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?

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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?

'Forgery' mosque: new developments

As we reported last month, a London mosque has been reported to the Charity Commission by one of its own trustees, a Muslim Labour MP, after he said it forged his signature on key legal documents.

In a letter obtained by The Sunday Telegraph, Khalid Mahmood said he had become “seriously concerned” about actions taken by his fellow trustees at the North London Central Mosque and called for a “full investigation” into what he called “a serious criminal offence.”

The mosque, which became notorious as the home of hate preacher Abu Hamza, was closed down by police in 2005 and reconstituted with a new board of trustees, including Mr Mahmood and another Muslim Labour MP, Mohammed Sarwar.

However, an alleged extremist and supporter of the banned terrorist group Hamas, Mohammed Sawalha, was also given a prominent place on the new board, causing tensions with moderate trustees such as Mr Mahmood and Mr Sarwar.

Mr Sawalha is described by the BBC 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.

Conflict has come to a head over a libel action launched by the mosque against the centre-right thinktank Policy Exchange, which claimed that extremist literature was found on the premises. In his complaint to the mosque and the Charity Commission, Mr Mahmood says that the libel case was launched without his or Mr Sarwar’s knowledge or consent.

“Neither I nor Mr Sarwar have been consulted with regards to the legal action against Policy Exchange,” he said. “To spend what I apprehend to be very substantial sums of money on libel proceedings is not in accordance with the charity’s governing document.” The case was thrown out by the judge, Mr Justice Eady, who ordered the mosque to pay Policy Exchange’s costs, but the mosque is appealing.

Mr Mahmood also said that his signature on a key legal document was forged by another trustee of the mosque, not Mr Sawalha. In his letter, he says: “My signature is said to appear on that document. That signature is a forgery. I understand another trustee to claim on oath that he forged my signature but did so with my authority. I have never given any such authority. I understand his actions constitute an offence under the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act… It appears that a serious criminal offence has occurred.”

At the time a spokesman for the other trustees, Mohammed Kozdar, told us: “The decision to take legal action against Policy Exchange was recorded in the board of trustees’ minutes which we send Mr Mahmood.” Asked about the allegation of forgery, he said: “As far as we know, he asked someone to sign on his behalf. I wasn’t aware he denies that. If he does, we need to find out who’s right.”

Now the mosque has replied in similar terms to Mr Mahmood’s complaint – prompting the MP to write back a further stiff letter. “I do not believe that I was sent minutes of the trustees’ meetings,” he says. And: “I have read and re-read your explanation for my forged signature on the Trust Deed… Your letter provides no explanation as to why my signature is forged, which is a serious criminal offence.”

The Charity Commission is now investigating. Watch this space for further news.