Radical British Jihadist groups are actively operating and recruiting students on the social networking site Facebook and other forums, an investigation by The Journal can reveal.
A private Facebook group called ‘Ahlus Sunnah wal Jama’ah’, the name of a successor organisation to the banned extremist group Al Muhajiroun, has been operating since early 2007. Members of the group include several students at British universities such as Sheffield and Manchester and one employee of the financial services giant Citigroup.
The Facebook group has links posted to extremist literature by the jailed radical preachers Abu Hamza al-Misri and Abu Qutada calling for the waging of armed jihad against the British and American governments. There is also literature demanding the expulsion of any Muslim who votes in elections or “provides assistance” to the ‘kuffar’, or nonbeliever.
One article entitled Jihad: a Ten Part Compilation describes violent Jihad as an “individual duty” of all Muslims. The article also includes a religious ruling for young Muslims on the legitimacy of taking up “martyrdom” without informing their parents. It concludes: “No permission [from parents] is required in obligatory jihad.”
The Journal has also discovered that senior members of Al Muhajiroun were using Facebook until their arrest. This included the activist Abu Izzadeen, 38, who was put on trial last week in London’s Kingston Crown Court along with seven other members of Al Muhajiroun. He faces charges of financing terrorism and inciting terrorism overseas.
Izzadeen gained national notoriety in 2006 after heckling the then-Home Secretary Dr John Reid during a speech he made to Muslim community leaders in London.
The Journal has obtained correspondence, purportedly between Abu Izzadeen and Facebook, which took place after his profile was banned by the site’s administrators. In it Izzadeen urges the administrators to “reconsider your hasty and unjust decision,” going on to write “Inshallah (God willing) I can return to making use of your otherwise fantastic site”. After the appeal was rejected Izzadeen ended the correspondence by writing: “You are mad. I joined this site so my supporters could add me and show their support. I am not surprised. [You take] any opportunity to stamp the ummah under your heel. This is why we rise up.”
Al Muhajiroun and its affiliate groups Al Ghurabaa and The Saved Sect were banned in the UK in 2005 under the Terrorism Act and their leader, the radical cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed, was prevented from re-entering the UK. Bakri Mohammed, who now lives in Lebanon, has since boasted that his organisation was operating up until recently on several major British campuses including Oxford, Imperial College London and Cambridge.
Since the ban, former members of the organisation have formed new front groups that include British university students among their membership, many having been recruited online.
Speaking to The Journal Anjem Choudary, the former second in command of Al-Muhajiroun and current leader of its successor groups, Follower of Ahlus Sunnah wal Jama’ah and Captive Support, said that his organisations widely used the internet and social networking sites to recruit support but claimed no link to the Facebook group discovered by The Journal. Mr Choudary also confirmed that university students made up a key part of his organisation’s support base.
“We try to raise awareness of our mission among the community in any way we can and these sites are very useful to us”, he said. “Students form an important part of the community and we have recruited supporters in places like London, Nottingham, Birmingham and Derby”.
When questioned on the continuity between his groups and Al-Muhaijiroun Mr Choudary admitted that former members “play a very large role in the organisation.” He also confirmed that Omar Bakri Mohammed continues to advise members over the internet from Lebanon. “Sheikh Bakri Mohammed provides important guidance for us and acts as a reference for Islamic verdicts. People are often contacting him in Lebanon via phone and email.”
Bakri Mohammed has in the past referred to the 11 September hijackers as the “magnificent 19” and declared that “the life of an unbeliever has no value. It has no sanctity.” Terrorism expert Roland Jacquard, head of the Paris-based International Observatory on Terrorism, has claimed “every al-Qaeda operative recently arrested or identified in Europe had come into contact with Bakri at some time or other.”
There are also several other established ties between Mr Choudary’s organisations and convicted terrorists. The website for Captive Support – a group established by former Al-Muhajiroun activists to work for the release of their members charged with terrorist activity — features links to several exclusive letters from Dhiren Bharot, the leader of a foiled 2004 ‘dirty bomb’ plot. In a letter written from prison last November he wrote: “Where is the support?€¦ Where are all of the brothers in all of this, I wonder?” Bharot was convicted for planning attacks on targets in London and New York and was sentenced to life imprisonment in November 2006.
The Journal’s findings come at a time where the government has increased pressure on universities to adopt new approaches in combating violent extremism. Last month the Higher Education Minister Bill Rammell said that while extremism was “serious but not widespread,” more needed to be done to ensure radical groups do not gain a foothold in British universities.