Anwar Al Awlaki

The Underpants Bomber, CagePrisoners and their Dupes

The Times has the completely unsurprising news:

The suspect in the attempted Detroit plane bomb had links with a London campaign group that has championed Anwar al-Awlaki, the al-Qaeda cleric.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab invited two speakers from Cageprisoners to an event that he organised as president of the Islamic Society at University College London (UCL). The organisation, which campaigns on behalf of Muslim prisoners, including convicted terrorists, developed close ties to al-Awlaki after his release from detention in Yemen in 2007.

The American-born cleric, who counselled two of the 9/11 hijackers, was invited to address Cageprisoners’ Ramadan fundraising dinners in 2008 and 2009 and there is extensive material about and by him on its website. Mr Abdulmutallab, 23, who is charged with trying to detonate a bomb on a Northwest Airlines flight landing in Detroit on Christmas Day, told the FBI that he met al-Awlaki in Yemen before his terrorist mission.

US counter-terrorism authorities believe that Mr Abdulmutallab began his radicalisation in Britain, where he was a mechanical engineering undergraduate in 2005-08. The British arm of the investigation is focused on who Mr Abdulmutallab met and had contact with at that time and his connection to Cageprisoners is understood to be part of the intelligence picture.

In January 2007 he invited two leading figures from the group to take part in the War on Terror week — a series of talks at UCL.

Moazzam Begg from Birmingham, who was interned for three years at Guantanamo Bay and is now a director of Cageprisoners, spoke about his experience in the American detention camp. Later in the week Asim Qureshi, then the senior researcher at Cageprisoners, gave a lecture entitled “Jihad vs Terrorism”.

At the time, Cageprisoners was campaigning for the release of al-Awlaki, who had been arrested in Yemen in 2006 and was held without charge until December 2007.

Mr Begg conducted a telephone interview with him after his release and Cageprisoners invited al-Awlaki to address its dinner at Wandsworth Civic Centre, South London, in August 2008. The preacher, who is banned from Britain, had his speech relayed by phone over a loudspeaker system.

Last September Cageprisoners invited al-Awlaki to speak again to its Ramadan dinner at Kensington Town Hall. There were protests about the invitation and the local authority told the group that it could not broadcast al-Awlaki’s words on its property.

Mr Begg told The Times that he had spoken at UCL five or six times but neither knew nor recalled meeting Mr Abdulmutallab. He confirmed that Cageprisoners campaigned for al-Awlaki when he was held in Yemen and had been in contact with the preacher after his release.

“It seems from what has been reported that he may have changed his position after his incarceration in Yemen, which seems to have included being interviewed by US intelligence agents,” said Mr Begg.

“Since the Fort Hood shootings there has been no contact with Anwar al-Awlaki. Our previous contact with him was via e-mail and I interviewed him on the phone. But we are not in contact with him now and have no idea what he is up to.”

Don’t you love Begg’s attempt at nonchalance? It merely seems to Begg that he has “changed his position”. And why did he change? Because he was incarcerated, of course.

Not true. Awlaki had a long history of association with jihadism, stretching right back to the 1990s, well before his brush with the Yemeni justice system. Indeed, the  2003 joint inquiry into 9/11 by House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence found that he had close connections with two of the 9/11 hijackers.

Moreover, Awlaki was an extremist when he was touring around the United Kingdom in 2003, urging non-cooperation with the police against terrorism. He was invited to speak at the East London Mosque by an organisation called Stop Police Terror, which was a predecessor of Cage Prisoners. Awlaki was a ‘supporter‘ of this organisation. The links between the two are old and deep.

But, apparently, we are to believe that CagePrisoners had no knowledge of Awlaki’s core philosophy. That’s certainly the impression they’d like to create. Here they are, after Awlaki’s message was banned from their fundraising dinner:

CP cannot comment on any other statements attributed to Imam al-Awlaki or other guests as we are unaware of their accuracy

Nonsense. CagePrisoners knew full well what Awlaki’s politics were. They idolise him. They republished his articles from his blog, which were written in English. We had read Awlaki’s pamphlet “44 Ways To Support Jihad“, which we simply downloaded from his website. Do you suppose that CagePrisoners activists didn’t do so as well? Were they really ignorant of his preaching?

Of course they weren’t. That’s why they published an article earlier this year describing Awlaki as “inspirational“. You can say that again.

Cage Prisoners is likely to start bleating, pretty soon, about the unfairness of implying “guilt by association”. In this case, however, Cage Prisoners might be better advised to keep a very low profile. The more attention they draw to themselves, the clearer it will be that they are both a support operation for those who have been accused and convicted of serious offences related to terrorism and a propaganda operation run by those who support violent jihad and extreme Islamist politics, dressed up as a civil liberties campaign group.

How about former senior researcher at Cage Prisoners, Asim Qureshi?

Qureshi spoke four times to UCL ISOC over the last four years. Indeed, he was invited to speak under the Underpants Bomber presidency.

Many of you will remember Qureshi’s appearance, round about the time that he was being hosted by Abdulmuttalab, on a Hizb ut Tahrir platform, where he had this to say for himself:

So when we see the examples of our brothers and sisters, fighting in Chechnya, Iraq, Palestine, Kashmir, Afghanistan, then we know where the example lies. When we see Hezbollah defeating the armies of Israel, we know what the solution is, and where the victory lies. We know that it is incumbent upon all of us to support the jihad of our brothers and sisters in these countries when they are facing the oppression of the West. Allahu Akbar!

Is this what Qureshi said to Abdulmuttalab? That it was ‘incumbent’ upon him to support jihad? Well, that’s certainly the conclusion he reached.

Then of course, there is Moazzam Begg: a man who has spent his entire life in a jihadist milieu. He is Director of CagePrisoners, and has frequently spoken at UCL ISOC: at least once during the Underpants Bomber’s Presidency. You can read some of Begg’s history in this post by habibi. And if you want to know about Begg and Awlaki: well, you couldn’t do better than read Begg’s fawning interview with the great man on – where else – CagePrisoners.

Having been captured, detained, and then released from Afghanistan, Begg’s latest schtick is to pose as a human rights campaigner.

He is nothing of the sort. Human Rights talk, for Begg as surely as for Qureshi, is a cover for promoting the notion that there is a ‘War against Islam”. Have a watch of Begg in this video, where – at 4:34 – he makes his position on the subject clear:

The video is, in content and style, a jihadist production. It was created by “Green 72 Media”. 72 virgins, perhaps? Could this be jihadi porn?

Is this what Begg said to Abdulmuttalab? That there is a “war against Islam”? Might that sort of argument persuade a man to set fire to his underpants on an aeroplane?

Which other CagePrisoners speakers visited UCL during Abdulmuttalab’s Presidency? Oh yes, Yvonne Ridley. The Patron of CagePrisoners. The woman who wrote an article about an Al Qaeda bombing in Jordan, in which she concluded:

As I said earlier in this column, it is very hard to justify the deaths of innocents. But you know, I wonder if you see that attack on the Jordanian hotels in a different light now?

But let’s get back to the original theme of this column – black sheep and family honor. I think I’d rather put up with a brother like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi any day than have a traitor or sell-out for a father, son or grandfather.”

Is that what Ridley told Abdulmuttalab? That Al Qaeda terrorism should be seen in a ‘different light’? That it was better to be a bloody decapitator like al Zarqawi than a “traitor or sell-out”?

Of course, we don’t know the answer to this, or to any of the other questions posed above.  But perhaps one day Abdulmuttalab will tell us precisely who inspired his attempt at mass murder. He has apparently already fingered Awlaki. Were I one of Awlaki’s supporters and promoters in the United Kingdom, I’d be feeling more than a little bit nervous at the moment.

However, there is one feature of Abdulmuttalab’s radicalisation that hasn’t had sufficient attention paid to it. Reading the views of Awlaki, Qureshi, Begg and Ridley, it is easy to slip into the comfortable conclusion that they are strange marginal figures, on the periphery of what passes for the mainstream of liberal and progressive thought.

They’re not. They’re right at its heart.

Begg is a media star with a column on the Guardian’s Comment is Free, who tours around British Quaker meetings. He also spoke at the Convention on Modern Liberty, alongside pretty much all the great and the good: journalists, QCs, politicians of all parties.

Qureshi has spoken on an Amnesty platform and has a long standing association with Reprieve.

Indeed, CagePrisoners itself is substantially funded – to the tune of £170,000 – by the prestigious Quaker aligned Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. The grant specifies that its purpose is:

To support Moazzam Begg’s work in educating, advocating and inspiring people about the possibilities of reconciliation between the values of the west and Islam.

It makes you want to weep.

Even Begg, even Abdulmuttalab, deserve due process under law. I oppose detention without trial. However, if you wanted to reform the law governing the powers of gamekeepers, are poachers really the best people to make that case?

One of the most repeated refrains, in the aftermath of the Underpants Bomber’s arrest, is the suggestion that there was nothing about this rich Nigerian student to suggest that he was a radical. There’s a reason for that.

Much of the thinking that contributed to Abdulmuttalab’s radicalisation has become so mainstream within a section of liberal opinion, that it has become wholly unremarkable.

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