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Jan 14, 2005 | 01:29 GMT

4 mins read

A Militant Call to Action in Britain

The leader of the now-defunct, British-based Islamist radical/militant group al-Muhajiroun (The Emigrants) has called on British Muslims to "join the global Islamic camp against the global crusade camp." Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, speaking at a conference in London that drew some 600 people, also warned of possible attacks within Britain.

"The response from the Muslims will be horrendous if the British government continues in the way it treats Muslims," he told United Press International (UPI), adding that suicide bombings were a possibility. Muhammad spoke at the Jan. 10 conference, titled "The Role of Muslims Nowadays," ostensibly organized by Women's Dawah U.K., though featuring speakers from al-Muhajiroun, a group that officially disbanded in October 2004.

Muhammad — a wanted fugitive in his native Syria — is known for his fiery, often-militant rhetoric. This latest call to action, however, represents a break from his earlier stance in that it directly threatens attacks against Britain.

He accused the British government of betraying its security covenant with Muslims, claiming that the betrayal now makes the country a legitimate front in the jihadist war. His wrath apparently stems from anti-terrorism legislation, British cooperation with the United States and recent security crackdowns that have led to the imprisonment of Muslims.

Al-Muhajiroun has been in disarray since the government crackdown and scrambling to restore its identity. As such, Muhammad's rather extreme departure from his previous rhetoric also can be viewed as an act of desperation from a man grasping at straws to keep his group relevant. However, he told UPI at the conference that al-Muhajiroun and other groups no longer are needed, and that Muslims should form a new coalition united behind al Qaeda, with Osama bin Laden as their leader. Al-Muhajiroun always has been considered to have more bark than bite, even within Islamist militant circles. As a result, it has been a marginal voice in the larger British Muslim community. Although al-Muhajiroun for the most part has served as a cheerleading group for al Qaeda and its jihadist allies, a number of developments over the past two years lend credence to the idea that the group has served as an ideological incubator for some militants who went on to stage attacks or to support attacks. For example:

  • Suicide bomber Asif Hanif, a British-born man of South Asian decent, killed four people in Tel Aviv on April 29, 2003. Omar Khan Sharif, Hanif’s accomplice, failed to detonate his bomb. Muhammad has claimed openly that both men attended his study circles, he knew them well and he supports their actions.
  • In April 2004, the FBI arrested Mohammed Junaid Babar, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Pakistan and a resident of Queens, N.Y. He has admitted to being an al Qaeda agent who gathered funds and military equipment for the jihadist network’s operatives in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Babar spent time as a novice with al-Muhajiroun’s New York chapter.
  • Momin Khawaja, a Canadian man arrested March 29, 2004, and charged along with six Britons with conspiracy to commit an act of terror in Britain, has been found to have ties to Babar and al-Muhajiroun.
  • British authorities said that 22-year-old Hasan Butt, a prominent member of al-Muhajiroun, was arrested Dec. 4, 2004, in Manchester and was being questioned under anti-terrorism laws. Butt claims he recruited hundreds of British Muslims to fight for the Taliban during the early stages of allied military operations in Afghanistan.
  • The U.S. military said in early January that it is holding Mobeen Muneef, 25, a London native captured by a Marine patrol unit Dec. 7, 2004, in Ar Ramadi, Iraq. He also is linked to al-Muhajiroun. These examples suggest that al-Muhajiroun at least has inspired some militant activity, even if Muhammad has had no direct control over such operations. The conference succeeded in attracting 600 people, despite its rather caustic content, which suggests that there is a healthy base of support for such discourse within Britain. Furthermore, Muhammad himself rose to notoriety by displaying well-honed persuasive powers. Given these facts, it is possible that some in the Islamist militant realm could turn his talk into action. If so, British security forces could have their hands full.
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