Mohammed Ali Harrath in The Times

Well, you read it here first.

The Times reports on the past of the Islam Channel’s CEO, Mohammed Ali Harrath, as a convicted terrorist.

Tunisia believes that Harrath “sought help” from Bin Laden, and convicted him in his absence of a variety of terrorist offences. But Tunisia is a dictatorship. I’d say that no conviction there was beyond impugning.

We’ve also seen that members of the party he founded went off to fight in Afghanistan. The Times also says that the French courts blamed the movement that he created for “founding a guerrilla network that held banned military weapons”. Harrath denies this, and claims that his politics was non violent, but is reported by The Times as saying:

“We are not extremists and we are not terrorists and we [sic] never been involved in any such activities”. However, he added that “revolution is not [necessarily] a dirty word” and “there is nothing wrong or criminal in trying to establish an Islamic state”.

The Times continues:

No one has ever produced evidence linking Mr Harrath to any terrorist activity. Despite this, he is still the subject of an Interpol red notice – its highest level of alert — as a terrorist suspect and countries are urged to arrest and extradite him.

The case against Harrath turns or falls on an evaluation of the nature of his political party, the Tunisian Islamic Front. It intended to create an Islamic state: this much is uncontroversial. The question that is open, is that of the extent to which Harrath was personally involved in the acts of terrorism that the TIF/FIT engaged in.

In 1995, the year Harrath came to Britain, this what the US Department of State had to say about the TIF:

Tunisian authorities maintained effective control of the internal security situation and, in particular, closely followed the activities of the Tunisian Islamic Front, which claimed responsibility for the murders of four policemen and has warned all foreigners to leave Tunisia.

There are allegations that the FIT is working in conjunction with the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA), and that its members may be training in GIA camps. Several Tunisians were taken into custody in 1995 for alleged involvement with the GIA network in Europe. The FIT claimed responsibility for an attack in February against a Tunisian border post on the Tunisia-Algeria border in which seven border guards were killed, but some officials blame the GIA possibly in conjunction with the FIT for the attack. As of 31 December, there were no similar incidents.

Was the TIF an armed revolutionary organisation from the outset, as the Tunisians allege, or did it turn to violence only after Mr Harrath’s departure, and against its will.

What the report adds – and something I didn’t know – is this:

Despite Mr Harrath being wanted by Interpol, Scotland Yard has appointed him as adviser to its Muslim Contact Unit on preventing extremism and terrorism. Mr Harrath told The Times that he was “regularly consulted in an advisory capacity by the Muslim Contact Unit of the British police for guidance on best practice in relation to counter-terrorism issues and combating extremism”.

The unit’s former head, Robert Lambert, wrote in a letter of support to Mr Harrath that he had made a “key contribution to our efforts to defeat adverse influence of al-Qaeda in the UK”.

The philosophy of the Muslim Contact Unit, was that only those who were genuine doctrinaire Islamists, who want to establish an Islamic State, but who eschew violence in the West to achieve that aim, can hope to save us from Al Qaeda. Bob Lambert must believe that Mr Mohammed Ali Harrath holds the key to that solution.

Robert Lambert now works for Inayat Bunglawala’s “Engage” project. One of the trustees of “Engage” is Mohammed Ali Harrath.