Cover Story

Beyond hate speech

For years Britain has given welcome and welfare to radical clerics who preach jihad and promote terror. But Tony Blair says "the rules of the games are changing"

Issue: "Beyond hate speech," Aug. 20, 2005

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.

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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.

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