Top charities give £200,000 to group which supported al-Qaeda cleric
The radical cleric accused of inspiring the cargo bomb plot has been backed by a prominent British campaign group which has financial support from leading charities.
But an examination of the Cageprisoners website last week suggested that its support for the cleric was as strong as ever.
Cageprisoners was set up to lobby on behalf of terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay and those monitored under control orders in the UK.
The Sunday Telegraph can reveal that it is being funded by the Joseph Rowntree Trust, a Quaker-run fund set up by the chocolate-maker and philanthropist a century ago, and The Roddick Foundation, a charity set up by the family of Anita Roddick, the Body Shop founder, after her death three years ago.
The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust is giving Cageprisoners £170,000 in donations over three years - with the latest payment due this month - and The Roddick Foundation another £25,000.
In its website, recently re-branded with some of the charities' cash, Cageprisoners carries more than 20 articles about al-Awlaki, describing him as an 'inspiration' and casting doubt on the evidence he is involved in terrorism.
Awlaki is believed by Western intelligence services to be an ideological figurehead of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the group blamed for the cargo bombs. Last year he praised the Muslim US soldier who killed 13 colleagues at Fort Hood, Texas.
Yet despite the heads of both MI5 and MI6 saying Awlaki uses the internet to foment terrorism, the Cageprisoners website also contains video messages from the American-born radical.
Cageprisoners - a not for profit company - is headed by Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner, and also employs Feroz Ali Abbasi, another detainee freed from the controversial US base.
As recently as last month its website highlighted claims by Yemeni politicians that they had "never been given evidence against [Awlaki]".
Earlier in the year one leading activist wrote: "Anwar al-Awlaki's contribution to Cageprisoners has always been positive, particularly when invited to our events he has only spoken from his experiences as a former prisoner."
Mr Begg, born in Birmingham, was detained by the Americans for nearly three years after being arrested in Pakistan and accused of being an al-Qaeda terrorist.
He has interviewed al-Awlaki, and earlier this year he wrote that it "was evident that he commanded a large following and great respect amongst many Muslims".
But Mr Begg added that, after Awlaki's alleged torture while held in Yemen in 2006, "I am told, Anwar's position on issues pertaining to the US foreign policy had started to become more hostile...
"I wonder if it was terribly surprising if ... after suffering abuse I know only too well US agents to be capable of, [he] now allegedly lauds the Fort Hood shootings as deeds of heroism."
Other articles on the Cageprisoners website raise further questions.
One, on the death of Faraj Hassan, a former control order detainee, said he had died with a smile on his face "similar to the smiles we are used to seeing in videos of those martyred in the way of Allah while fighting in foreign war zones".
Hassan, a Libyan who was accused of an attempted church bombing in Italy, was killed in a road crash in August. The Cageprisoners article added: 'His death … may serve as the fertilizer that serves to revive the spirit of jihad in the Muslims of Britain."
Despite the group's views, it is still being provided with money by the Joseph Rowntree charity, to help with its "core costs", and by the Roddick Foundation, which is run by the late businesswoman's widower Gordon and other members of her family.
Cageprisoners has also received the backing of Amnesty International, which last year faced a public row when one of its staff was forced to quit after calling Amnesty's links to Cageprisoners "a gross error of judgement".
Cageprisoners also received a further £131,000 in donations last year from other undisclosed sources. It has used the money to pay for a rapid expansion of its work.
It now has three full-time and one part-time staff members who are paid a total of £64,000 a year.
The group has recently moved to a new office in Camden, north London, which is, it says, "important for our clients who now have a safe place to come in order to feel safe and speak about their problems".
Last night Stephen Pittman, Secretary of the Joseph Rowntree Trust, defended his charity's funding of the group. He said: "I've recently spoken to Cageprisoners and I have had a commitment that they are completely opposed to any form of the use of terrorism aimed at civilians.
"They are completely committed to the upholding of human rights standards ... [and] have distanced themselves from this man [al-Awlaki].
"Cageprisoners has now stated that it is not supportive of anything al-Awlaki is saying relating to the use of violence.
"We have got a Muslim community in Britain which feels highly alienated and the people who in our view are able to build bridges and make links to those young Muslims are people like Moazzam Begg and Cageprisoners."
The Roddick Foundation could not be contacted for comment.
Last week, Mr Begg said: "Our position is that we campaigned for him when he was a detainee and we now campaign against him being targeted for extra judicial killing - assassination - by the Americans. But we are also strongly against his calls for the targeting of civilians."
It has also become clear that Awlaki has enjoyed the backing of another prominent British Muslim leader.
As recently as last month, Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, the former head of the Muslim Council of Britain, defended a decision to host Awlaki at the East London Mosque, of which he is chairman, as an act of "fairness and justice."
In a letter obtained by The Sunday Telegraph, Dr Bari said that claims made about Awlaki at the time had been "misleading," unsubstantiated and had been "categorically refuted" by the radical preacher.
Awlaki spoke at the mosque - Britain's largest, which presents itself as a beacon of moderation and tolerance – last year.
The event, a video address and live telephone question-and-answer session, was advertised with a poster showing New York under bombardment.
The mosque claimed at the time that "none of the speakers involved [were] banned from entering the UK or convicted of any hate crimes".
It later insisted that "there was no credible evidence at the time of the event that Awlaki might be an extremist".
In fact, Awlaki was reportedly banned from the UK for his extremist links as early as 2006. In October 2008, more than two months before the event at the East London Mosque, Awlaki was described by Charles Allen, the US under-secretary for intelligence, as the "spiritual leader to three of the September 11 hijackers", an "al-Qaeda supporter" and "an example of al-Qaeda reach into the [US] homeland".
Dr Bari's latest comments on Awlaki come in a letter last month to Paul Goodman, the former Conservative MP.
Describing the event, Dr Bari says in his letter that "back then, we were faced with claims from a newspaper that it could not substantiate; categorical refutations from the subject of their attack; and just a few days to consider an external booking of our facilities."
He says: "Instead of over-reacting and taking the easy way out [cancelling the meeting], we acted out of fairness and justice – British values that the Conservative Party has recently put back on the agenda."
Dr Bari says that he has now condemned Awlaki after "more evidence of his extremism emerged". He insists that his mosque firmly bars extremist speakers.
However, his spokesman continued to defend the Awlaki booking this week, saying that some of what has been reported about Awlaki was "not correct."
Mr Goodman said last night: "Dr Bari's conduct in this affair is extremely curious. Any reasonable person will conclude that the East London Mosque is either unwilling, or unable, to tackle extremism rigorously."
The Sunday Telegraph has learnt that British counter-terrorism chiefs believe AQAP will launch another attack against the UK within six months.
The Government has been told that the most likely avenue of attack will be the targeting of airlines from groups based abroad, but a home-grown plot has not be ruled out.
Intelligence sources have told The Sunday Telegraph that AQAP is "vying" to become the most prominent al-Qaeda-affiliated terror group following the foiled attack nine days ago.
Sources have also revealed that Britain would be prepared to send special forces to assist the Yemeni government to hunt down members of the Islamist organisation if requested to do so.
Britain already has a small detachment of military counter-terrorism specialists involved in training members of the Yemeni Army but they are under orders not to get involved in military operations against terrorist groups.
Additional reporting by Andrew Gilligan and Sean Rayment