According to Ken McCallum, the new Director-General of British spy agency MI5, Islamist jihadists remains as the biggest terror threat to the United Kingdom, while the mainstream media has chosen to hype his remarks on the comparatively minor threat from the far-right instead.
The Glasgow born new spy boss in his first public address said, “It is still the case that tens of thousands of individuals are committed to this ideology – and we must continually scan for the smaller numbers within that large group who at any given moment might be mobilizing towards attacks.”
“Having someone ‘on our radar’ is not the same as having them under detailed real-time scrutiny. Difficult judgements of prioritization and risk must be made,” McCallum added — a warning which will come as little surprise to Britons familiar with learning than a given terrorist was “previously known” to the authorities, or in some cases even a convicted extremist out from prison on license.
Despite McCallum clear admission that Islamist terrorism remains by far the number one threat to Britain, mainstream media outlets such as the BBC and CNN chose to emphasize and often lead on his comments about the “sadly rising” — but comparatively minor — threat of “right-wing extremism” instead.
Romance between Britain and Muslim Brotherhood
In Egypt, Britain donated £500 to the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood — Hassan al-Banna — shortly after the founding of the group in 1928, along with six members of the Suez Canal Company, which was created by and still controlled by the British at the time. By 1941, the Muslim Brotherhood had become so powerful that Britain began offering them financial aid in exchange for not attacking its interests.
In the same year, officials from the British Embassy in Cairo held a meeting with Egyptian Prime Minister Amin Osman where it was agreed that the Egyptian government would secretly provide financial support to the Muslim Brotherhood, but government informers would be planted in the ranks of the group to monitor its activities. The informants were tasked to monitor the group’s possible links with Nazi Germany after the Muslim Brotherhood’s wing in Palestine established contacts with Adolf Hitler.
Tarek al-Beshri, in his book on Egypt’s national movement from 1945-1952, has suggested that the relationship was deeper, and that it was Muslim Brotherhood students who confronted anti-British demonstrations organized by the liberal-nationalist Wafd Party. Al-Beshri claims that Brotherhood prisoners were treated better than Communists and supporters of the fascist Young Egypt Party, among whose members Nasser could be counted.
Al-Banna’s assassination in 1949 is generally believed to be the work of agents of the Egyptian government, which does not necessarily conflict with Curtis’ suggestion that Al-Banna was struck down by one of his own followers from within the clandestine structure of the Brethren. Curtis then delves into the relationship between Britain and Al-Banna’s successor Hassan al-Hudaybi.
In December 1951, British officials held several meetings with one of Al-Hudaybi’s advisers, despite the Brotherhood publicly criticizing the British “occupation” of Egypt. In early 1953, British officials held a face-to-face meeting with Al-Hudaybi to understand the group’s positions as London tried to forge a new way forward with Egypt after the so-called Free Officers destroyed the parliamentary monarchy with their coup in July 1952, establishing a military despotism and pushing British troops out of the country. The documents indicate that Britain wanted to use the Muslim Brotherhood as a lever to pressure the Cairo regime in negotiations.
Curtis cites a handwritten memo from 7 February 1953 that details a meeting held between British officials and the Muslim Brotherhood, in which a person named “Abu Rafiq” told the eastern advisor of the British Embassy, Trevor Evans, that “if Egypt searched all over the world for a friend, it would only find Britain”. The British concluded from this that there was a wing of the Muslim Brotherhood willing to cooperate with London. The memo stated: “The willingness to cooperate probably stems from the increasing middle-class influence in the Brotherhood, compared with the predominantly popular leadership of the movement in the days of Hassan al-Banna”.
Nasser accused the Brotherhood of going “behind the back of the revolution” in having contact with Britain’s representatives and slammed the British government for “conspiring” with the Muslim Brotherhood. Such charges would be used by Nasser to legitimate his all-out suppression of the Brothers in 1954, a process that had begun earlier and almost certainly contributed to the Brotherhood’s outreach to the British in search of a counter-balancing force.
It was after this that a new phase began in relations between the Muslim Brotherhood and Britain as they found common cause in undermining Arab nationalism. This interest was also shared by the conservative Arab regimes allied to London and Washington. These conservative governments granted diplomatic passports, money, and safe haven to the Islamists after Nasser banished them following a failed attempt on his life in March 1954.
In a memo, Evans wrote that Britain would continue its cooperation with the Muslim Brotherhood in order to achieve “Britain’s main objective: the disappearance of the Nasser regime.” Cooperation was not confined only with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt but also extended to the Levant and Iraq, in order to counter the growing pan-Arabist trend.
Eventually, after Nasser died and was replaced by Anwar Sadat, Egypt would change its policy on the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists like the “Islamic Group”, tacitly encouraging them in order to counter the Communist proxies of the Soviet Union, which was at that time trying to recolonize Egypt.
Probably the best-known case of Britain — and other Western countries — allying with Islamists is Afghanistan after the Soviet conquest in 1979. The West supported insurgent groups to push back against Soviet imperialism, and the most powerful such groups descended from the local manifestation of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Jamaat-e-Islami. These radical Islamic organizations were used to weaken and ultimately defeat the Soviet Union’s grip on the country. The Muslim Brotherhood also played a major role in Afghanistan through the relief agencies.
Alongside the Afghan resistance there was a small contingent of “Arab-Afghans”, the most infamous being Osama bin Laden, who set up an office in London called the Advice and Reformation Committee, which recruited trainees, purchased equipment, performed services, and received reports send by jihadist organizations across the Muslim world.
Britain’s role in helping the Afghan resistance makes it culpable in the subsequent establishment of the Taliban regime, and under its protection the Global Islamic Front to Fight Jews and Crusaders, i.e. Al-Qaeda. Britain played an important role in establishing the Islamic Group — founded in British-ruled India in 1941, which became a major political player in Pakistan following its separation from India — and also secretly cooperated with the Dar al-Islam movement in Indonesia, radical Shiite forces in Iran, Ismaili Shiites in Iraq, and encouraged guerrilla groups in Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Kosovo and Libya.
The British ambassador in Cairo wrote a memo in June 2005, noting that talking to the Brotherhood might be useful in getting information and the group could be used to pressure Mubarak into introducing political reform. The memo warned, however, that while pressuring Mubarak to legitimize the group could damage the London-Cairo relationship, “if the Brotherhood is suppressed aggressively, it will necessitate a response from us”.
The British Foreign Office approved this policy. It believed that accommodating radical Islamist organizations would give Britain some regional and international leverage to advance its interests. In Curtis’ view, London considered the Muslim Brotherhood as a “reliable bulwark to any more popular national change in Egypt and the region”.
Radical Islam on rise in Britain
There is no question that in the 1990s London became possibly the leading centre for Islamist radicals in the world, combining a great concentration of extremists with great freedom to operate. The Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA) found London as a reserve base when it began losing its struggle with the Algerian military and France started constricting the GIA’s freedom to operate. The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), the Egyptian Jihad Group, and Al-Qaeda itself found London to be hospitable territory, with notorious figures like Omar Othman (Abu Qatada al-Filistini) essentially unhindered as they indoctrinated, recruited, and raised money. Al Qaeda considered London to be the center of its operations in Europe and millions of pounds were raised to recruit and finance terrorists from Afghanistan to Yemen.
This amounted to Britain cooperating with radical Islamist groups and that this brought advantages to London in achieving three main objectives:
First, exerting influence and control of energy resources;
Second, maintaining Britain’s place in a pro-Western international financial system. In this respect, Britain cooperated with the U.S., which the author says “has a similar history of collusion with radical Islam”, and given the diminishing of British power, it became a junior partner, or the de facto covert arm of the U.S. government, and even “doing the dirty work that Washington could not, or did not want to do”.
Third, preventing these groups perpetrating their evil in Britain. As explained by Crispin Black, a former Cabinet Office intelligence analyst, there was a covenant between extremists in Britain and security services: Britain would provide refuge and welfare to the Islamist extremists, and in return they would not launch any attacks inside Britain or against British interests abroad. A Special Branch officer said: “There was a deal with these guys. We told them that ‘if you don’t cause us any problems, then we won’t bother you’.”
According to counterterrorism experts, Britain has benefited from cooperation with these group in five specific ways:
Gaining a global counterforce to Arab nationalist Left-wing ideologies and Soviet Communism;
Added a considerable conservative force within their own countries to counter Leftists;
Gave support to pro-Western regimes;
Offered a violent confrontational force that could be used to destabilize or overthrow governments which became hostile to the West; and
Offered a potential military force to fight the war, if necessary, or to use them as political tools to push governments for change.
On November 29, 2019, five people were stabbed on London Bridge. The attacker, Usman Khan, had been released from prison in 2018 “on license”. A known extremist boasting ISIS and Al-Muhajiroun flags at the age of 15 didn’t alarm the authorities enough then. Khan’s hatred was British-born, though, and unrelated to Pakistan.
While radicalized Pakistanis after being migrating to the UK continue their mission of spreading the seeds of radical Islam amongst the fellow Muslims, their immediate targets are, in most cases, Muslim migrants from India and Bangladesh, as well as African nations. Due to the heavy influence of Pakistanis within the mosques and Islamic community centers in Britain – mostly London, the number of radicalized youth and children are on rise at an alarming level while the majority of the Muslim females from Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan in London are not only radicalized but they also are increasingly becoming pro-jihad and supports the jihadist doctrine of transforming Britain into a caliphate.
According to experts, religious radicalism didn’t go from Pakistan to the UK, but actually came to Pakistan from London. Al-Muhajiroun had come to Pakistan along with its British-based sister terrorist organization, Hizb ut-Tahrir, in the mid-2000s, and recruited a number of people inside the Pakistan army till the Musharraf government banned them. Brigadier Ali Khan was arrested for his alleged ties with Hizbut and, before that, Colonel Shahid Bashir, commanding officer of the Shamsi air force base, was apprehended by the military police in May 2009 for keeping links with this banned pan-Islamic political outfit.
French scholar Gilles Kepel has studied the “reverse” phenomenon in his books on expat Islam. In the UK, Islamization of the immigrant Muslim community was an early postcolonial trend stemming from the British experience in India. “Communalisation” rather than “integration” suited the UK because it could then farm out the menial jobs to a community formed especially for them.
Workers’ mosques came up in the 1950s in the industrial areas of the UK. In the 1950s and 1960s, the mosques were divided against each other on the basis of Barelvi-Deobandi religions. There were even Pathan and Punjabi, Mirpuri, Bengali and Gujarati mosques. Then came the individual charismatic figures like Barelvi Pir Maroof Shah who built a number of mosques for his followers in Bradford, founding the World Islamic Mission in 1973. Sufi Abdullah built himself a similar Barelvi empire in the area in the early 1980s. The Bradford Council of Mosques in the 1980s was already “separating” the community on such questions as halal and girls’ education, and the Labour Party was the popular party for the Muslims.
Next came the Rushdie affair in 1988: The protest that was organized against Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses united the fragmented Muslim community in the UK — toppling its less educated leaders in favor of the anglophone radical ones.
The Islamic Foundation of Leicester sent out the call against Rushdie’s blasphemy, but the man who finally ran away with the collective Muslim response was ex-journalist, Kalim Siddiqui, of Jamaat Islami background, who set up his Muslim Parliament and issued what was termed the Muslim Manifesto in 1990, actually challenging the British system. This caused Labour politician Roy Jenkins, who had described the British policy of integration as equal opportunities with cultural diversity in 1965, to say in 1989 that the policy had failed to effect any integration of the Muslim culture and religion within the British society.
Muslim women preaching jihad and religious hatred
Hard-line female Islamists have been attempting to radicalize fellow Muslim girls and women through in most of the mosques and Islamic centers in London. In 2008, one of Britain’s influential mosques in London was exposed by ‘Channel Four’ TV program of being engaged into spreading jihad, radical Islam and religious hatred.
The ‘Dispatches’ program found that some preachers at the Regents Park Mosque in central London taught a Saudi interpretation of Sharia law that advocates the stoning of homosexuals and the murder of apostates. In the feature program, an undercover reporter spent two months attending sessions at the center, which promised to crack down on extremism following an earlier investigation in early 2007.
A female reporter secretly recorded lectures at the women’s section of the London Central Mosque and Islamic Cultural Center (ICC). At one such session, a teacher named Um Amira is shown instructing the group: “He is Muslim, and he gets out of Islam, he doesn’t want any more. What are we going to do? We kill him, kill, kill.” The same fate should befall an adulterer, the audience is told. She then goes on to say that the punishment for homosexuals is death. “Kill them, throw them from the highest place. We are not going to be like animals, living like animals, or to be like homosexuals. God save us from that.”
According to my own study, London mosques and Islamic centers are playing the notorious role of spreading radical Islam, while these establishments also are responsible for turning the future Muslims in Britain into potential jihadists. For the sake of national security, the British authorities, especially the intelligence agencies should widen surveillance within the Muslim-dominated areas as well as the mosques and Islamic centers.
Britain accused of exporting Islamist terrorism to Bangladesh
On September 19, 2019, British weekly news-magazine The Economist reported that Britain has been exporting Islamist extremism to Bangladesh.
In the article titled “Radicalisation in reverse: How Britain exports Islamist extremism to Bangladesh”, The Economist portrayed the issue in detail.
The article mentioned that top officials from Bangladesh has been blaming British citizens for their involvement in the planning, funding and promotion of terrorism in the country. It said that in 2015, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina complained to her then counterpart David Cameron, that British citizens were promoting radicalism in her country.
“Since the first wave of Bangladeshi migrants arrived in Britain in the 1970s, foreign-born preachers have held sway in the community. For a while, the most visible consequence to outsiders was when Bangladeshi restaurants stopped selling alcohol after conservative clerics such as Delwar Hossain Sayeedi came to preach temperance to the diaspora in the 1990s,” The article reads.
But the current changed its direction suddenly, The Economist says, with the emergence of Syed Golam Maula, the founder of the Bangladeshi chapter of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, who was introduced to the organization while studying in London in the early 1990s.
According to the magazine, a series of incidents were found with the involvement of several British citizens in the Islamist extremism scene of Bangladesh.
The current of extremism touched its peak soon after 2013 when religious extremists targeted gay activists, atheist bloggers and religious minorities.
The Economist mentioned that Touhidur Rahman, a Briton of Bangladeshi origin, was accused of planning the murder of two secular bloggers.
It also mentioned Rizwan Haroon, who was arrested on suspicion of using a school in Dhaka to recruit youngsters to the so-called Islamic State (IS). He was previously lived in Britain and currently awaiting trial in Bangladesh.
According to America’s Federal Bureau of Investigate (FBI) report, one of the leading figures of IS to collect money from overseas countries for the terrorist sect was Siful Haque Sujan, a Bangladeshi-born British citizen believed to have been killed in Syria in 2015.
The article reported that a now-defunct British charity Green Crescent “was connected by Bangladeshi security services to the Holey Bakery attack. In 2009 Bangladeshi forces raided a madrassa funded by Green Crescent and found weapons and extremist literature. They claim the charity’s British founder, Faisal Mostafa, has links to Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, a terrorist outfit, which he denies.”
The article traced the new current of British-Bangladeshis involvement in extremism with the rise of Islamic State. It says, “perhaps 100 of the 800 or so Britons who have joined IS are of Bangladeshi origin.”