Monday, 20 December 2010

Stockholm bomber: banned extremists recruit near Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly's Luton home

The outlawed Islamist group al-Muhajiroun is openly recruiting near the home of the suicide bomber who blew himself up on a Stockholm street last week, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal.

Mohammed Quayyum Khan, left, is alleged to recruit terrorists. Stockholm bomber: banned extremists recruit near Taimur Abdulwahab al-Abdaly's Luton home
 Photo: REX FEATURES
 
MI5 and anti-terrorist police are attempting to unravel what transformed the father of three into an extremist.
But moderate Muslims in Luton, where Iraqi-born Taimour Abdulwahab lived for almost 10 years, claim the authorities are to blame for turning a blind eye to the activities of hard-core jihadi sympathisers.
Unimpeded by the police, the group, now calling itself The Reflect Project, is accused of mounting a campaign of intimidation and violence against those who disagree with it.
The group's members are followers of the radical cleric Omar Bakri Muhammad, who is being held in jail in Lebanon on terrorism charges, and are led locally by Ishtiaq Alamgir or Sword of Islam – a former inland revenue accountant.
Earlier this year, Mr Alamgir helped to organise a protest at a homecoming parade in Luton for troops who had served in Afghanistan. The demonstration ended in violence and arrests.
It is illegal to be a member of Bakri's organisation after it was outlawed for glorifying terrorism and for outspoken statements praising the "magnificent" September 11 hijackers.
But Bakri's supporters still regularly set up a stall on the high street near Abdulwahab's family home to try to recruit more young Muslims to their cause.
Last week, gathered around a trestle table after Friday prayers, Mr Alamgir and a dozen other activists handed out anodyne Introduction to Islam leaflets before quickly disappearing when approached by this newspaper.
Carefully written, apparently to avoid breaching anti-terrorism laws, the leaflet's purpose appeared to be to direct prospective recruits to a website containing inflammatory speeches by Bakri and articles against "the terrorist activities of Britain".
Some claim the group was involved with Abdulwahab, whose "will" told his wife and children he had lived for "the last four years with the secret of being mujahid or, as you call it, terrorist".
The group described Abdulwahab, who studied at the town's university, as a "lone wolf" and denied having anything to do with him.
The group, whose members use an ever-changing variety of names, has been holding rallies in community halls where, until his recent arrest, it was addressed by Bakri over an internet link.
Residents in the mainly Muslim Bury Park area claim Abdulwahab attended these meetings and complain that the government ban has not stopped the group or led to any police action against it.
Despite public money from the previous government's anti-radicalisation "Prevent" scheme, which is currently under review by the Coalition, MI5 and the police appear to be getting little help or intelligence from the community. It is claimed much of the cash distributed by Prevent in Luton – reported to be £554,000 since 2008 – has either been squandered on schemes not designed to tackle extremists or is the subject of investigations over financial irregularities.
The Luton Islamic Centre, where Abdulwahab prayed and which forced him out when he attempted to preach about his radical views, admits it did not inform the police.
"We try to work with the extremists, rather than force them underground," a spokesman said yesterday.
Others dismiss the police as powerless. They talk about how an alleged terrorist recruiter, Mohammed Quayyum Khan, known as "Q", moves around the town unimpeded.
Mr Khan has been named in Parliamentary reports and at the Old Bailey and was accused of arranging for the 7/7 plot leader Mohammed Sidique Khan to attend a terrorist training camp. However, he has never been charged with any offence and last week was still working as a minicab driver in Luton, taking children on the "school run" and ferrying hotel guests to the town's busy international airport.
Another local radical is a Pakistani man in his twenties known as Charlie who, it is claimed, has been banned from Britain on national security grounds.
After being recruited in the town, Charlie, who attended a local school and whose family remain in Luton, is now believed to be in Islamabad "driving around in an expensive Land Cruiser with access to lots of money", according to one friend. Others talk darkly of his links to "senior" people in al-Qaeda.
"We fear for our children and the influence these people have on them," said Mohammed Bashir, of the Khadmit welfare centre, whose office is just along the road from where al-Muhajiroun set up its "recruitment centre".
"I have received death threats, threatening phone calls. They have been trying to intimidate me. Threatening violence, threatening to come to my home. They are only a small group, some 20 or 30 people. I even know some of their families. But they won't listen to reason.
"We tell our youngsters not to speak to them, but you cannot watch after your young people all the time. They go to school and to university and it is here that these idiots try to influence them, try to convince them to join them, to spread their hatred."
Qurban Hussain, a local councillor and former Lib Dem parliamentary candidate, has also had death threats and has been physically attacked. "During the last election campaign a group of them surrounded my car. They were banging on the windows, shouting abuse and chanting slogans. They think democracy is un-Islamic.
"All the time they were filming it. They were shouting and screaming at me and filming me inside my car – then they put it on the internet. It was so intimidating. I go to Pakistan regularly to see my family and friends. I wondered whether the video was meant for someone there. A message to them saying: 'Here is an unbeliever – deal with him'."
Mr Hussain said the group also stops people attempting to vote. "They will obstruct you, bully and harass you. Throughout the election I was constantly followed, harassed and chanted at. They try to intimidate you and anyone you come across. They do the same to anyone they disagree with."
He said on another occasion a local al-Muhajiroun activist confronted him on the street and allegedly threatened to kill him. "I know the boy. I know his father. But he threatened to kill me," he said. "I reported it to the police but they didn't pursue it."
He said his campaign offices were also attacked, daubed with paint and his posters pulled down. "Last May, on the day of the election they gathered outside my house. They pushed and shoved me and my supporters. There was a scuffle. I feared there was going to be serious violence. My neighbours came out on the streets. People were threatened on the way to the polling station."
Mr Hussain said he had stopped reporting the incidents to the police. "It's a waste of time. They spend two hours taking your statement and then they do nothing."
The father of one activist spoke to The Sunday Telegraph last week. He did not want to be named, apparently afraid of the reaction of his son and his friends. He said: "He will not listen to me. He is not in my control. He once cared about his education, getting a job, helping his community. Now he is lost."
The community has tried to take the law into its own hands. The mosques have confronted them. There are reports of minor scuffles and the al-Muhajiroun activists are now not welcome to pray at any of the local mosques as a group. They are also banned from preaching or trying to recruit people outside the prayer halls.
Instead they set up a table near to Barclays Bank to hand out their literature, welcoming anyone who shows an interest. They talk about Palestine, detention at Guantánamo Bay, and Iraq and Afghanistan. They show jihadi films and invite people to go to a café for a chat and a soft drink. Some call it "grooming".
"Anyone who disagrees is abused. There is no debating with them. They call me a hypocrite," said Mr Hussain, who will be sworn in at the House of Lords in the next few weeks after being awarded a peerage by Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister.
"They are trying to brainwash the young. Fill them with hatred. Something needs to be done to stop them. They are supposedly banned, yet no one is prepared to tackle them, to breach their rights, their freedom of speech."
The Islamic Centre, the Masjid al-Ghurabaa, attended by Abdulwahab until 2007, also claims it has nothing to do with the radicals in Luton. It claims al-Muhajiroun is banned from the mosque and has been since 2000.
Teachings on the mosque's website are radical, many would say extreme. They include a defence of the flogging of a 19-year-old gang-rape victim in Saudi Arabia, and sermons by Abu Usamah at Thahabi, a cleric who has said: "Take that homosexual man and throw him off the mountain."
Yet the mosque condemns Abdulwahab's attack as "against God" and says it too is "sick" of the al-Muhajiroun activists, who it claims are "protected by the police". The mosque has been distributing its own Refuting Extremism pamphlets attacking the followers of radical clerics including Abu Hamza and Abu Qatada, both of whom are held in British jails on terrorism charges.
Farasat Latif, the mosque secretary, said: "These extremists cause us nothing but problems. People associate our mosque with them although we have nothing to do with them. Their activities led to a firebomb attack on our mosque which caused £40,000 of damage.
"We have had physical confrontations with them but the police warn us that we will be arrested if we take the law into our own hands."
Last night a spokesman for Bedfordshire Police said the force was doing all it could to combat extremism. She said it was working with the community "to safeguard individuals (and) build resilience ... against violent extremism and radicalisation". She added: "We continue to undertake work under the national Prevent agenda ... to address any type of extremism."
Police, she said, would "thoroughly investigate complaints received about a small group who give out leaflets in the Luton area and actively gather evidence".
This evidence, she added, was being passed to the Crown Prosecution Service but that "at this time there (had been) no breach of the law or any proscribed order".
She added: "The powers given to the police under the order are very limited. We will continue to constantly monitor the situation and would urge anyone who believes they have witnessed an offence to come forward."
Mr Alamgir refused to answer any questions and failed to return calls left on his mobile telephone.
Last night Anjem Choudary, a former solicitor who founded al-Muhajiroun with Bakri, denied that the group had anything to do with Abdulwahab. He said: "He was a lone wolf. He was nothing to do with my brothers in Luton. We knew nothing about him or his activities."
Regarding the accusations levelled against the group in Luton, he added: "It is not true that we are intimidating Muslims. But we do take action against those involved in elections. We don't think that elections have any part of being a Muslim. These people are self serving. They are involved with the Government and the local councils and we believe it is right to disrupt them."
He said he did not believe that his "brothers" had done anything wrong when they chanted and shouted at election candidates. "They are part of the government," he said. Asked why local mosque elders made similar allegations, he added: "These people are trying to win support from the Government or get money from the local authorities. We oppose this."