A leading imam in the mosque where the July 7 bombers worshipped has hailed their terrorist attack on London as a “good” act in a secretly taped conversation with an undercover reporter.
Hamid Ali, spiritual leader of the mosque in West Yorkshire, said it had forced people to take notice when peaceful meetings and conferences had no impact.
He also praised the bombers as the “children” of Abdullah al-Faisal, a firebrand Muslim cleric, who was convicted of inciting murder and racial hatred in 2003.
Ali revealed that the leader of the London suicide bombers had attended sermons in Yorkshire by al-Faisal and tapes of al-Faisal’s teachings were still circulating within his mosque.
Al-Faisal, who has branded non-Muslims as “cockroaches” ripe for extermination, is serving a seven-year prison sentence but is eligible for early release next week.
Evidence of continuing extremism and terrorist sympathisers in the bombers’ community has been exposed by a six-week investigation by The Sunday Times. It contrasts with the public statements of condemnation by community leaders—including Ali—in the immediate aftermath of the July 7 attacks.
The disclosures come as a Sunday Times-YouGov poll today shows that people are gloomy about the prospects of living in peaceful coexistence with Britain’s Muslim community. Nearly two-thirds, 63%, think that tensions will rise and only 17% are optimistic about the outlook. By 10 to one, 52% to 5%, people say that recent events have made them less tolerant of other religions.
How the July 7 bombers came to be radicalised has proved to be one of the biggest mysteries surrounding their involvement. Even the intelligence services are understood to be in the dark.
In an attempt to shed light on this, an undercover reporter of Bangladeshi origin, posing as a student, lived among the Muslim community in Beeston, Leeds, where three of the bombers—Mohammad Sidique Khan, Shehzad Tanweer and Hasib Mir Hussain—had grown up.
The community had closed ranks in the aftermath of the London attacks which killed 56 people, including the bombers. Besieged by the world’s media and fearing reprisals from far-right extremists, many people had refused to talk about the bombers.
However, among those now willing to condone the bombers was Ali, spiritual leader of the Al-Madina Masjid mosque in Tunstall Road, Beeston, where the bombers had worshipped.
A week after the attack he had told newspapers that the perpetrators ought to be punished. But in a secretly taped conversation, he said: “What they [the bombers] did was good. They have warned that we are here, we Muslims. People have taken notice that we are here. They died so that people would take notice . . . big meetings and conferences make no change at all. With this, at least people’s ears have pricked up.”
Describing the bombers as the “children” of “Sheikh” al-Faisal and part of his group of followers, the imam disclosed that al-Faisal had visited the Beeston mosque at least three times to give “lectures”.
The imam described al-Faisal as a good Islamic scholar who was also “fiery”. He said Khan had many of his audio tapes: “He had lots of them. He definitely used to listen to al-Faisal tapes. I borrowed some from him.”
He recalled Khan asking al-Faisal many questions during one of these lectures. Khan, a primary school teaching assistant, is believed to have received training at terrorist camps in Pakistan after al-Faisal was jailed.
The cleric’s visits to Beeston have been confirmed by Afzal Choudhary, a race equality worker in Leeds. He said: “Sheikh al-Faisal came at least twice to Beeston. I should know because I was one of the people opposed to his coming.”
Al-Faisal, a 42-year-old Jamaican-born convert, toured the country for almost a decade making inflammatory speeches which were recorded on video and audio and were then sold to his followers.
In one he singles out Mother Teresa and the royal family, saying they would burn in hell. In another he rants: “The only way forward is for you, the Muslims, to kill the kufrs (non-believers).”
This weekend it emerged that he could soon be freed from prison after becoming eligible for early release. His nine-year sentence had already been cut to seven years on appeal. According to a Home Office source, Charles Clarke, the home secretary, must decide within the next two weeks whether to let him go free after the judge at his trial recommended that he be deported after his time in jail.
If Clarke decides to deport him, al-Faisal will be able to appeal and live freely in Britain on bail while his case runs its course. The Home Office declined to comment on the specifics of the case yesterday.
Al-Faisal was born William Forest to a Salvation Army family in Jamaica and studied religion in Saudi Arabia before coming to Britain in the early 1990s. He lived in Stratford, east London, with his wife and five children before his arrest.
Through his “study circle” tours of Britain he came into contact with other prominent extremists. He is a close ally of the radical cleric Abu Hamza, who was jailed for seven years on Tuesday for soliciting murder and inciting racial hatred. Hamza was called to testify as a defence witness in al-Faisal’s trial and has shared a speaking platform with him.
He is alleged to have been close to Earnest James Ujaama, who was jailed in America for two years after confessing his role in setting up an Al-Qaeda training camp, allegedly with Hamza, in Oregon. Like Khan, Ujaama asked questions at al-Faisal’s lectures in Britain.
The cleric also preached in Tipton in the West Midlands. It is claimed that he may have helped to radicalise the so-called “Tipton terrorist” Munir Ali who travelled to Afghanistan and has subsequently disappeared.
Al-Faisal preached as well at a mosque in Brixton, south London, that was once attended by Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, and Zacarias Moussaoui, who is on trial in America facing allegations that he was the “20th hijacker” in the September 11 attacks.
Last week al-Faisal’s videos were still being circulated in Islamic communities, including Beeston. Anhar Gani, a community youth worker who knew the bombers and said he hoped they were “in heaven”, offered to lend some tapes to our undercover reporter.
Many of them have recently been reproduced as DVDs by Amar Iqbal, a Muslim activist from Ashton-under-Lyne, near Manchester. On Friday he said he only sold copies of al-Faisal sermons that were legal.
The Sunday Times was able to buy several from Rolex Books, a specialist Islamic bookshop in Rusholme, Manchester. Atif Darr, the shop’s joint owner, said there were plans to take over distribution of the DVDs when al-Faisal is released from prison.
The DVDs bought this week have covers with images such as atomic explosions and smoke rising from the White House. In one entitled Ideological Warfare, al-Faisal claims “unbelievers have tried to wipe Muslims off the face of the world” and tells the audience: “Christians and Jews will never accept you until you follow their evil and corrupted way of life.”
In another entitled Signs Before the Day of Judgment, he proclaims that British law was “put together by the henchmen of Satan, people who are gays and devil worshippers”.
The Sunday Times undercover operation in Beeston found that radical views had not subsided in the months after the London bombings. Many Muslims, particularly younger men, expressed admiration for the bombers’ “martyrdom”.
Confronted by The Sunday Times yesterday, Ali denied praising the bombers. When asked whether he believed that their actions were good, he said: “I don’t know what they died for, that’s what I said . . . According to our faith, everything depends on what their intention is. I don’t know what their intention is.”