On 17 July 2006 the British government announced its intention to ban the Saviour Sect…
In making his statement the minister noted that a number of other groups are currently being considered for proscription, including Hizb ut Tahrir (HUT – The Islamic Liberation Party). The purpose in banning the groups, he added, is to send a clear message that the government recognises the changing nature of modern terrorism and that it now has fluid and international structures which rely on sub-terrorist groups to promote the radical ideologies that underpin their violent assault on democracies.2
Section 3 of the Act provides a power to proscribe an organisation which commits or participates in acts of terrorism, prepares for, promotes or encourages terrorism or is otherwise concerned with terrorism. Section 21 of the Terrorism Act 2006 amended the grounds for proscription to include organisations which glorify terrorism.3
The banning comes into force immediately and under its powers it becomes a criminal offence for a person to belong to or encourage support for the proscribed organisation. It is also a criminal offence to arrange a meeting in support of the banned organisation, or to wear clothing or to carry articles in public which arouse reasonable suspicion that a person is a member or supporter of the proscribed organisation. The financial assets of the organisation become ‘terrorist property’ and can be subject to freezing and seizure. Organisations that are proscribed can however appeal to the Secretary of State for de-proscription.
The origins of Al Muhajiroun
Omar Bakri took with him into AM several leading members of HUT and together with newer recruits they formed the leadership core. They included:
Anjem Choudary, an unqualified lawyer who subsequently became the AM spokesman, Mohammed’s successor and leader of the Muslim Society of British Lawyers; Omar Brooks (aka Abu Izzadeen), leader of the Society of Converts to Islam; Iftikar Ali; Sulayman Keeler, former leader of the Society of Converts to Islam; Abdul Rahman Saleem (aka Abu Yahya), who has stated in a press interview that he had undergone military training in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and in another that he had recruited British Muslims for terrorist training.6
The split was mirrored in the USA where HUT had been established in the Queens suburb of New York by Arab immigrant Iyad Hillal in the 1980s. The AM offshoot there now is the Islamic Thinkers Society.7
Ominously, a graduate of the US branch of AM, Syed Fahad Hashmi, a Pakistan born but New York domiciled former university student, was arrested by the British authorities on 6 June 2006 at London’s Heathrow airport in connection with his alleged role in aiding an Al Qaeda plot to attack targets in London. He is currently awaiting the outcome of an American extradition request as a consequence of the investigation into Mohammed Junaid Babar.8
AM’s public activities were designed to attract media attention. They were often controversial and provocative, such as public meetings on the 9/11 terrorist bombings, but framed in such a manner as to suggest support for the bombers.9 Weekly meetings were held around Britain with scores of participants, and public rallies at the east London Arena, north London Wembley Conference Centre and Trafalgar Square attracted hundreds and sometimes thousands of supporters.
The AM office in the Lee Valley Techno Park in the north London suburb of Tottenham housed both the British Court of Shariah, an entirely unofficial court headed by Mohammed and recognised only by AM followers, and a recruitment centre, it was claimed, for Hamas, Egyptian Islamic Jihad and Hizbollah.10
Mohammed boasted of links with Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, but none of these links or claims were ever backed or even acknowledged by these organisations. Nevertheless, AM did maintain a representative in Lahore, Hassan Butt, who allegedly facilitated British volunteers who wanted to train and fight abroad.11
In an interview in May 2000, Omar Bakri stated that AM was divided into two wings. He described the Da’wah (propagating) Network, and the separate Jihad Network. The Jihad Network recruited people for military campaigns. Members of AM who wanted to go abroad were introduced to sources in Britain with connections to jihadi training camps in the Middle East and Asia, he added.12
In 1991 Mohammed had been briefly held by the police following an assassination threat against Prime Minister John Major.13
Generally however the British government and law enforcement agencies derided AM (and Omar Bakri in particular) as publicity seeking nuisances. Mohammed himself had been made to look a buffoon in a television documentary (and subsequently a book) by the journalist Jon Ronson, who labelled him the Tottenham Ayatollah, and he was seldom taken seriously.14
However there was also a covert and more sinister side to the group which the authorities failed to understand, until recently: the group promoted hatred of non Muslims, particularly Jews, Hindus and Sikhs; it radicalised young Muslims and became an essential component in the conveyor belt that leads to jihadi terrorism.
Many members have been arrested and convicted for various offences during the group’s existence. They include: Sulayman Keeler, who was imprisoned for twenty eight days for assaulting a police officer at a London demonstration in December 1998; Amer Mirza, who was sentenced to six month’s imprisonment for petrol-bombing an army base in London in March 1999; Anjem Choudary who was fined for organising a public rally in Trafalgar Square without permission; Mohammed Akunjee and Sidhartha Dhar who were given a conditional discharge and fined for displaying leaflets that incited hatred against Jews; Iftikar Ali who was convicted in May 2002 of incitement to racial hatred for distributing AM leaflets bearing the hadith ‘the hour will not come until Muslims fight the Jews and kill them’.15
AM and the Supporters of Shariah group, led by Abu Hamza al-Masri, who was convicted of inciting murder and race hatred at the Central Criminal Court London on 7 February 2006, worked closely together holding joint meetings and demonstrations. Others with whom AM worked closely included Mohammed Al Mas’ari, the former leader of the Saudi Islamist Committee for the Defence of Legitimate Rights (which he co-founded with Saad Al Fagih, now of the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia, and who was designated by the US Treasury on 21 December 2004 as a provider of material and financial support for Al Qaeda), and Zahid Ur-Rashdi, head of the unofficial Shariah Council of Pakistan, a former member of the Pakistani parliament, who had declared his links to the Taliban via the Global Jihad Fund network and who addressed AM events including the ‘Islam Against Oppression Rally ‘ in Trafalgar Square on 3 August 1997 and the ‘Rally for Islam III’ in July 1999 at the same venue.16
The realisation that Asif Mohammed Hanif and Omar Khan Sharif, the bombers of the Tel Aviv Mike’s Place bar, had passed through AM, and been radicalised by their experience, led the British authorities to finally take the group seriously.17
Thereafter it was only a matter of time before some sort of action was taken. But it was the realisation that at least two of the 7 July London bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, had likewise been through the ranks of AM that decided the fate of the AM successor groups.18
Omar Bakri’s boasts of a separate Jihad Network now began to ring true.
The Saviour Sect and Al-Ghurabaa
The Saviour Sect made its first public appearance on 19 April 2004 when its members disrupted a meeting of the Muslim Council of Britain umbrella organisation, at the Central London Mosque in Regents Park, although it had registered its website (https://www.thesavioursect.org.uk) two and a half months earlier at the end of January.
The website linked to two other sites: Al-Ghurabaa (AG) and Ahl us-Sunnah wal- Jamaa’ah (ASWJ), and during 2004 AM members began to refer also to their membership of ASWJ, which registered its website, https://www.aswj.net, in March 2005.21
ASWJ was however not officially ‘launched’ until 18 November 2005 when Keeler held a press conference in north London. At this he was joined by Choudary, Brooks, Saleem and Abu Azair. They stated that Bakri Mohammed had no role in the new organisation, although they would wish him to have one.22
The ideologies of the three entities are the same, and indeed they should be regarded merely as parts of the same organisation promoting an identical message. They seek the establishment of the Khilafah; they are anti-democratic, antisemitic and homophobic. They follow the Salafi-Jihadi trend and are open in their support for violence. Unlike the Muslim Brotherhood affiliates and HUT which sometimes now appear to favour entryist tactics, the AM successor groups promote disengagement from, and opposition to, the state, its organs and processes.
In January 2005 they published a ban on joining the police, in which they stated:
‘ Verily any Muslim who joins the police force is an apostate from Islam, he is the enemy of Allah and even the officer who claims he does not believe in the kufr law in his heart will never be saved by his claim from the sin of apostasy. How can a Muslim accept law not legislated by Allah let alone to enforce it with his tongue and body?’23
Prior to the 2005 General Election the Saviour Sect published leaflets which stated:
‘Vote today, become kaafir tomorrow’ and that voting for a political party is a ‘major apostasy and will take you outside the fold of Islam…It will also nullify all your good deeds…..and guarantee your seat in Hellfire forever.’24
Leaders of the Saviour Sect claimed to be distinct from Mohammed, but in reality all the AM successor groups appeared to be part of one organisation. The recommended book list on the AG website was identical to that on the Saviour Sect website, and all the books were by Omar Bakri.25
Both, the AG and AM websites shared the same contact number, and the Saviour Sect’s and AG’s website disseminated the same message, under the umbrella of ASWJ.26
Press reports suggest that Omar Bakri continued to lead the group anyway by communicating online and by mobile phone from Beirut.27
Together with five other AM linked groups (AG,Shariah Court of the UK, Palestine Support Council, Society of Muslim Lawyers, the Khilafah Movement) they sought to organise a ‘Jihad for Palestine’ conference and demonstration on 19 and 24 February 2006. Advertising material for these events were published in the names of all six groups in conjunction with ‘The Followers of Ahl Us – Sunnah wal Jamaa’a’.28
Advertisements for a demonstration outside the Danish Embassy in London to protest against the publication of the Jyllands Posten cartoons on 3 February 2006 were in the name of AG, here described as ‘followers of Ahl Us – Sunnah was Jama’ah.29
Their demonstration verged on a riot, unlike those organised by other Muslim groups, and arrests were made. This was hardly surprising given that the leaflets distributed for the event were headlined ‘Kill those who insult the Prophet Muhammad’.30
On 15 March 2006, the homes of the groups’ leaders, including Omar Bakri Choudary, Abdel Rahman Saleem, Abdul Muhid, Omar Zaheer and Umran Javed were raided by the police. Choudary was subsequently convicted of organising a procession without the required written permission from the police, and Abdul Muhid and two others were charged with soliciting to murder.31
Omar Bakri’s Escape
In November 2005, Choudary, Brooks, Abd-al-Rahman Salim and Abu Ibrahim visited Omar Bakri in Beirut. They claimed they had gone to help him establish a religious school in Lebanon but were deported back to Britain three months after their arrival.33 In July 2006 he stated that he remained in touch with his former colleagues but that he could not return until Britain repealed its anti-terrorism laws and because by doing so he would be offering himself as a ‘captive’. He urged his followers to stay away from the unbelievers and infidels and looked forward to the flags of Islam ‘fluttering in the wind on top of Big Ben and the House of Commons’34
Later however in a typical act of chutzpah Omar Bakri sought to board, but was refused embarkation on, a British warship sent to evacuate Britons from Beirut during the Israeli bombardment of Hizbollah buildings. He claimed that he wanted to see his children in Britain.35
A subsequent sarcastic press report suggested that Omar Bakri had actually returned to Beirut to rescue the family cat!
‘Everyone says my father is a bad man’, his son Mohammed, now tells The Times, ‘but the truth is, he risked his life.To save our cat. He returned to his home to retrieve Snowy and he saw some terrible things (in Beirut)’.36
It should therefore be noted that the day after the ban came into effect the group published defiant press notices online.
Omar Bakri’s personal history of youthful Muslim Brotherhood and HUT membership in Syria, and then Saudi Arabia, will have given him a resolve which has always been carefully hidden by his clownish appearance and antics. Despite his forced ‘exile’ in Beirut he continued to manage his British followers and the group and, as with all Salafi jihadis, he, and they, will not relinquish their mission until forced to do so by effective, universal and consistently applied legal means.
2. Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism, House of Commons Parliamentary Debates, pp 490 – 509, (Hansard, London, 20 July 2006
3. Part 2, section 21,Terrorism Act 2006, The Stationary Office, London, https://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/act2006/ukpga_20060011_en.pdf
4. Omar Bakri Mohammed, Press Release, Al-Muhajiroun, 5 February 1996
5. For a detailed analysis of AM ideology and modus operandi see Michael Whine, ‘Al-Muhajiroun – the portal for Britain’s suicide terrorists’, 21 May 2006, https://www.ict.org.il/articles/articledet.cfm?articleid=484
6. Sunday Telegraph, 23 September 2001, and The Times, 22 September 2001
7. Author’s conversations with NYPD officers, Washington DC, July 2006.
8. Chris Zambellis, ‘Arrest of American Islamist Hightlights Homegrown Terrorist Threat’, Terrorism Focus, 27 June 2006, Volume 111, Issue 25, The Jamestown Foundation.
9. ‘A Towering Day in History’, Al Muhajiroun conference, Finsbury Park Mosque, 11 September 2002, https://www.almuhajiroun.com/events/August02/911.php, downloaded 27 August 2002
Sam Lister and Daniel McGrory, ‘Hundreds rally at mosque to gloat over US suffering’, The Times, London, 12 September 2002.
Jason Burke, ‘Fury at Muslim talks in memory of 9/11 hijackers’, The Observer, London, 7 September 2003
‘Magnificent 19’ Press Conference, Al Miuhajiroun offices, London, N17, https://www.almuk.com/obm/, downloaded 10 September 2003
10. United Kingdom Country Advisory & Intel Report, Terrorism Research Center, 8 July 2005, https://www.homelandsecurity.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=intelfile=index&view=649
11. See for example:
David Taylor, ‘Message of hate for new intake of martyrs’, Evening Standard, London, 30 October 2001.
Carlos Alba, ‘Tartan Taliban army ready to fight’, The Sunday Times, London, 4 November 2001.
Burhan Wazir, ‘Essex boys sign up for holy war’, The Observer, London, 24 February 2002.
Rowan Dore, ‘Terror Probe: Sect that recruits Muslim martyrs’, This is Brighton & Hove, Brighton, 31 March2004, https://www.thisisbrightonandhove.co.uk/brighton_hove/2004/03/31NEWS110ZM.html
‘File on Four – London Bombs’, BBC Radio 4, London, 25 October 2005.
12. Abul Taher, ‘Call to arms’, Guardian Education, London, 16 May 2000.
13. See for example, Mail on Sunday, London, 12 November, 1995
14. The Tottenham Ayatollah, Channel Four TV, 8 April 1997, and
Jon Ronson, ‘Them; Adventures with Extremists’, Picador, London,2001.
15. ‘British government imprison Islamic activist’, posting by Omar Bakri Mohammed to London Area Muslim Network, 23 May 1999, https://salam.muslimsonline.com/ london
‘Six months for Army base petrol bomber’, Jewish Chronicle, London, 12 March 1999.
Justin Cohen, ‘Rally leader fined’, London Jewish News, 2 May 2005.
Bernard Josephs, ‘Conditional discharge for displaying hate posters’, Jewish Chronicle, London, 28 May 2005
‘Distributor of ‘kill Jews’ leaflet is spared prison’, Jewish Chronicle, London,10 May 2001
16. ‘Al Muhajiroun Present ‘Rally Against Opression’, Trafalgar Square London 3 August5 1997, leaflet
‘Rally for Islam lll’, Trafalgar Square, London, 11 July 1999, leaflet
17. ‘UK “terror target” claim dismissed, BBC News, 7 January 2002, https://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/1746454.stm, and
Antish Taseer, ‘A British Jihadist’, Prospect, London, August 2005
18. ‘Britain’s First Suicide Bombers’, BBC 2 Television, 11 July 2006.
Claudio Franco, ‘Profile of a suicide bomber’, ISN Security Watch, Centre for Security Studies, Zurich, 21 July 2005.
19. Fayrouz Zayyani, ‘Leader announces break-up of UK’s radical group’, Al-Jazeera TV (in Arabic), Doha, 13 October 2004, BBC Monitoring
20. ‘Democracy = Terrorism’, Al Ghurabaa website, downloaded 23 December 2005.
21. ‘New group replaces al-Muhajiroun’, BBC News, 18 November 2005, https://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/uk/4449714.stm
‘The Banning of Al-Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect’, Press Release, Al-Gurabaa, London, 2019 July 2006
22. Alan Travis, ‘Reid uses new laws to ban two Islamist groups for ‘glorifying’ terrorism’, The Guardian, London, 18 July 2006.
23. ‘Joining the Police: contribution or apostasy?’, al Ghurabaa, London,
24. Muhammad al-Shafi, ‘Syrian fundamentalist: I advise my students not to blend in British society’, Al Sharq al Awsat,(in Arabic), London, 11 July 2006, source NTIS, US Dept of Commerce.
26. See: www.al-ghurabaa.clara.co.uk website
27. Sean O’Neill and Yaakov Lappin, ‘Extremist Islamist has returned via internet’, The Times, London, 21 October 2005
28. Jihad for Palestine’, Press Release, ASWJ, London, 17 February 2006.
29. ‘Demonstration outside Danish Embassy’, Press Release, Al-Ghurabaa, London, 31 January 2006.
30. Sam Jones, ‘Muslim cartoon protesters charged’, The Guardian, London, 6 May 2006.
31. ‘British government awards those who insult the Messenger of Allah’, press release, ASWJ, London, 15 March 2006.
‘Muslim Leader Fined for Cartoon Demo’, Hamodia, London, 12 July 2006
32. Muhammad al-Shafi’i, ‘New leader of the fundamentalist movement Al-Ghurabaa: Londonistan is finished and Islamists will disappear underground’, Al-Sharq al-Awsat, London, 14 May 2006, and
33. Daniel McGrory, ‘Bakri’s followers deported to Britain’. The Times, London, 9 November 2005.
34. ‘Exiled British Islamist Sheikh Omar bin Bakri in Beirut: We Will See the Banner of Islam “Flying over Big Ben and the British Parliament”, Al Sharq al Awsat (in Arabic),London, 7 July 2006,
35. ‘OBM refused entry to UK warship sent to evacuate Britsih citizens from Beirut’, BBC Ceefax, 13:00 hrs, 13 July 2006
36. Hugo Rifkind, ‘Bakri SOS – Save Our Snowy’, The Times, London, 26 July 2006
37. pp 498 – 509, Hansard
38. The Banning of Al-Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect, leaflet, London, 19 July 2006