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?