Fundamentalists in London politics: new links emerge

In March, we reported how a Muslim fundamentalist group, the Islamic Forum of Europe, had infiltrated Tower Hamlets council. One of the key allegations from many councillors was that the then leader, Lutfur Rahman, was helped into his position by a senior official of the IFE, who canvassed councillors on his behalf. In an interview with me, Mr Rahman refused to deny this charge – you can read the full transcript here.

You’ll notice that in our transcript we omitted the name of the IFE official – we just called him “Mr A.” This was on legal advice – we and all our sources were sure about his affiliations but we did not have enough evidence to connect him publicly to the IFE.

Today, however, we can reveal that “Mr A” is Hira Islam, a Tower Hamlets council officer, former trustee of the IFE-controlled East London Mosque, director of a number of IFE-linked companies and senior member of the IFE. Hira Islam’s was the name we put to Lutfur in the interview. His was the help and canvassing that Lutfur refused to deny receiving. Lutfur did deny, however, that Hira made any promises or threats to councillors on his behalf. Hira himself refused to comment, when approached.

We can give you Hira’s name thanks to Ted Jeory, the former deputy editor of the local paper, who has just posted on his excellent blog a transcript of a taped interview he did last year with the then president of the IFE, Mohammed Habibur Rahman. I’ve heard the tape myself, too. The IFE president states that “Hira Islam is part of IFE, of course he is… he is working with us.”

Another allegation, made by the local Labour MP, Jim Fitzpatrick, was that several Tower Hamlets councillors, as well as Lutfur Rahman, had connections to the IFE. We named one councillor at the time – Abjol Miah – as an IFE activist, because despite his denials we had substantial evidence for this. Last week, Miah lost a Press Complaints Commission complaint against us for describing him as an IFE activist.

Now, thanks to the same Mohammed Habibur Rahman interview, we can name another councillor who Mr Rahman states has “associations with” the IFE (though is “far too busy with his politics to do anything else.”) He is Alibor Choudhury, who under Lutfur Rahman’s leadership held the key job of cabinet member for employment and skills. Mr Choudhury is a former manager of another IFE-linked organisation, Nafas, which has received a great deal of money from Tower Hamlets council.

It’s good to be able to fill in some of these names at last. And it’s all still relevant. Although Lutfur Rahman was replaced as council leader after our expose, he wants to come back as Tower Hamlets’ first directly-elected Mayor. The selection for Labour’s candidate is on September 4 – an event which will be of very great importance for the future of non-sectarian politics in this part of Britain.

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The North London Mosque and the case of the pig's head

North London Central Mosque, in Finsbury Park
North London Central Mosque, in Finsbury Park

On the night of 19 July, a severed pig’s head was left on the railings of the North London Central Mosque, in Finsbury Park. It appears to have been a serious racist attack – pork is of course forbidden to Muslims – and it reportedly caused great offence to worshippers who discovered it when they arrived for early morning prayers. But some aspects of the mosque’s response to the incident have raised questions.

As I’ve reported, one of the mosque’s own former trustees, the Muslim Labour MP Khalid Mahmood, has asked the Home Secretary to investigate whether the mosque hosted the key al-Qaeda spiritual leader, Anwar al-Awlaki, and the alleged Detroit plane bomber, Farouk Abdulmutallab. The mosque fiercely denies it. The story first emerged in a post on the Spectator’s Coffee House blog on July 19 – the same day as the pig’s head incident.

The mosque seized on the timing. In a press release, it explicitly linked the pig’s head incident to the Spectator blog post and Mr Mahmood’s intervention. It also blamed Mr Mahmood for the attack in the local paper, the Islington Gazette.

Something about that rang alarm bells with me. It turns out that the blog was only published by the Spectator at 8.49pm on the night of the 19th. Do racists of the kind who would carry out such an attack obsessively read the Spectator blog? Could they have been so outraged by this relatively obscure and moderately-worded post that they immediately decided to rush out and attack the mosque? And how did they managed to get hold of a pig’s head in a few hours at 9pm?

Police sources tell me that there definitely was a pig’s head – it was recovered by their officers – and there is also some CCTV footage of two men carrying something and walking towards the premises, although it is too poor quality to show anything much. It doesn’t show anyone putting anything on the railings. As of last week, no-one has been arrested and there has been no response to their appeals for information about anyone seen with, or buying, a pig’s head.

The police do believe a crime took place – and no-one should minimise its seriousness – but they do not appear to connect it to the Mahmood criticism. Who actually placed that pig’s head there? And has the mosque been spinning, just a little?

IFE activist loses complaint against the Telegraph – then tries to pretend he's won!

A leading activist in George Galloway’s Respect Party and in the fundamentalist Islamic Forum of Europe, Abjol Miah, has lost his complaint to the Press Complaints Commission about the Telegraph’s description of him as an activist in the IFE.

Mr Miah, Respect’s leader on Tower Hamlets council, is no longer a councillor, and his party was all but wiped out, after he was exposed as an IFE activist by the Telegraph and Channel 4’s Dispatches. We also played the viewers a secretly-recorded tape of Mr Galloway, you might remember, saying that his election to Parliament in 2005 owed “more than I can say, more than it would be wise for me to say, to the IFE.”

Mr Miah complained about an article headlined “Is Respect the stupidest party in Britain?” He claimed that we had said that he was a member of the IFE, something he denied. Not so; we said he was an activist – as we have said many times before – and we produced what the PCC called “a substantial amount of on-the-record corroborative evidence” to prove it. Such as, for instance:

–         the fact that he was one of only four main presenters on the IFE’s radio station;

–         that he was described as a “member of the IFE” by John Rees, the former secretary-general of Respect;

–         that he was a former office-holder or senior figure in three IFE-linked organisations, the Young Muslim Organisation (the IFE’s youth wing), Blyda, and Elite Youth.

The PCC ruled: “The Commission did not consider that the complainant [Mr Miah] had been able to establish that the article had been significantly misleading or inaccurate on this point such that it warranted correction or clarification under the Editors’ Code.”

Both in our approaches to Mr Miah before publication, and in his initial complaints to the PCC, he carefully denied something – membership – that we never actually alleged. Activity in an organisation does not necessarily have to mean membership, as the dictionary will show. Later Mr Miah changed his denial to a denial of activism too, something we offered to add to the bottom of the story online. Mr Miah refused this offer, demanding an acknowledgement from the Telegraph that his denial should have been included in the original article and that it should have put evidence to him to back up its claim.

I did, of course, through Channel 4, put our evidence to Mr Miah. The PCC has rejected his demand for a retraction or correction, and said our offer of adding the denial is enough. The story stands – and can be seen here, here, here and here. We say again: Abjol Miah is an activist in the IFE. But we can still put your denial on, Abjol, if you like.

PS – Mr Miah and Respect have now greeted their defeat with what we might call the Lee Jasper approach – simply pretending that they in fact won and that we have been “slammed” by the PCC over our “slur.” The briefest reading of the PCC’s decision shows this to be a fantasy.

PPS – I have a slight feeling that Mr Miah will be receiving a bit more bad news very soon. Watch this space!

BNP in turmoil: Barnbrook resigns

Ex-BNP: Richard Barnbrook
Ex-BNP: Richard Barnbrook

Richard Barnbrook, the BNP’s London leader and its representative on the London Assembly, has today resigned the BNP label and will sit on the Assembly as an independent, I understand. This follows his sacking as the BNP’s Barking and Dagenham organiser three weeks ago after the party’s dismal performance in the May local elections.

Not very much noticed, the BNP is going through one of its periods of turmoil after its poor national election results in May, with Nick Griffin, its leader, fending off another leadership challenge this week.

Ken Livingstone: test YOUR knowledge in our handy quiz!

Quiz: Ken Livingstone
Quiz: Ken Livingstone

Ken Livingstone recently held a pub quiz to benefit his re-election campaign. Inspired by that, I’ve put together a little quiz of my own focusing on the many contributions London’s mayoralty has made over the years to the cause of progressive leadership. See if you can guess the answers!

1. Which mayor wrote that “the light regulation [of the City]… is the cornerstone of London’s success” and called for it to be “resolutely maintained against any challenges”?

2. Which mayor wrote that “professional institutional markets, such as New York and London, have the most sophisticated financial workforces in the world. These should be allowed to assess risk”?

3. Which mayor stated, through his spokesman, that he was “deeply opposed” to Labour’s plan to make non-dom financiers pay tax?

4. Which mayor described the conviction of the Met over the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes as “disastrous… at the end of the day mistakes are always going to be made in wars and situations like this”?

5. Which mayor used his planning powers to back controversial schemes from rich property developers, then took undeclared donations to his re-election campaign from the same developers?

6. Which mayor employed his partner as his City Hall office manager at a salary of almost £100,000?

7. Which mayor employed an aide who had to resign after paying £100,000 of GLA money to two organisations run by a married woman he wanted to “honey glaze?”

8. Which mayor raised bus fares by 25% in a single year?

9. Which mayor invented the cycle hire scheme?

10. Which mayor gave us the Oyster card?

Answers:

1. Ken Livingstone.    2. Ken Livingstone.   3. Ken Livingstone.   4. Ken Livingstone.   5. Ken Livingstone.   6. Ken Livingstone.   7. Ken Livingstone.  8. Ken Livingstone.   9. Betrand Delanoe, mayor of Paris.   10. None – the contract was signed and the money committed by the Government in 1998, before the creation of the Mayoralty.

North London Mosque: questions over terrorist preacher

Finsbury Park Mosque (Photo: Salim Fadhley/Wikipedia)
Finsbury Park Mosque (Photo: Salim Fadhley/Wikipedia)

I wrote last week in the paper about the dangers, as I saw it, of the belief by some in the security establishment that we can anoint “good Islamists” and use them as a bulwark against “bad Islamists.” The North London Central Mosque, in Finsbury Park, is perhaps Britain’s most important showpiece for this approach.

The mosque, formerly home to Abu Hamza and a centre of terrorist recruitment, was closed after a police raid in 2003 and reopened under new leadership in 2005 in a deal brokered by the Met’s Muslim Contact Unit, led at the time by an Islamist sympathiser, Robert Lambert. It was essentially gifted to an Islamist group, the Muslim Association of Britain. The new leadership were certainly more moderate than Abu Hamza – not terribly difficult – but they have close links with another designated terrorist group, Hamas.

The new leadership’s representative quoted in this BBC report, Azzam Tamimi, stated the previous year that he would be a suicide bomber (against Israelis): “If I had the opportunity, I would do it… Sacrificing myself for Palestine is a noble cause.” One of the mosque’s trustees is Mohammed Sawalha, described by the BBC’s Panorama as a former senior figure in Hamas who “is said to have masterminded much of Hamas’s political and military strategy” from his perch in London. Last year, Mr Sawalha also signed the Istanbul Declaration, which calls for attacks against the allies of Israel, which include the UK; the British Government interpreted it as calling for attacks on British troops.

That much is known; but over the last few months, the ground has started to shift, a little, under the leadership of the North London Central Mosque. One of its moderate, non-Islamist trustees, the Labour MP Khalid Mahmood, reported it to the Charity Commission and resigned after accusing the mosque of forging his signature on important legal documents. Now Mr Mahmood has asked a parliamentary question about whether a notorious extremist preacher, Anwar al-Awlaki, described as the spiritual leader of the 9/11 hijackers, was allowed to preach at the mosque, and whether he radicalised the alleged Christmas Day bomber, Farouk Abdulmutallab, there.

The allegation comes from a recent report on US National Public Radio, quoting “intelligence officials” as saying that Abdulmutallab “apparently attended a sermon at the Finsbury Park Mosque in the fall of 2006 or 2007. He went to listen to the man who would become his mentor and perhaps his al-Qaida recruiter: Awlaki.”

Listening to the NPR report, it does seem confused: it opens with a description of “the Whitechapel Road in London’s Finsbury Park district.” Whitechapel Road is not in Finsbury Park – it’s the address of the East London Mosque, a place where Awlaki undoubtedly did preach. Awlaki was also in detention in Yemen during the autumn of 2006 and the whole of 2007 – though the sermon allegedly delivered in London could have been taped.

The North Londoners have categorically denied that Awlaki came anywhere near them. “Neither Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab nor Anwar al-Awlaki has ever been invited to attend NLCM since we took charge of the mosque in February 2005,” they say. “We can be certain that neither man has been given a platform at the mosque in any form and in the case of Anwar al-Awlaki we can be confident that he would not have been able to enter the mosque without his presence being brought to our attention.” Does that “in any form” absolutely rule out a taped sermon, I wonder?

And now a second piece of evidence has emerged: in a new book about terror operations by Harry Keeble, a pseudonym for a serving police officer with “S” Squad, a support squad for covert operations sometimes involving anti-terrorism. The book, Terror Cops, states in passing that “Abdulmutallab also saw Awlaki at the Finsbury Park mosque.” Is “Keeble” just recycling the same reports that have been denied by the mosque? Or does the Met know more than they’re letting on?

The Guardian's latest Islamist press release

I appear to have written about The Guardian three days in a row – sorry about that – but the paper’s latest wretched press release for the forces of Islamism can’t go unmentioned.

The Guardian story consists of a number of Muslim groups complaining about being labelled “broadly sympathetic to Islamism” in a leaked list sent to the Home Office by Quilliam, the anti-extremist thinktank. This is, apparently, a “smear” and “like something straight out of a Stasi manual.”

One of the angry groups is the Muslim Safety Forum, a liaison body with the police, whose vice-chair, Fatima Khan, is quoted as saying: “[Quilliam’s] attack on the MSF is yet another example of their McCarthyism and desperation to ensure government funding. We deplore such tactics that seek to slander, divide and discredit genuine organisations.”

I wonder why the MSF chose its vice-chair to make this passionate denuniciation? Why didn’t it put up its newly-reappointed chair, Azad Ali? Perhaps it’s because Mr Ali is a self-proclaimed Islamist who describes al-Qaeda as a “myth” and who has stated, in undercover Channel 4 footage, that “democracy, if it means not implementing the sharia, of course nobody agrees with that.”

Perhaps it’s because Mr Ali is a senior official of the fundamentalist Islamic Forum of Europe – which works, in its own words, to create an Islamic state under sharia law in Europe. The IFE and the MSF share the same offices.

Perhaps it’s because Mr Ali was described by a High Court judge as a man who believed that “the killing of American and British troops in Iraq would be justified.”

Perhaps it’s because, on his IFE blog, Mr Ali has praised a key mentor of Osama bin Laden, strongly supported Hamas, and disputed that the Mumbai attacks were “terrorism.” (These entries have now been removed – but we have the hard copies.)

The MSF – and many of the other organisations listed by Quilliam – is strongly influenced by Islamism, and it’s very far from “McCarthyite,” “Stasi-like” or a “smear” to say so.

The latest story is part, no doubt, of the leaking and briefing war going on now about the role of non-violent Islamists in government – the subject of my weekly column in tomorrow’s paper. Some influential civil servants hold the naïve view that this revolutionary creed can be tamed through “engagement.” In fact, it can only be strengthened. Representatives of what is a relatively small and extreme minority of British Muslims have been anointed by the state as authentic, legitimate voices.

Luckily, ministers appear to disagree with the “engagement” approach. Let’s hope the MSF and the rest of them spend a very long time out in the cold.