Two weeks ago I reported how Islamists had established a bridgehead in Parliament. A group called Engage (or iEngage) got itself appointed as the secretariat of a new all-party parliamentary group on Islamophobia. Islamophobia is rapidly emerging as the Islamists’ favoured new front – they have taken to conflating themselves with the entire Muslim community and damning any attacks on their tiny minority reading of Islam as an “Islamophobic” assault on the whole faith.
Engage is at the heart of this process, an organisation which specialises in defending fundamentalist bodies such as the East London Mosque and the Islamic Forum of Europe and attacking all criticism of them as “Islamophobic.”
It attacked the BBC’s recent Panorama documentary on racist Muslim schools – showing that some children are being taught anti-Semitism and Sharia punishments – as a “witch-hunt.” Typically, it launched its attack before even seeing the programme. It attacked me for writing about the East London Mosque’s hosting of the terrorist preacher, Anwar al-Awlaki, in 2009 – advertised with a poster showing New York under bombardment. It peddled the straightforward lie told by the mosque that no-one had realised Awlaki was a bad egg at that stage.
It wrote to the Home Secretary to protest against the ban on the extremist preacher, Zakir Naik, who has stated that “every Muslim should be a terrorist.” It attacked the Independent columnist, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, one of the country’s major voices of moderate Islam, for her opposition to the niqab and the burka.
Today, I am delighted to say, Engage has been dropped as the secretariat to the all-party group. I understand that a number of parliamentarians on the group threatened to resign once they were made aware of its true views and links. Congratulations to the Harry’s Place blog, Conservative Home and the former MP Paul Goodman for drawing attention to the issue, and keeping up the pressure.
As we have seen with the East London Mosque, Islamists have in the past won access to power by being dishonest about their objectionable views. Today’s news is the latest evidence that now that their tactics are being exposed, and the truth about them is being told, they are being consistently pushed back.
The spiritual leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula, Anwar al-Awlaki, has featured heavily in the coverage of the latest Islamist bomb plot against the West. He also radicalised Roshonara Choudhry, the East London Bangladeshi who has today been convicted of attempting to murder a Labour MP in protest at the Iraq war.
These are just the latest in a series of acts of Islamist violence and terrorism inspired by Awlaki. He met and was in email correspondence with Major Nidal Hassan, the alleged perpetrator of the Fort Hood massacre, whom he praised as a “hero.” He was visited by, and trained, Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the alleged underpants bomber. He was named as an inspiration by Faisal Shahzad, the attempted bomber of Times Square. Above all, he has been named by the US government as the inspiration for three of the 9/11 hijackers. They attended his sermons; two of them met him repeatedly and privately; and the US authorities believe he may have had foreknowledge of the attacks.
Some of the latest coverage has noted that Awlaki “lived in London” for a time – but with only one exception, yesterday’s Sun, the media has steered surprisingly clear of his close links with that well-known home of tolerance and moderation, the East London Mosque, and those self-proclaimed “democratic Muslims,” the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE), who control the mosque.
On 5 November 2008, the IFE’s community affairs co-ordinator, Azad Ali, described Awlaki as “one of my favourite speakers and scholars… I really do love him for the sake of Allah, he has an uncanny way of explaining things to people which is endearing.” (Mr Ali added that he disagreed with Awlaki’s views about not voting – but didn’t express any disagreement with his views about violence.)
Later, Mr Ali again praised Awlaki on his blog, saying: “Reading his blogs, one cannot help but feel his frustration at the constant denial of legitimate Islamic principles. Worse is the complete incompetence of some Muslims to distinguish between Jihad and acts of murder.” This post was the now-famous one in which Mr Ali endorsed the killing of British troops in Iraq.
Perhaps the coverage has avoided mentioning all this because of the East London Mosque’s systematic and blatant campaign of lying about its links with Awlaki – abetted, who knows, by threats from its favourite hair-trigger libel lawyers?
In a letter to The Times on 11 November 2009, the mosque’s assistant director, Shaynul Khan, stated: “Anwar Al-Awlaki did not give a lecture via video link at an event held at the East London Mosque on 1st January 2009.” This is completely untrue. In the letter, the mosque made a false semantic distinction between the East London Mosque and the London Muslim Centre. In fact, they are the same place; the London Muslim Centre is physically part of the mosque complex and is owned and managed by the mosque. The mosque’s hiring conditions make clear that it must approve all speakers and that “all publicity materials for the event must be submitted for approval” to the mosque.
In the East London Mosque’s response to my Dispatches programme on them and the IFE, it finally admitted that he had spoken there, but rolled out a new line of defence: that “there was no credible evidence at the time of the event that Awlaki might be an extremist.”
This statement is, again, transparently false. More than two months before the January 2009 meeting at the East London Mosque, Awlaki was described in a public speech 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.”
Awlaki was on a US terror watch list as early as 2002. As early as 18 December 2003, he was named in the House of Commons as being “reportedly wanted for questioning by the FBI in connection with the 9/11 al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.” He regularly featured in US media reporting, including on network TV news, as a terror suspect after this time. He was reportedly banned from the UK for his extremist links as early as 2006. In 2008, he praised the Somali terrorist group, al-Shabaab, on his website.
Incredibly, the chairman of the East London Mosque, Mohammed Abdul Bari, who is also a former president of the IFE, continues to defend hosting Awlaki. As recently as two weeks ago, he described the decision to host Awlaki as an act of “fairness and justice.”
There could be no clearer illustration of why the East London Mosque and the IFE should be beyond the pale of democratic politics. Yet these are the people who provided backing for the man who is now mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman.
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?