London was unseasonably cold but predictably rainy on the evening of July 2. War of the Worlds drew moviegoers into wet streets but so did a meeting to plot world war at Oxford House in north London. Dozens of Muslims gathered to hear Sheikh Omar Brooks and others speak.
While his 3-year-old son played at his feet, Omar Brooks told the crowd: "As a Muslim, of course I am a terrorist." He explained the charm of suicide bombing missions, saying he did not wish to die "like an old woman" in bed. "I want to be blown into pieces . . . with my hands in one place and my feet in another."
Schoolchildren wearing T-shirts carrying the words "mujaheddin" and "warriors of Allah" listened. Omar Brooks instructed the mothers in the audience to make weapons. Holding a can of Fanta but motioning wildly with his arms, he told the group its duty was to "instill terror into the hearts of the kuffar," or non-Muslims.
Unknown to Omar Brooks, in the audience also was a reporter for London's Sunday Times. A journalist the paper described as having "a Muslim background," he posed as a jobless university graduate and successfully infiltrated the militant group three weeks before the July 7 bombings that killed 52. The paper collected hours of tapes of such meetings, publishing the exposé Aug. 7, two days after Prime Minister Tony Blair announced new measures against extremists who preach violence and endorse terrorism.
Mr. Blair said the new rules will allow deportation for "fostering hatred, advocating violence to further a person's beliefs, or justifying or validating such violence." Citizenship, he said, could be revoked, particularly for naturalized or dual-citizen passport holders. He also said he will introduce new anti-terrorism legislation in the fall to outlaw "justifying or glorifying terrorism anywhere, not just in the United Kingdom."
Acknowledging that he has lost to opponents on the left and the right in passing Patriot Act-like measures before, Mr. Blair said, "Let no one be in any doubt that the rules of the games are changing . . . the circumstances of our national security have now self-evidently changed."
Critics have blasted the Blair government for lax immigration rules, allowing a buildup of Muslim discontent and jihadists to mix on its own soil. But this time 10 Downing Street appears serious about taking down instigators. Last week Attorney General Lord Goldsmith and a team of prosecutors met to discuss whether one of the oldest laws on the books anywhere-the British Statutes of Treason of 1351-could be used even now to prosecute Islamic clerics and militant leaders. Even before the Sunday Times revelations, their targets included Omar Brooks along with Islamic paragons Omar Bakri Mohammed and Abu Uzair.
Such legal maneuvering represents a dramatic shift in the global war on terror. After four years of focusing on terrorism's operational roots in Afghanistan and around the world, Mr. Blair looks ready to go after its ideological source.
The initiative is good news to those who've long criticized Mr. Blair and President George Bush for going hard on terrorist fighters while ignoring those who influence them. "We know that preachers of Islamic jihad use religious language to recruit bombers," said Robert Spencer, author of five books on Islam and director of Jihad Watch. "Whether or not they have organizational linkage doesn't matter, there is clear ideological linkage."
Omar Brooks, 30, also known as Abu Izzadeen, heads a militant group called al-Ghurabaa ("the Strangers"). Abu Zair is a member of Savior Sect and Mr. Bakri is its leader. Mr. Zair and Mr. Bakri announced they would not assist police in hunting down those who planned the attacks. "Even if I'm British I don't follow the values of the UK. I follow the Islamic values. I have no allegiance to the British Queen whatsoever, or to British society," Mr. Zair said on a BBC nightly news broadcast on Aug. 2.
Mr. Bakri, 47, is notorious for once calling the 9/11 hijackers "the magnificent 19." He has acted in the past as spokesman for al-Qaeda, publicizing in 1998 a letter from Osama bin Laden containing four objectives for jihad against the United States: "Bring down their airliners. Prevent the safe passage of their ships. Occupy their embassies. Force the closure of their companies and banks." Mr. Bakri told a Friday prayer service last month he was "very happy" about the London bombings and called the 7/7 suicide bombers "the fantastic four."
Mr. Bakri preaches poverty, too, admonishing Muslims to stay away from kuffar jobs and to live on the dole. He and his family of one wife and seven children have received government welfare payments for over 18 years living in a north London home reportedly worth over $350,000. Like many named in London's post-attack dragnet, the Syrian-born cleric acquired British citizenship by first requesting asylum, which authorities granted in 1985.
Through its undercover investigation the Sunday Times discovered the cross-pollination connecting all three men. Mr. Bakri in particular acts as spiritual mentor to about 40 young men. They include adherents of Omar Brooks and dozens of families who intermingle at meetings with a handful of influential clerics dishing out Muslim supremacy propaganda.
(The Times reporter witnessed Savior Sect members beating young men belonging to a moderate Muslim group-following a pattern of Savior Sect activities during April's parliamentary elections, when members of the group tried to break up press conferences given by Muslims running for office. In addition, Savior Sect members asked the reporter if he would wear "a strap," a reference to an explosives belt suicide bombers strap to their chest.)
As Mr. Blair now admits, what they preach may have direct links to what terrorists practice. Richard Reid, the British shoe-bomber serving a life sentence for attempting to bomb a Paris-Miami flight, attended Bakri meetings. Asif Mohammed Hanif, who carried out a suicide mission in Tel Aviv in 2003 that killed three, was a Bakri protégé. Investigators are tracking a link between Mr. Reid, Mr. Hanif, and Mohammad Sidique Khan, the Edgware Road bomber who is emerging as the ringleader of the 7/7 attacks. All three attended the same terror camps in Afghanistan, all three plotted attacks in Israel, and all three sat under the teaching of Mr. Bakri.
Political leaders and law enforcers, Mr. Spencer told WORLD, "need to speak forthrightly about those preaching violence and jihad. This is mainstream stuff happening in mainstream mosques. We should deal with mosques as centers of terrorist activity."
Even groups that opposed previous Blair proposals affecting free speech support the new anti-terrorism measures. Patrick Sookhdeo, director of the UK-based Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity, said his group lobbied against a law to extend bans on racist hate speech to cover religious speech. "Here we are not talking about incitement to 'hate' under broad definitions but incitement to murder," he said. "We support fully anti-terrorism laws that should have been passed a long time ago."
Mr. Blair will nonetheless have a hard time pressing for stricter anti-terrorism measures, according to Mr. Sookhdeo. Already Scotland Yard officers have come under condemnation from human-rights groups for profiling terror suspects. In addition to passing Parliament, new measures will be scrutinized by the European Union-which prohibits member states, for instance, from deporting citizens to a country where the death penalty is in effect. And it's also no secret that terror suspects themselves can take advantage of their British citizenship to slip the noose.
Mr. Bakri did just that. On Aug. 8 he left Britain (and his family) for Lebanon, using one of his multiple passports. His spokesman, Anjem Choudary, told reporters he was again seeking sanctuary because it had become "very difficult for him to practice his religion" in Britain. If Mr. Blair is serious about his proposals, Britain's Home Ministry is unlikely to allow his return.
Such news adds to the tension in London's streets, where Christians and Muslims, Pakistanis, Indians, Somalians, and Middle Easterners live and work side by side, natural-born and naturalized citizens passing on streets now patrolled by British police who for the first time carry automatic weapons. Mr. Bakri and his associates have assured Brits more attacks are coming. And, as Mr. Spencer points out, "The absence of attack does not equal absence of planning and indoctrination."