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, the leader of the British militant group Al-Muhajiroun, will later admit that Soubra was the leader of Al-Muhajiroun’s branch in Arizona. [Time, 5/27/2002]
Radical London imam Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed makes some startling comments in an interview with the Sunday Mercury. He says: “Freedom and democracy bring nothing but chaos. I am here to bring the message to Britain and to one day fly the black flag of Islam over Downing Street.” He admits that he supports jihad (holy war) “verbally, financially, and even militarily.” He elaborates: “We have had a lot of volunteers from England wanting to attend camps for military training. We send them to South Africa, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Kashmir.” Bakri also mentions that he believes British Prime Minister Tony Blair is a “legitimate target for assassination if he ever sets foot on Muslim lands.” An article based on the interview is published on December 10, 2000, and the Sunday Mercury also gives a transcript of the interview to British intelligence. Two weeks later, a British citizen kills ten in India in a suicide bombing, and Bakri praises him as a martyr who will go to paradise (see December 25, 2000). But the newspaper will not hear back from the authorities until a month after the 9/11 attacks. [Sunday Mercury (Birmingham UK), 8/24/2005] Later in the month, Bakri also says that he has signed up 600-700 volunteers over an unspecified period of time, and will continue to do so. He says, “It is every Muslim boy’s duty to do military training. If my children wanted to go and fight for jihad, I would encourage them.” British authorities say they are aware that the recruiting is taking place on their soil, but there is little they can do to stop Britons from fighting overseas. [United Press International, 12/28/2000] Bakri appears to have been running training camps in Britain since at least the start of 1997 (see January 1997).
A British suicide bomber drives a stolen car packed with explosives into an Indian army base in the town of Srinagar, located in the Indian-controlled portion of the disputed region of Kashmir. Ten people are killed, including three Indian soldiers. The bomber, Asif Sadiq (a.k.a. Mohammed Bilal), is a 24-year-old student from Birmingham. He is the first known Islamist suicide bomber from Britain. Radical London imam Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, leader of the extremist group Al-Muhajiroun, says, “I am not surprised by his actions. He becomes a martyr and that is the wish of every Muslim in order to go to paradise.” It will later be revealed that Sadiq was a member of Al-Muhajiroun. Sadiq is also said to have been a member of the Pakistani militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM). Days after the bombing, Maulana Masood Azhar, head of JEM, praises Sadiq and calls him a martyr. JEM’s newspaper says that in 1994 Sadiq joined Harkat-ul Ansar, a Pakistani militant group led by Azhar at the time which later changed its name to Harkat ul-Mujahedeen. [Independent, 12/29/2000; Sunday Times (London), 7/24/2005; Sunday Mercury (Birmingham UK), 8/20/2006]
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
Sheik Omar Bakri Mohammed. [Source: Matt Dunham/ Reuters]According to a senior Defense Department source quoted in the book “Intelligence Failure” by David Bossie, Defense Department personnel become aware of a Milan newspaper interview with Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, a self-designated spokesman for al-Qaeda. In the interview, he brags about al-Qaeda recruiting “kamikaze bombers ready to die for Palestine.” Mohammed boasts of training them in Afghanistan. According to this source, the Defense Department seeks “to present its information [to the FBI], given the increased ‘chatter,’ of a possible attack in the United States just days before [9/11]. The earliest the FBI would see the [Defense Department] people who had the information was on September 12, 2001.” [Bossie, 5/2004] In 1998, Bakri had publicized a fax bin Laden sent him that listed the four objectives al-Qaeda had in their war with the US. First on the list was: “Bring down their airliners.”
(see Summer 1998) The main focus of FBI agent Ken Williams’s July 2001 memo, warning about Middle Eastern students training in Arizona flight schools, was a member of Bakri’s organization (see July 10, 2001). In 2004, the US will charge Bakri with 11 terrorism-related crimes, including attempting to set up a terror training camp in Oregon and assisting in the kidnapping of two Americans and others in Yemen. [MSNBC, 5/27/2004]
London imam Abu Qatada is arrested at a house in South London by Scotland Yard and MI5 officials. Intelligence agencies in eight countries, including Italy, France, and Germany, have claimed that Qatada has extensive al-Qaeda links, and he is believed to be a member of al-Qaeda’s fatwa (religious) committee (see June 1996-1997). Using anti-terrorist laws passed in December 2001, he is held at the Belmarsh high security prison without charge. He “disappeared” hours before the new laws went into effect (see Early December 2001). Several days before his arrest, Qatada came out of hiding to release a new document justifying the 9/11 attacks. He posted a ten-page document on the Internet entitled “The Legal Vision for the September 11 Events.” In it, he outlined the “moral” case for the attacks and praised Osama bin Laden for challenging the US. [London Times, 10/25/2002] Another radical London imam, Sheik Omar Bakri Mohamed, tells the press that Abu Qatada was arrested after family members visited his house and one of them used a cell phone that was apparently traced by the authorities. [New York Times, 10/26/2002] Qatada worked as an MI5 informant beginning in 1996 (see June 1996-February 1997).
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).
Mohammed Quayyum Khan. [Source: BBC]In March 2003, the British intelligence agency MI5 begins monitoring Mohammed Quayyum Khan (a.k.a. “Q”), a part-time taxi driver living in Luton, England, and born in Pakistan. He is said to be an associate of the radical London imams Omar Bakri Mohammed and Abu Hamza al-Masri. It is not known how MI5 first gains an interest in Quayyum, but apparently during a trip to Pakistan in 2003, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, tracks him overtly to warn him that they are aware of his activities. During a later court trial, an al-Qaeda operative turned informant named Mohammed Junaid Babar will allege that Quayyum:
Takes his orders from al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi. He is said to be one of about three or four operatives working directly under this leader.
Arranges for Mohammad Sidique Khan, the head suicide bomber in the 7/7 London bombings, to travel to Pakistan and attend militant training camp in 2003.
Provides funds and equipment for militants fighting US troops in Afghanistan.
Is the leader of the 2004 British fertilizer bomb plot. Five of Quayyum’s associates will be sentenced to life in prison for roles in this plot.
In early February 2004, MI5 first discovers the existence of the fertilizer bomb plot while it monitors the various plotters meeting with Quayyum (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). For instance, Omar Khyam, one of those who will later be sentenced to life in prison, is secretly videotaped meeting with Quayyum. Khyam will later admit that just before he left for militant training in Pakistan, Quayyum gave him money and said: “It’s better for both of us if we don’t meet each other. Because the security services may be monitoring me.” Yet when all the other members of the plot are arrested in late March 2004, Quayyum stays free. The Guardian will later report, “Despite the number of serious allegations leveled against him [in court], police and MI5 say they have never found sufficient evidence to arrest or charge him.” Quayyum is never questioned about his links to the fertilizer bomb plotters. After the 7/7 suicide bombings in 2005, he is not questioned about his verified links with the suicide bombers either (such as the monitored calls between him and the head suicide bomber (see Shortly Before July 2003)). He continues to live in Luton and is seen by a Guardian journalist working as a chef in a small cafe there. “He is thought to have since disappeared.” [Guardian, 5/1/2007; Guardian, 5/1/2007] Author Loretta Napoleoni will later comment that the lack of action against Quayyum is especially strange given the British government’s power to detain suspects for years without charge. She will say, “The press has proffered the hypothesis—neither confirmed nor denied by the special services—that Quayyum was a ‘Deep Throat’” mole or informant. [Antiwar (.com, 5/8/2007]
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).
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]
It is reported that radical London imam Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed is urging his followers to join the jihad (holy war). Bakri’s group, Al-Muhajiroun, disbanded in late 2004, and he has been effectively banned from preaching in mosques. However, he still communicates to his followers on a regular basis through the Internet. In recent live web broadcasts, he has condoned suicide attacks, pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden, and told followers they are in a war with Britain. He has stated that new British anti-terrorist laws have violated the “covenant of security” under which Islamist radicals lived in Britain but only attacked targets overseas (see August 9, 2004). He states, “I believe the whole of Britain has become the Dar ul-Harb [land of war].” He adds that in such a condition, “The kuffar [nonbeliever] has no sanctity for their own life or property.” He stops short of calling for attacks on Britain, but he encourages one supporter to become a suicide bomber. [Evening Standard, 1/17/2005] Labour MP Andrew Dismore responds by saying: “With these words, [Bakri] may well be committing offenses under the Terrorism Act and other legislation. I will be raising this immediately with the home secretary and the Metropolitan Police.” [London Times, 1/17/2005] However, no action is taken against Bakri.
“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]
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]
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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