Posts Tagged ‘al muhajiroun’

After a period of silence, a couple of new pieces, the first for the CTC Sentinel, West Point’s excellent counter-terrorism journal. This one looks at the pernicious influence of al Muhajiroun, Anjem Choudhary and Omar Bakri Mohammed’s group across Europe. It is a subject a lot more could be written about, and the volume of information is simply massive, but at the same time there is only limited space here. The topic will become more relevant again when Anjem and Mizanur’s trial comes about, and maybe around then something else could be done on the topic.

Beyond this, had a few media conversations in the past weeks. Will save the ones around the incident at the weekend on the Thalys train for the next post, but I spoke to the South China Morning Post about the bombing in Bangkok and some Chinese terror arrests, the Telegraph about the death of the last of the Portsmouth cluster of British jihadi’s in Syria/Iraq, the Daily Mail about the plan to use soldiers in cases of emergency on UK streets, the Times about the death of Muhsin al Fadhli in Syria, and the New York Times for a large piece they did about ISIS recruitment in the UK.

Al-Muhajiroun’s European Recruiting Pipeline

August 21, 2015
Author(s): Raffaello Pantucci

On August 5, 2015 Anjem Choudary and Mizanur Rahman appeared in court to be charged and detained without bail. Initially arrested September 24, 2014, the men had been free on bail as investigators dug into their histories.[1] When the decision to formally arrest and charge was made, the Crown Prosecution Service charged the men with inviting ”support for a proscribed terrorist organization, namely ISIL, also known as ISIS or the Islamic State, contrary to section 12 Terrorism Act 2000.”[2] The specific charges seemed to crystallize a reality that was increasingly observable across Europe that the various groups associated with the al-Muhajiroun (ALM) constellation of organizations were at the heart of current European recruitment networks sending radicals to fight in Syria and Iraq.

A long-standing feature of Europe’s extremist landscape, the al-Muhajiroun family of organizations is one that has been linked to a variety of terrorist organizations. One survey of plots linked to the group in the UK concluded that of 51 incidents and plots emanating from the UK from the late 1990s until 2013, 23 were linked to the group.[3] Britain’s first known suicide bomber in Syria, Abdul Waheed Majid, had been a feature at group events since the 1990s.[4] A similar French organization Forsane Alizza was disbanded after Mohammed Merah’s murderous rampage in 2012, while one of their associates Oumar Diaby ended up heading a French brigade in Syria.[5] The group’s tentacles and links reach across the continent and are increasingly showing up at the sharper end of the terrorist threat that Europe is facing.

Al-Muhajiroun’s European History

Al-Muhajiroun (the emigrants) was born in Europe in February 1996 when Omar Bakri Mohammed Fostok (hereon Omar Bakri) was ejected from the organization Hizb ut Tahrir (HuT) in the UK. A long-term HuT activist, Omar Bakri arrived in the United Kingdom in 1984 having fled Saudi Arabia where his activities as an Islamist activist clashed with the state. In the UK he sought political asylum and soon rose to public prominence through his willingness to make provocative statements at any opportunity to any available media outlet.[6] The birth of ALM in 1996 was likely the product of this style of leadership and media management clashing with the traditionally low-key and secretive HuT. The founding of ALM unleashed Omar Bakri, with the group ramping up its provocative actions and organizing an International Islamic Conference on September 8, 1996 to which Osama bin Laden, Abdullah Azzam, and many other jihadi leaders were purportedly invited. The event was cancelled at the last minute, though the publicity it generated in terms of media coverage and a documentary about Omar Bakri entitled “Tottenham Ayatollah” likely served the organization’s initial intent to attract attention.[7]

Present in the background of the documentary is Anjem Choudary, at the time a lawyer who was working as Omar Bakri’s assistant. Over time, his role evolved and in the wake of the London bombings of 2005, when Omar Bakri chose to flee the country,[8] Choudary took over as UK leader for the group. A few months prior to Omar Bakri’s departure, the group announced its dissolution in an attempt to get ahead of security services, with a series of sub-groups emerging largely reflecting the same ideology as ALM with Choudary effectively at the helm. In the wake of the attacks, British authorities focused on the group, adding the sub-groups to the proscribed terror list at various points and seeking greater powers to restrict their ability to operate. The group, however, has continued to operate with the leadership remaining fairly constant. This became most prominently visible in around 2009 when the group adopted the name Islam4Uk, which was proscribed a year or so later.

This style of nomenclature was soon seen replicated across Europe with Shariah4Belgium, Shariah4Holland, Shariah4Denmark, Shariah4Italy, Shariah4Finland, and even briefly Shariah4Poland. In France a group called Forsane Alizza (Knights of Pride) emerged as the local clone of the group (sometimes using Shariah4France) and in Germany Millatu Ibrahim (the religious community of Ibrahim, a name drawing on the title of a book by Muhammad al Maqdisi) took on the mantle. Millatu Ibrahim is a name that has since appeared in Norway, Holland, and Denmark as well). In Scandinavia, Profetens Ummah (the Umma of the Prophet) represents the ideology in Norway and Kadet til Islam (Call to Islam) is the lead group in Denmark.

All of these groups adopted a narrative and approach clearly modeled on ALM, and in many cases this was allegedly the product of direct contact and training by Choudary. For example, in March 2013, he visited Helsinki, Finland where he spoke alongside Awat Hamasalih, a British national of Kurdish origin from Birmingham, at an event organized by Shariah4Finland to celebrate the tenth anniversary of local Iraqi radical leader Mullah Krekar’s incarceration.[9] Choudary reciprocated this generous hosting, inviting Hamasalih to speak when he was back in the UK.[10]

This example of travel is representative of Choudary’s contacts with affiliate groups, and there are reports that he and other key ALM members travelled around Europe to support their events.[11] Similarly, there are reports that key individuals from regional affiliates have come to London. And there are multiple reports of Choudary (and Omar Bakri) preaching to supporters in Europe over PalTalk using web cameras and interactive online messaging.[12] Both Choudary and Mizanur Rahman  have also communicated extensively with supporters over Twitter.[13]

In terms of how Choudary sees his role with these groups, some clarity is provided in his supportive comments towards his Norwegian clone Profetens Ummah:

I have regular contact with Hussain and Ibraheem (two group leaders). There are no administrative links between us, but I am a mentor and adviser for them. There are many people who claim they represent Islam, but I see the Prophet’s Umma as one of the few voices in Europe that speak the truth about Islam without compromise.[14]

Choudary helped Profetens publish videos and develop a style to preach and call people to their radical brand of Islam.[15]

In other contexts people reached out to Choudary having heard about him in the press. Anas el-Abboubi was a young man born in Morocco who moved to Italy when he was young. An up-and-coming rapper, he was featured on MTV Italia as one to watch under his rap nom-de-music MC Khalif. This lifestyle, however, seemed unappealing to him and instead he was drawn to violent Islamist ideas and began an online conversation with Choudary over social media in which he asked for his advice about how he could advance radical ideas in Italy. El-Abboubi also participated in PalTalk sessions led by the group’s creator Omar Bakri and he bought plane tickets to visit the Shariah4Belgium group who he had also connected with online.

Soon after this, el-Abboubi established Shariah4Italy, a short-lived organization that seemed to flourish and shrink with its founder.[16] By October 2013 he fled Italy to join the Islamic State along a route that took him through Albania. The degree of influence that Choudary had over his decision-making process is unclear from the public domain, but it is clear that he and ALM had some influence over the young man, something exemplified by his establishing of Shariah4Italy despite a background in Italy that was largely detached from extremist ideologies and groups.

The Current Picture

There increasingly appears to be a consensus across European security agencies that Choudary’s group plays a role in networks that provide new recruits to fight in Syria and Iraq. In both the 2013 and 2014 TE-SAT Terrorism Situation and Trends report issued by Europol, the agency depicted  “al-Muhajiroun and its latest incarnation the Sharia4 movement” as being a driver for people to go and fight in Syria and Iraq.[17] Watching a pan-European trend, Europol observed:

some salafist individuals and groups in the EU, such as the Sharia4 movement, seem to have heeded the advice of prominent jihadist ideologues to stop their controversial public appearances in Europe….instead, they have been encouraged to participate in what these ideologues describe as a ‘jihad’ against un-Islamic rule in Muslim countries.[18]

There is further evidence of Omar Bakri playing an active role in helping people go fight in Syria. This is evident in the case of Shariah4Belgium,[19] a clone established in 2010 after Fouad Belkacem, a Moroccan-Belgian who had served some time in prison for theft and fraud, came to the UK to learn about how “to start something in Belgium.” Drawn to the bright light of Choudary’s celebrity, Belkacem listened as the established Briton “went through the history of ALM, how we set it up.”[20] The Belgian took the lessons to heart and returned to establish a similarly confrontational organization back home. Choudary and others were occasional visitors and both Choudary and ALM “godfather” Omar Bakri would provide online classes for the group in Belgium.[21]

In 2011, one of Shariah4Belgium’s core members left Belgium to seek out their mentor Omar Bakri in Lebanon. Now formally excluded from the United Kingdom by the Home Secretary, Omar Bakri continued to draw journalists and radicals from across the world. Nabil Kasmi was one of these young men, arriving in Lebanon as the conflict in Syria was catching fire. He returned to Belgium a few months later, but then in March 2012 headed off to the Levant again, this time going through Lebanon to Syria.[22]

At around the same time, another group associated with Shariah4Belgium were intercepted traveling to Yemen on suspicion of trying to join a terrorist group. Nabil Kasmi’s success, however, highlighted the options offered by the conflict in Syria.[23] In August he returned to Europe, only to leave again on August 20, this time followed days later by a cluster of some five members from the group who all ended up fighting with the Islamic State in Syria.[24] Over time, more and more of the group went to Syria, drawing on their Belgian and other European contacts from the broad ALM family of organizations. The exact numbers are unclear, but it is believed that at least 50 Belgian fighters in Syria and Iraq have roots in Shariah4Belgium.[25]

One of the few who failed to travel to Syria or Iraq was Fouad Belkacem, who was instead jailed in February 2015 for 12 years for recruiting and radicalizing people to go fight in Syria and Iraq.[26] On trial with another 47 people (the majority of which failed to appear in court as they were believed to be fighting or dead in the Levant), Belkacem’s trial seemed to be the capstone in the story of ALM’s European links to the battlefield in Syria and Iraq.

European Plotting?

What is not yet completely clear is the degree to which these networks are ones that are producing terrorist plots back in Europe. There are growing numbers of plots being disrupted in Europe with links to the battlefield in Syria and Iraq, though it remains uncertain whether these are being directed by the Islamic State or other groups from their safe haven in Syria and Iraq. Some plots, like that in Verviers, Belgium and at least one of those in the UK, are reported by authorities to show clear evidence of connections to the battlefield, but the nature of these links remains somewhat opaque.[27]

Looking to the ALM-associated networks across Europe, it remains unclear the degree to which they have thus far been credibly associated with attack planning. Reports around the January raid in Verviers, suggested some possible linkages (especially given the timing near Fouad Belkacem’s trial), but they have yet to be confirmed publicly.[28]

What has been seen, however, is the emergence of lone actor-style terrorism on the periphery of the group’s networks. A case in point is that of Brusthom Ziamani in the UK. Ziamani was a troubled teenager who sought out Anjem Choudary and his friends as a surrogate family. Having tried to ingratiate himself with the group and even considering travel to Syria, Ziamani instead decided to emulate his heroes Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale and their murder of British soldier Lee Rigby in 2013. Taking a knife, axe, and Islamist flag, Ziamani was planning on butchering a member of the security forces before police intercepted him.[29] He was convicted of attempted murder and plotting to commit a terrorist act, and sentenced to 27 years incarceration.[30] There is no clear evidence that Ziamani told Choudary what he was going to do, but Ziamani’s case has been championed by ALM-associated Twitter accounts in the UK.[31]

In contrast, on the battlefield, individuals associated with ALM- related organizations appear in a number of both prominent and less high-profile roles. Reflecting their preference for noisy self-promotion and in-your-face dawa (proselytization), many are active on social media. One particularly prominent figure in this regard was Rahin Aziz, who fled to Syria after being sought in conjunction with an assault on a football fan in the UK. In Syria he quickly aligned himself with the Islamic State, and started to actively post across social media platforms. Among images to emerge were ones of him posing with weapons with Denis Cuspert, a prominent member of the German al-Mujahiroun linked group Millatu Ibrahim.[32]

For Aziz, the connection to ALM was instrumental in helping him build his networks in Syria and Iraq, as well as highlighting how interconnected the community across Europe was. In a conversation over Twitter he reported:

when I came to sham the amount of brothers from other countries who recognized me and agreed n even said were by us….what we did with demos etc aided the jihad, global awareness etc which motivated many to go fight jihad.[33]

Prior to going to the Levant, he reported going to:

Belgium many times, delivered lectures and me met from Europe there….many 3-4 times….France twice….Holland where we took part in a conference about khilafah…I knew the brothers from Germany….Their ameer abu usama al Ghareeb contacted me when he came out of prison….he asked me to do some videos for them….met Denmark guys in Belgium even in UK they came to visit us.[34]

It was a network fostered in Europe maturing and re-networking on the battlefield in the Levant.

Others seem to have taken to the battlefield to undertake activities largely similar to those they were carrying out previously in the United Kingdom. For example, Siddartha Dhar, a Hindu convert also known as Abu Rumaysah, was arrested alongside Anjem Choudary in September 2014. However, unlike his teacher, he took his passport and jumped on a bus to Paris with his pregnant wife and family, the first leg in a journey that ended with him living under the Islamic State a month later. In typical ALM style, Dhar decided to alert authorities to his presence through the posting of a photo of himself holding an AK-47 in one hand and his newborn baby in the other. Since then, Dhar has periodically re-emerged on Twitter and other social media, and in May 2015 became prominent once again when a book was published under his kunya (jihadi name) about life under the Islamic State.[35]

These are only a few of the men and women to have gone to join the Islamic State from the ALM networks. Exact numbers are difficult to know, but certainly from the UK alone, more than a dozen prominent individuals from these networks have gone over, while others have attempted to go. What remains worrying is that there continues to be a community of activists associated with these groups who are seeking to go fight in Syria and Iraq, and also that the pool of support in Europe remains fairly constant.

One illustration of this is that in the wake of the reports of Rahin Aziz’s death in a U.S. strike, a sweet shop in East London issued candies celebrating his martyrdom and a vigil was held for him that appeared to show a few dozen people praying in his honor.[36] A few days later, three men were arrested in the Luton area.[37] One was released while the other two (an uncle and nephew) were charged with plotting to carry out a terrorist attack in the UK intended to attack and kill military personnel.[38] Some reports suggested the plot was an attempted beheading of a U.S. serviceperson in revenge for Aziz’s death.[39] Details are unclear, though the men were allegedly also attempting to go to the Islamic State, and the case is working its way through the courts and is likely to come to trial in 2016.[40]

Conclusion

The arrest and charging of Anjem Choudary and his principal acolyte Mizanur Rahman is a significant moment in ALM’s history. The group has developed from its early days when London was a center of jihadist thinking with ALM at its core, drawing in radicals from across Europe and around the world. Since the prominence ALM achieved in the late 2000s, it has now become a net exporter organization around Europe, still drawing people to London, but then also watching as they return home to establish affiliate networks and communities. This European generation of ALM supporters is increasingly proving to be at the heart of Europe’s radical Islamist community connected with Islamic State and the conflict in Syria and Iraq. Given the volumes of plots that have emerged from these networks in the past in the United Kingdom in particular, it seems likely that similar problems are likely to emerge from the European ALM networks.

Raffaello Pantucci is Director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and the author of We Love Death As You Love Life: Britain’s Suburban Terrorists (UK: Hurst/US: Oxford University Press). You can follow him at @raffpantucci.

[1] In March 2014, Choudary and other ALM activists had been identified in a set of protests in London clearly inspired by the Islamic State. Dipesh Gadher, “Preacher Anjem Choudary investigated over ‘road show’ linked to jihadists,” Sunday Times, March 9, 2014 .

[2] Statement by Metropolitan Police, August 5, 2015 .

[3] Dominic Kennedy, “Radical al-Muhajiroun group is behind most UK terror plots,” Times, March 21, 2015.

[4] Morten Storm, Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister, Agent Storm: A Spy Inside al-Qaeda, (London: Penguin, March 2015), p. 334.

[5] Olivier Tocser, “Les Secrets d’un Emir,” Le Nouvel Observateur, March 20, 2014.

[6] Memorably on November 12, 1991 he told The Mail on Sunday: “‘John Major [then Prime Minister] is a legitimate target. If anyone gets the opportunity to assassinate him, I don’t think they should save it. It is our Islamic duty and we will celebrate his death.”

[7] The documentary is available online, and was recounted in a chapter in Jon Ronson, Them (London: Picador, 2001). Ronson was also the director of the documentary.

[8] “Cleric Bakri ‘will return’ to UK,” BBC News, August 9, 2005.

[9] Mullah Krekar, the founder of the Ansar al Islam movement that was involved in fighting in Iraq, is an infamous radical preacher with whom Choudary has developed a link. Laura Helminen, “Radical Muslim Preacher Spoke in Helsinki,” Helsingin Sanomat, March 13, March 28, 2013.

[10]. In January 2015, authorities in Finland sought to eject Hamasalih. According to coverage around this time, Hamasalih, in contrast to most Kurds, was not seeking nationhood with his activity, but instead “his goal [was] jihad, an Islamic caliphate, and sharia, the law of Islam”  as the local newspaper said. Anu Nousiainen: “Finland Expelled Radical Extremist From Turku to UK – ‘Serious Threat to Public Security,’” Helsingin Sanomat, January 15, 2015.

[11] See Ben Taub, “Journey to Jihad,” New Yorker, June 1, 2015.

[12] Shortly prior to their arrest, Rahman and Choudary (alongside others), made a PalTalk video in which they answered questions from an American audience. Similar videos have been made for European audiences.

[13] There has been no comprehensive mapping of ALM’s online links and contacts, but almost all of the prominent members (in Syria and Iraq or back in Europe) have accounts and numerous others who aspire to be involved in these groups’ proselytization create accounts that are very similar. The best sense of outreach and effectiveness of this online contact is suggested in the fact that Choudary has 32.9K followers on Twitter, while Rahman has 29K. Of course, number of followers does not equate to contact and influence, but both are very active online and respond to people’s questions and contacts.

[14] Andreas Bakke Foss, “British Extremist Calls Himself a Mentor for Norwegian Islamists,” Aftenposten, March 3, 2013.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Lorenzo Vidino, Home-Grown Jihadism in Italy: Birth, Development and Radicalization Dynamics, (Milan: Istituto per gli Studi di Politica Internazionale, 2015), pp. 63-67.

[17] European Union Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2014, (The Hague: Europol, 2014), p. 21.

[18] Ibid, p.23.

[19] Paul Cruickshank, “A View from the CT Foxhole: Interview with Alain Grignard,”  CTC Sentinel,  8:8 (August, 2015).

[20] Taub.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] J. La. Avec Belga, “Sharia4Belgium qualifie de groupe terroriste, 12 ans de prison pour Fouad Belkacem,” La Libre, February 11, 2015.

[27] Paul Cruickshank, Steve Almasy, and Deborah Feyerick, “Source: Belgium terror cell has links to ISIS, some members still at large,” CNN, January 17, 2015.

[28] “Aantal radicalen in Wallonie wordt onderschat,” Het Laatste Nieuws, January 16, 2015.

[29] Tom Whitehead, “Brusthom Ziamani: the former Jehovah’s Witness who was radicalised within weeks,” Telegraph, February 19, 2015; Prosecution Opening Note, Regina vs. Brusthom Ziamani, Central Criminal Court, February 9. 2015.

[30] Regina vs Brusthom Ziamani, Sentencing Remarks of HHJ Pontius, Central Criminal Court, March 20, 2015.

[31] Tweet from @muslimprisoners, January 5, 2015 3:06pm

[32] Also known as Deso Dogg or Abu Talha al-Almani, Cuspert was a prominent German former rap star turned jihadi and activist for German ALM equivalent Millatu Ibrahim. He was one of several Miltatu Ibrahim figures to travel Syria. The Austrian founder of the group Mohammed Mahmoud was one of Cuspert’s close contacts. Mahhmoud left home aged 17 in 2002 to train in an Ansar al-Islam camp in Iraq. After his return to Europe he played a major role in the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF), a source for non-Arabic language translations of jihadi material. In 2007 he was arrested by authorities, leading to a four year jail sentence. On his release he moved to Berlin and founded Millatu Ibrahim, which rapidly became the center of Germany’s Salafi scene. In 2012 he fled to Egypt before becoming a senior figure in the insurgency in Syria. He  is now considered one of the most senior figures in the German and European foreign fighter contingent, helping produce the Islamic State propaganda magazine Dabiq and al-Hayat media center releases. He is believed to continue to draw on his ALM-linked European contacts to recruit. See “In Search of ‘True’ Islam: Salafists Abandon Germany for Egypt,” Der Spiegel, August 13, 2002; Souad Mekhennet, “Austrian Returns, Unrepentant, to Online Jihad,” New York Times, November 15, 2011; Petra Ramsauer, “Mohamed Mahmoud: A Holy Warrior’s Book,” Profil, August 17, 2015.

[33] Author archive: Twitter conversation between Secunder Kermani and Rahin Aziz.

[34] Author archive: Twitter conversation between Secunder Kermani and Rahin Aziz.

[35] “New Brit propaganda guide by Brit sells ‘Costa’ caliphate,” Channel 4, May 19, 2015.

[36] Tweet with pictures by @TawheedNetwrk July 8, 2015 4:41pm

[37] “Three in terror-related arrests in Luton and Letchworth,” BBC News, July 14, 2015.

[38] “Man charged with US military terrorist plot,” Sky News, July 21, 2015.

[39] Mike Sullivan, “Foiled: British terror attacks in days,” Sun, July 14, 2015.

[40] “Man charged with US military terrorist plot,” Sky News, July 21, 2015.

Advertisements

With apologies for the silence, it has been a very busy and hectic time in a number of different directions. Things ramping up in many different ways for the end of the year, so am only now getting around to posting my latest journal article for my institutional home’s in-house publication the RUSI Journal. It looks at Lone Actor terrorism in the UK in the wake of the Woolwich attack, something that abruptly became very relevant again recently as a result of a number of disparate attacks in Canada and now Australia. More on this topic to come.

Over the past few weeks have also spoken to a few journalists, including the Los Angeles Times about the UK’s counter-radicalisation efforts, the Financial Times and Jewish Chronicle about the difficulties posed to counter-terrorists across Europe due to the free movement around the EU, to the Guardian about the ongoing chaos in Libya, to NBC about ISIS, and the Financial Times and Telegraph about events in Sydney and lone actors. On the other side of the docket, spoke to Bloomberg about the Silk Road Economic Belt and Li Keqiang’s visit to Kazakhstan, to Voice of America about Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive in the wake of the charging of Zhou Yongkang, and to the Associated Press and South China Morning Post about terrorism in Xinjiang. Finally, I was on the BBC’s Newsnight about the Sydney attack last night, which can be seen here for the next month.

The RUSI Journal article is freely available online here, and rather than post it on this site

A Death in Woolwich: The Lone-Actor Terrorist Threat in the UK

RUSI Journal, Oct 2014, Vol. 159, No. 5 

By Raffaello Pantucci

OBM RUSI Journal

Recent events in Syria and Iraq have shown in horrifying starkness the increased participation of British jihadists in terrorist fighting in the Middle East. In response, many have called for increased measures against home-grown radicals, to prevent them from travelling abroad to fight for the Islamist cause and, crucially, to stop them from carrying out attacks upon their return. Raffaello Pantucci analyses the difficulties of identifying potential terrorists among the many individuals who move within radical Islamist circles, and the even more challenging task of pinpointing those susceptible to self-radicalisation who could, without direct guidance, carry out dangerous acts of lone-actor terrorism.

After a while’s silence due to some larger projects I am working on finishing and other reasons, here is a new piece for my institutional home RUSI looking at the news that a Briton has carried out a suicide operation in Syria. I have done interviews around this subject for CNN, The Times, as well as a video for RUSI. I also talked to DW about Syria, VoR about groups using ransom money, Sky on TPIMs and the Daily Beast about the news Brits were possibly videoed torturing someone in Syria. An expanded version of the below piece is going to appear early next week with lots more detail about Abdul Wahid Majid’s background.

Syria’s First British Suicide Bomber: The UK Jihadist Backdrop

RUSI Analysis, 14 Feb 2014

By Raffaello Pantucci, Senior Research Fellow

The revelation that the Syrian conflict has perhaps claimed its first British suicide bomber poses urgent questions for the UK radical group from which he came, and the threat from extremists radicalised over a long period of time.

AbdulWahidMajeed

Abdul Waheed Majid, who allegedly died in Syria last week, is not the first British suicide bomber. If the claims of his activism with al Muhajiroun are proven to be correct, then he is also not the first activist from within this groupto have decided to kill himself in a foreign conflict.

The news, however, calls into question the actual danger and risk posed by such long term hardened communities of radicals associated with the provocative group, al Muhajiroun. Last year saw the brutal attack by Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, individuals who had also featured on the fringes of al Muhajiroun events for some time. Now the UK has seen its first, suicide bomber in Syria associated with the group.  Previous suicide bombers linked at least peripherally to the group have killed themselves in Pakistan and Israel. All of which calls into question the viability and sagacity of the current approach that seems to simply manage al Muhajiroun rather than conclusively deal with it in any particular way.

Abdul Waheed Majid had been a feature of al Muhajiroun circles in Crawley in the late 1990s and early 2000s at least, and was spotted by self-confessed group member and later government witness Mohammed Junaid Babar at a meeting of radicals in Crawley in late 2002.

The group he met with n Crawley was made up of at least two men who went on to be convicted of serious terrorist plotting in the UK. Others included one man who died in a drone strike in Pakistan and his brother who was later placed on a control order. They were there to hear, by Mohammed Junaid Babar’s account, preacher Abdulla el Faisal (who has since been jailed and then deported), hook-handed preacher Abu Hamza (who is currently fighting a case in the US having served time in the UK) and Ausman Ali – a preacher who has not been convicted in any terrorist investigations and was a regular traveller on aid convoys to Syria. As well as speeches, the men watched martyrdom videos filmed by the11 September 2001 hijackers.

After 9/11, al-Muhajiroun continued to maintain its provocative stance, holding meetings with particularly inflammatory titles like the one describing the 11 September  attackers as ‘the magnificent nineteen.’Over time, al Muhajiroun changed its name on numerous occasions, each time operating under a new name until the government added them to a proscribed list. And over the years, individuals associated with these groups have repeatedly been convicted in terrorist operations. Richard Dart and Mohammed Chowdury are two prominent examples, though the list is far longer than this and is gone into some detail in a recent report published by Hope Not Hate. Whether individuals are active members at the time of conviction is not always clear, but their journey through the group is well documented.

Is ‘al-Muhajiroun’ Nurturing Fighters for the Long-Term?

Abdul Wahid Majid’s case presents two problems. In the first instance: his age and persistence. The fact he waited after almost 15 years of activism and participation in foreign battlefields before deciding to conduct a suicide operation is significant.

This highlights how ingrained his beliefs were, and while it may be true that his ultimate decision was to conduct an operation abroad, he nevertheless remained a dedicated extremist involved in known circles for almost 15 years, meaning he would have been known to  security services for much of this time. The case of Michael Adebolajo is instructive of a long-term extremist can become a problem at home. A feature of al Muhajiroun events since the mid-2000s, he tried to go and fight abroad and retained his extreme ideas for almost eight years before finally deciding on action.

The second issue is the broader group around al Muhajiroun. The problem there is more complicated. Clearly the group provides an ideological backdrop that is stimulating to individuals who go on to conduct terrorist activity. But at the same time, in whatever incarnation it exists, the group and its leaders are careful to try to stay on the right side of the law, while remaining firmly provocative.

Occasionally this red line moves and the latest group name is proscribed (be it al Ghurabaa, the Saved Sect, Islam4Uk or others) or some of them stray into criminal activity. But the core of the group remains and as we can see, their members appear in repeated terrorist or other criminal investigations: be this public disorder offences or incidents like the murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich last year. It is never clear whether the individuals are members of the group at the time – in part as it is not clear what denotes membership of these groups given they operate more like communities rather than organisations with clear criteria for individual membership.

But whatever the case, the group persistently features in the background of terrorist investigations. This is not to say everyone who passes through the group is a criminal – an unclear number become part-time members for a while before moving on to other lives. But the question becomes: what can be done to address the groups persistent appearance?

Clearly, from a legal perspective, approaches have been tried but with limited success. Individual members of the group who break the law are often incarcerated for some time, but usually come out and return in relatively short order to their old lives. A longer-term solution requires a more dynamic approach that focuses on depriving the group of its oxygen of publicity; that focuses on containing older members who keep the group’s  flame alive, while individually de-radicalising recent recruits or younger members.

All of this alongside already existing and excellent  efforts by the Muslim community around the UK to ostracises the group (in whatever form it takes) and its leaders from Muslim public spaces. This approach will not rid the United Kingdom of the problem of individuals being attracted to radical ideas, but at the same time it will maybe remove one focus of extreme ideas in the UK that has been involved in driving young Britons towards self-destructive radical ideologies for almost two decades.

Latest for Jamestown’s Terrorism Monitor, looking at a trial that is about to start in the UK. The case is going to be an interesting one, and I am hoping to be there for parts of it and will report back.

Bringing London’s “Christmas Bombers” to Trial

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 46
December 16, 2011 03:46 PM Age: 2 hrs

Double Decker Burns During August London 2011 Riots

Almost a year after their arrests just before Christmas 2010, a group of young British Muslims denied charges of “conspiring to cause explosions likely to endanger life or damage property” (BBC, December 2, 2011). The men, described as being of South Asian origin, are alleged to be part of a plot to strike “iconic targets” in London that was disrupted before Christmas (Telegraph, December 20, 2010).

Initially, twelve individuals were arrested in connection to the case with cells identified by police in Birmingham, Cardiff, East London and Stoke-on-Trent (Guardian, December 20, 2010). However, in the end the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) chose to only proceed with charges against nine men, identified as Gurukanth Desai, 28 of Cardiff; Omar Sharif Latif, 26 of Cardiff; Abdul Malik Miah, 24 of Cardiff; Mohammed Moksudur Rahman Chowdhury, 20 of London; Shah Mohammed Luftar Rahman, 28 of London;  and Nazam Hussain, 25, Usman Khan, 19, Mohibur Rahman, 26 and Abul Bosher Mohammed Shahjahan, 26, all of Stoke-on-Trent. [1] All stand accused of conspiring to cause an explosion and preparing for acts of terrorism. Five of the men are also accused of possessing material useful in the preparation of terrorism, and four are charged with owning two editions of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) Inspire magazine and a copy of Saudi ideologue Muhammad bin Ahmad as-Salim’s famous tract “39 Ways to Serve and Participate in Jihad (AFP, December 2).

The details of what exactly the men were planning will emerge during the course of the trial, but according to information already released the men were allegedly planning to target the London Stock Exchange, the American Embassy, the London Eye Ferris wheel and prominent religious and political leaders as well as secondary targets like restaurants, pubs and nightclubs (Channel 4, December 27, 2010; Daily Mail, December 28, 2010). The men stand accused of “igniting and testing incendiary material,” suggesting a plot in a relatively advanced state, but local sources told Jamestown that police conducted the arrests in Stoke and Birmingham unarmed, indicating they did not expect a very dangerous operation. The operation, codenamed “Guava,” was revealed to have been part of a long-term surveillance effort by Britain’s security services when the then-Independent Reviewer of Counter-Terrorism Legislation, Lord Carlile, told a Parliamentary committee that he had been aware of the operation for some time and had been invited to participate in observing the surveillance (Telegraph, December 21, 2010).

The group’s connection with core al-Qaeda is unclear; while sources indicate that at least one of the suspects was believed to have traveled to Pakistan with the intent of connecting with the group, their connection to other radical groups in the United Kingdom is clearer. According to sources in Stoke-on-Trent, the men were known to have been active in the broader network of individuals connected to the now-banned radical group al-Muhajiroun and had attended protests organized by the group (Telegraph, December 20, 2010). [2] Locals in Cardiff identified some of the group as having attended a meeting organized around previously jailed al-Muhajiroun leader Trevor Brooks (a.k.a. Abu Izzadeen) and claimed that the men were part of a group of 15 boys that the community was aware were involved in meetings organized locally by al-Muhajiroun. They said they had mentioned their concerns to authorities, but the security services were apparently already alert to the group’s existence (Telegraph, December 22, 2010).

Another interesting detail to emerge about the Cardiff group was that the three Cardiff men had served time in prison for petty drugs and theft offenses. According to a neighbor, the men “went to prison as petty criminals and came out expressing extreme views,” suggesting some level of radicalization in prison – a problem that has long concerned British authorities (Telegraph, December 22, 2010). There was also confusion about one of the Cardiff men, Gurukanth Desai, whose name indicates an Indian origin, though it was reported that he had changed it recently by deed poll. The reason for this change was unclear, though his chosen name is the same as that of a fictional Indian character in a 2007 hit Bollywood movie (Calcutta Telegraph, December 30, 2010; Times of India, December 28, 2010).

The trial against the men is due to start in late January, 2012 and is likely to prove to be a major case in highlighting the potential danger of radical groups like al Muhajiroun providing a space for groups of radicals to congregate. In addition, much is likely to be made of the group’s use ofInspire magazine as early evidence suggests they were attempting to use the magazine’s bomb-making recipes to construct their devices. The fusion of these elements shows how the more traditional aspects of Britain’s jihad continue to have strength: A hardcore of extremists still exists in the UK, eager to try to connect with radicals abroad and interested in planning attacks on the homeland. Absolute numbers are hard to come by, but with at least two large terrorist plots (including this case) and a number of terrorist support network cases currently working their way through the British legal system, British security services will have to remain on high alert through next year’s London Olympic Games.

Raffaello Pantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) and the author of the forthcoming We Love Death as You Love Life: Britain’s Suburban Mujahedeen (Hurst/Columbia University Press).

Notes:

1. See: http://www.cps.gov.uk/news/press_releases/150_10/.

2. For more on the banning of al Muhajiroun and its successor groups, see: Terrorism Monitor, January 21, 2010 and November 23, 2011

Latest article for Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor, looking at the recent banning in the UK of another of al Muhajiroun subsidiary. Goes into some detail about other recent events in Britain’s jihadist scene which of course my forthcoming book will go on about more. I should point out that in the actual publication they got my title wrong.

Muslims Against Crusades Banned in Latest Episode of the UK Jihad

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 43
November 23, 2011 02:12 PM Age: 1 days

Anjem Choudary

In a move aimed at preempting planned protests to disrupt annual Remembrance Day celebrations on November 11, British Home Secretary Theresa May proscribed the British organization Muslims Against Crusades (MAC) on November 9. Declaring that MAC was “simply another name for an organization already proscribed,” she declared that membership or support for the organization would henceforth be “a criminal offense.” [1]

Led by individuals linked to formerly banned group al-Muhajiroun and its offshoots Islam4UK, al-Ghurabaa (“The Strangers”) and The Saved Sect, MAC emerged in the wake of a decision in January 2010 to proscribe al-Muhajiroun and Islam4UK (see Terrorism Monitor, January 21, 2010). Like its predecessors, MAC established a slick English-language website and started to organize vocal and often aggressive protests. Most infamously last year during the Remembrance Day celebrations, a group of 20 members of the group gathered in central London to chant during the commemorative minute’s silence and burn poppies worn by people in the UK during the Remembrance Day period. One member of the group, Emdadur Choudhury, who burned poppies and chanted “British soldiers burn in Hell!” during the two-minutes of silence observed on November 11, was convicted and fined £50 under the Public Order Act for causing “harassment, harm or distress” (BBC, March 7). The British-born Choudhury, who collects £792 per month in state benefits, vowed not to pay the fine, announcing: “I don’t have any respect for British soldiers, and if they lose a limb or two in Afghanistan then they deserve it. You expect me to feel sorry for them? Of course I don’t” (Daily Mail, March 8).

The announcement that MAC was going to hold a similar protest this year under the banner “Hell for Heroes” was made in late October when the group requested a police permit to hold the demonstration (Daily Mail, October 31). A press release published at the time announced that the intended protest was meant to “poignantly remember the victims of [British] military intervention.” [2] In response, anti-Islamist protest groups like the English Defence League (EDL) announced competing protest marches.

All this came in the wake of a demonstration by the group against Conservative Member of Parliament Mike Freer. Prior to the event’s announcement, the group published a flyer on its website in which it threatened Mr. Freer and referred to a previous incident in which East London student Roshonara Choudhry stabbed MP Steven Timms for his support of the Iraq War after claiming to have watched videos by the late American-Yemeni preacher Anwar al-Awlaki (see Terrorism Monitor, December 2, 2010). While there is no public evidence that Choudhry was linked to MAC or any of the other al-Muhajiroun successors, members linked to this network have shown up at protests during her court appearances and in a letter purportedly sent from Choudhry in prison, she acknowledges their support. [3] The campaign against Freer was launched after his role in obstructing the entrance into the UK of Palestinian activist Shaykh Raed Salah earlier this year was made public. Members of the MAC followed up their online threats by making an appearance at a constituency meeting Freer was holding at the North Finchley Mosque on October 28, disrupting events and, according to Freer, calling the openly gay MP a “Jewish homosexual pig” (Press Association, October 31).

The group was unfazed by the ban, with MAC leader Anjem Choudary declaring that it was a “bid by the government to cover up the truth” (Guardian, November 10). On his twitter feed he was even more confrontational, declaring, “a ban will never stop Islam and the Muslims. We will not rest until the flag of Islam flies high over Downing Street. This is a victory for us!” [4] A day or so after the ban, Choudary’s own home was raided as part of a police operation and he declared defiantly that “there is nothing like a ban and raid from the enemies of Islam and Muslims to increase the zeal with which one works to establish the Shari’ah!” [5]

The news of the ban came a week before it was revealed that a pair of Britons linked to the network of violent extremists that has emerged from al-Muhajiroun’s broader community were killed by drone strike in Pakistan. Though they appear to have been killed some three months ago, the news of the deaths of Ibrahim Adam and Mohammed Azmir Khan was only made public now due to confirmation by the men’s families in the UK (AFP, November 18). Both men were members of families that had produced a number of radicals, including Anthony Garcia (Adam’s brother, who is in a British jail for his role in an attempt to blow up a UK shopping mall in 2004 and who attended a training camp in Waziristan alongside some of the July 7, 2005 London bombers) and Mohammed Jabar Ahmed (Mohammed Azmir Khan’s brother, killed by a drone strike on September 8 last year after allegedly claiming at a public meeting of extremists in North Waziristan that he was going to lead a strike on the UK) (Daily Telegraph, November 18). Both pairs of brothers were known to have attended some al-Muhajiroun meetings in the UK and were identified by an American informant within al-Muhajiroun’s Lahore office.

It is unlikely this ban will be the last we hear of al-Muhajiroun’s successors. In the past the organization has simply reformed under a new name, established a new website and continued as before. However, the group’s capacity to attract the same sort of attention as in the past has diminished and it is roundly condemned by all parts of British Muslim society. Its meetings are poorly attended and its public protests attract limited numbers. It has in some ways been revitalized as a number of prominent members were released from prison – as radical as when they went in and are now respected in some eyes for having been “bloodied.” Yet it is unclear whether terrorist networks based abroad rely as much on the group’s networks as they did in the past. [6] Nevertheless, the group continues to retain a hard core and continues to attract some new young followers, keeping the radical narrative in the UK alive and showing that there remains an appetite for jihadist ideas amongst some elements of British youth.


Notes:

1. http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/media-centre/news/mac-proscription.

2. The MAC website is now blocked, a copy of the statement can be found here:http://wwwbarkingspider.blogspot.com/2010/11/muslims-against-crusades-uaf-scum-plan.html

3. http://www.muslimprisoners.com/roshanarachoudhary-letter-1.html.

4. http://www.twitter.com/anjemchoudary, November 10, 2011.

5. http://www.twitter.com/anjemchoudary, November 12, 2011.

6. For a complete overview of the group’s links to terrorism, see Raffaello Pantucci, “The Tottenham Ayatollah and the Hook Handed Cleric: An examination of all their jihadi children,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 33(3), March 2010, pp. 226-245.

A new journal article for Studies in Conflict and Terrorism with Peter and Ryan looking at the community of “middle managers” in al Qaeda. It got a write-up on Bloomberg that appears to have been picked up in a couple of places. Took a while to emerge, but explores some ideas and a community that we thought was a bit under-explored in the counter-terrorism research.

Here is the abstract:

This article claims that the ongoing debate about the structure and dynamics of Al Qaeda has failed to appreciate the importance of an organizational layer that is situated between the top leadership and the grass-roots. Rather than being “leaderless,” it is the group’s middle management that holds Al Qaeda together. In Clausewitzian terms, Al Qaeda’s middle managers represent a center of gravity—a “hub of … power and movement”—that facilitates the grass-roots’ integration into the organization and provides the top leadership with the global reach it needs in order to carry out its terrorist campaign, especially in Europe and North America. They are, in other words, the connective tissue that makes Al Qaeda work. The article substantiates this hypothesis by providing a number of case studies of Al Qaeda middle managers, which illustrate the critical role they have played in integrating the grass-roots with the top leadership. The policy implications are both obvious and important. If neither the top leadership nor the grass-roots alone can provide Al Qaeda with strategic momentum, it will be essential to identify and neutralize the middle managers, and—in doing so—“cause the network to collapse on itself.”

Unfortunately, as it is a Routledge journal, it is behind a firewall and can be found here for those with access. However, I might be able to help point you in the direction of a copy if you get in touch.

After a fair delay, a chapter I co-wrote with Bastian has finally been published by the University of Toronto Press in their new book European Security Since the Fall of the Berlin Wall. Our chapter specifically looks at “Understanding the Islamist Terrorist Threat to Europe,” and builds on work the two of us were doing at time looking at European security more broadly. I am going to try to obtain a pdf to place here, but in the meantime, here is where you can find more information on the book, and below is a flavour of the whole book from Amazon:

There have been dramatic changes to the landscape of European security in the twenty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The essays in European Security Since the Fall of the Berlin Wall collectively take stock of how approaches to security in Europe have changed, both in practice and in theory, since the end of the Cold War. Organized into three sections, this collection begins with an exploration of the broad changes in Europe’s security environment relating to issues such as terrorism and the rising importance of energy security. The second section describes the adaptations of Europe’s institutional framework, including the transformation of NATO and the evolution of European armed forces, while the closing essays examine regional security issues with the Middle East, the Balkans, and Russia. Covering a broad spectrum of theoretical approaches and written in a clear, engaging style, European Security Since the Fall of the Berlin Wall will illuminate European security debates for years to come.

51fcOp3cJKL