The British section of Hizb ut-Tahrir was founded by Omar Bakri Mohammed, who personifies contemporary European dilemmas about the limits of free speech and the boundaries between militant politics and outright sedition. Originally of Syrian birth, Bakri arrived in Britain in the late 1980s and soon acquired a reputation for sensational statements. Through the 1990s, "the Tottenham Ayatollah" called for stoning to death those guilty of homosexuality, adultery, fornication, and bestiality; and for the abolition of public mixing between members of the opposite sex. He is close to Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, whose mosque was the base of organization for the first World Trade Center attack in 1993. More recently, Bakri offered an extended justification of the Madrid bombings:
What happened in Madrid is all revenge. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life. Anybody (that) commits a crime should be punished—that's exactly what happened in relation to Spain. Objective number one—break the psychology of the occupier by hitting back in their homeland. To be worried about their own wives and loved ones. . . . Somebody he fly aeroplane [sic] and he decide to land the aeroplane over 10 Downing Street, for example, or over the White House. This is a form of self-sacrifice operation.
Bakri described the London subway bombers as the "fantastic four."17 In 1996, Bakri became the spiritual mentor of a breakaway group still more extreme than the Hizb, namely, al-Muhajiroun, the Pilgrims, a name commemorating Muhammad's earliest companions. (The word is based on the root hijra, used in the same sense as by Takfir wal Hijra.) This movement may be the most overt European example to date of an organized aboveground Islamic party that supports terrorist activities and that actively recruits for armed actions. Muhajiroun gatherings rejoiced at videos of the "magnificent" September 11 attacks and of subsequent attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq.
Al-Muhajiroun has on several occasions been linked to terrorism around the world, using young Muslims recruited in Britain for armed operations in various theaters of Islamist struggle. The movement, which was about a thousand strong at its height, has close ties with Pakistan-based extremists. The Muhajiroun dispatched a young Birmingham-born man who in 2000 drove a truckload of explosives into an Indian barracks in Kashmir. According to Israeli sources, al-Muhajiroun brought two British activists into contact with the Palestinian Hamas, and one actually carried out a suicide bombing mission in Tel Aviv. Another London member was arrested while working for Sunni insurgents in Iraq.18
The group's global contacts became a matter for pressing concern after the fall of the Taliban regime. The former commissioner of London's Metropolitan Police states that up to 3,000 "British-born or British-based people had passed through Osama bin Laden's training camps in Afghanistan and, of these, there were now about 200 committed home-grown terrorists." According to Manchester-born activist Hassan Butt, who claimed to represent the Muhajiroun in Pakistan, the movement recruited 200 British Muslims to fight for the Taliban.19
According to the group's official stance, Muslims operated under a covenant of security, which prohibited them from engaging in warfare against a state in which they were allowed to live peacefully, such as Britain. Butt, however, rejected that position and called for revolutionary violence within Britain and other Western states. Of the British recruits for the Taliban, he warned, "If they do return, I do believe they will take military action within Britain, [against] British military and government institutions, as well as British military and government individuals." Responding to the Madrid bombings, Butt expressed his "envy" of those responsible. He said, "It is my hope that by the age of forty I am a martyr—and if I hadn't I would probably be a bit dejected in not being among the martyrs of Islam." (He was twenty-four at this point.) Though not associated with the London subway attacks, Butt lived in the same section of Leeds as Shehzad Tanweer, one of the actual bombers.20
Nor was Butt unique. In a 2004 interview, the Muhajiroun leader in Luton pledged his support for suicide bombings within Great Britain: "When a bomb attack happens here, I won't be against it, even if it kills my own children. Islam is clear: Muslims living in lands that are occupied have the right to attack their invaders. Britain became a legitimate target when it sent troops to Iraq." The journalist recorded a bizarre conversation among Luton followers:
"As far as I'm concerned, when they bomb London, the bigger the better," says Abdul Haq, the social worker. "I know it's going to happen because Sheikh bin Laden said so. Like Bali, like Turkey, like Madrid—I pray for it, I look forward to the day." "Pass the brown sauce, brother," says Abu Malaahim, the IT specialist, devouring his chicken and chips. "I agree with you, brother," says Abu Yusuf, the earnest-looking financial adviser sitting opposite. "I would like to see the Mujahideen coming into London and killing thousands, whether with nuclear weapons or germ warfare. And if they need a safehouse, they can stay in mine—and if they need some fertilizer [for a bomb], I'll tell them where to get it."
While foreign Muslims should not strike an infidel nation that had treated them considerately, they felt that a covenant of security did not apply to Muslims born in those countries. "Most of our people, especially the youth, are British citizens. They owe nothing to the Government. They did not ask to be born here; neither did they ask to be protected by Britain."21
Such pronouncements persuaded even the British government that the group had passed beyond the limits of acceptable speech, but in a democratic state, merely banning a movement seldom silences it totally. Though the Muhajiroun were officially dissolved in 2004, the group went underground and was reactivated the following year, with an official declaration of armed support for "the global Islamic camp against the global crusade camp." The Muhajiroun continued to operate through a number of successors and front groups, including al-Ghurabaa', the Strangers. One leader of this group is Abu Izzadeen, who has called suicide bombing "martyrdom operations" and who terms the London subway attacks "completely praiseworthy." (Al-Ghurabaa' has also now been banned.) Another successor is the Savior Sect, the leader of which has proclaimed on television that "the banner has been risen for jihad inside the U.K."22
Other groups also manage, tenuously, to maintain footholds in both mainstream and extremist worlds. In Spain, one visible group is al-Murabitun, which was originally formed by New Age-oriented white
Europeans fascinated by Sufi mysticism, and European converts still provide most of its leaders. Murabitun representatives have appeared at major Islamic gatherings in Spain, including the 2003 conference held in Granada to celebrate the opening of the new mosque, an evocative return of the Muslim presence to one of its ancient capitals. But despite its apparent respectability, the group has a fanatical streak. The president of the mosque foundation calls himself the Emir of Spain and speaks of Granada returning to its "natural origin," that is Islam, after a five-hundred-year hiatus. The Murabitun organization is also obsessively anti-Jewish. Public policy statements concentrate on breaking Jewish control of the world financial system, and the Granada conference was dominated by bizarre calls for Muslims to restore the gold dinar as a global currency and thus to generate a Western economic crisis that would dwarf that of 1929.23
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