Che-Leila Defunct for 15 Years and Still Influencing the British Left

This is a long read article about the campus based Che-Leila group active from early 2002 -2005

The Che-Leila Youth Brigades (more commonly referred to as Che-Leila or CLYB) was a radical student group whose members served as human shields, Western ambassadors for the anti-imperialist left and a voice of support for terror organisations such as al Qaeda or rogue states like North Korea.

The group was active from the end of 2001 to 2005 but traces of their legacy remain though perhaps just out of public view. Che-Leila, a group forged in the furnace of the al Aqsa Intifada produced activists who went on to work with and/or strongly support Jeremy Corbyn, become influential figures on the alt-left and in one case a leading human rights barrister.

Let’s take a look at the ethos behind the group. Che-Leila produced three magazines, sadly only one is still available. The third (and final) CLYB magazine published in 2005 consists of a litany of support for radical terror organisations. The opening editorial states:

“Al-Qaeda, or the armed terrorist movements inspired by the leadership of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri have made sure the imperialist mainlands have not remained immune to anger inspired by the gargantuan blitzing that the US and UK have been committing across the Islamic and Arab world. The attacks in New York, Madrid and now in London have brought the war these countries have been overtly conducting in several countries and countless others indirectly, home to the West. These attacks, brutal and unjust as they are to those who are the victims of them, were inevitable due to Britain’s aggression against Iraq since 1991, as well as against Afghanistan and continued support of occupation of Palestine by israel.”

Incidentally two weeks after the 7/7 bombings in the UK Jeremy Corbyn expressed similar sentiment:

“We have to recognise that the security of this country is at risk, it’s at risk because of the way we inflict an insecurity on so many other people around the world, we have to be very clear about that.”

Perhaps the most committed member of CLYB was co-founder Sukant Chandan. At the time he was Sussex University Education Officer and would later stand unsuccessfully as President of the National Union of Students. For a time he appeared regularly in Harry’s Place articles. Before deleting his social media accounts and dropping off the grid. He wrote an account of the formation of the Che-Leila Youth Brigades on his blog Sons of Malcolm where he claimed:

“Che-Leila started off by anti-imperialist students at Sussex University in the English southern coastal city of Brighton in the academic year 2001-2002.” Adding that “In late March 2002 Che-Leila sent six students to Palestine.”

That first trip to the West Bank took place just as the Israelis launched Operation Defensive Shield. The Israel Defence Force operation that saw the Israelis re-occupy the West Bank and besiege Arafat in his Ramallah compound. It was the closest thing to conventional warfare that the Al Aqsa Intifada saw and they were in Ramallah for the most violent part of it. This was the moment that, trapped in a house with two other Sussex university students, Chandan penned a press release announcing support for terrorist groups operating in Palestine and around the world:

“Che-Leila is a non party-affiliated organisation in Britain that will provide support to the international movements who are fighting imperialism…In Ramallah we are profoundly inspired by the unity of the National and Islamic Forces, where Islamic, Communist and Secular organisations are all united against a common enemy – the dark Zionist forces. This has to serve as an example to us in Britain. This unity, which is being steeled with every martyr and action of resistance in Palestine and South Lebanon, this is the most potent force against oppression.”

In 2008 Sukant Chandan wrote of Che-Leila that;

“CLYB were one of the first political organisations to call on the anti-war movement to have a deeper understanding and respect towards movements like Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Lebanese Hizbullah as well as leftist and left-nationalist resistance movements, and to link the politics abroad with politics in Britain, especially the issues of Islamophobia and repression under the guise of the ‘war on terror’.”

But Who Were They?

The Sussex local paper The Argus spoke to one of the Sussex students who had managed to get from Ramallah to the relative safety of East Jerusalem, Salma Karmi (later Salma Karmi Ayyoub human rights barrister):

“Salma Karmi was one of a group from Sussex University which became trapped in the West Bank when the security situation broke down, with gun battles raging near Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s compound. Salma, 21, said five other students from the university were still on the West Bank.”

The Argus followed the story closely and reported on the student’s “triumphant return” to Heathrow airport;

“Sussex members included Student Union president Dan Glazebrook, education officer Sukant Chandan and students Zaki El-Salahi, Salma Karmi, Osama Muttawa, Keren Wheeler, Louisa Maynard and Anais Lafite. Hundreds of family members, friends and sympathisers, waving Union and Palestinian flags, gathered at the airport to welcome them home.”

This report mirrors Chandan’s account of the Che-Leila delegation’s return to the UK:

“On their return the delegation was welcomed back by around 300 supporters at Heathrow airport after being questioned by Special Branch officers under the Terrorism Act. The police had no control over the situation at the airport, and we held an open air rally just outside the terminal.”

The following month Leila Khaled was in London for the formal launch of Che-Leila, the group named after her and Che Guevera. The visit warranted a mention by Andrew Dismore, then MP for Hendon, during a debate in Parliament;

“There is no doubt that the PFLP is active on university campuses in the UK, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) suggested. For example, in January 2001 and May 2002, Leila Khaled visited the UK, but apparently we cannot prosecute her because in 1970 our laws against hijacking were not as strong as they are nowadays.”

He added;

“In the Daily Telegraph of 27 May, she stated that the PFLP has “a lot of supporters here”. Indeed, an organisation has been formed—the Che-Leila Youth Brigade—which is primarily a student group and has been sending British students to the West Bank and to Gaza.”

Jeremy Corbyn appeared on a platform with Khaled while she was in the UK. At the time Khaled was a member of the PFLP’s command body, known as the Central Committee. The day after being guest of honour at the Che-Leila launch event at London’s Conway Hall a PFLP suicide bomber killed three people and wounded over 60 in the Israeli coastal town of Netanya.

Photos from the Che-Leila launch are still online:

Shortly after the launch an official Che-Leila group left the UK to return to the West Bank and Gaza. The founder and editor of the alt-left website The Canary, Kerry-Anne Mendoza (then Kerry-Anne Lane), who was at the time a student at Sussex University wrote on her blog Scriptonite in 2012:

“When I was approaching my 21st birthday, a group of socialist students at my University held a talk.  They had been in Ramallah on the West Bank in April 2002…I could not believe my eyes.  At the end of the talk, they announced a delegation would be going to the Occupied Territories in June and asked people to register their interest. Weeks later, I was on a plane with a group of other students, heading to Israel.”

This chimes with a report written by an attendee at a meeting at Sussex university and published on the islamist website Inminds. The author names “Salma Karmi”, “Dan Glazebrook” and “an Indian guy who I’ve seen on campus talking against the sanctions in Iraq” as speakers at the event. The author adds:

“the students also talked about an upcoming trip to Palestine from the 1st till the 10th of June… and listed numbers for people who wanted to join them.”

The Argus reported on June 7th that five Sussex students on a June trip to Palestine were caught up in a skirmish in Ramallah:

“The five were staying in a health development institute in Ramallah last night as 50 military vehicles entered the city and besieged the compound of the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.” Adding “The latest trip was organised by newly-formed group Che Leila Youth Brigades, which aims to link popular struggles at home to those abroad.”

The Che Leila trip departed on the 1st of June for 10 days, the Argus article is dated June 7th. Activist Katherine Cremer, who claimed in her article to be a participant on the Che Leila June trip, posted on the Bristol Indymedia website in the early hours of the 6th of June that:

“i am in PARC (palestinian agricultural relief centre), where there are two tv stations, which would be a prime target at some stage for the israeli’s.”

Compare this to what Mendoza wrote in her blog Scriptonite that on her final night in Ramallah:

“All of a sudden, we were woken up and told that the IDF were coming into Ramallah.  We could stay there or we could distribute ourselves among key buildings in the area to help prevent them being blown to bits.  It was a no brainer for me.  I ended up rotating between the Health Ministry and a media building called the PARC building in Ramallah.”

Cremer also wrote that the Che-Leila delegation had met with a representative from Islamic Jihad the day after the group had murdered 17 people on a bus;

“yesterday (weds), as you probably heard, there was a car bomb detonated whilst moving next to a bus at megiddo junction at 7.15am. this attack killed 17 people, 13 of whom were soldiers. this was the deadliest attack since Israel ended Operation Defensive Shield in April. this attack was claimed by islamic jihad, a representative of which organisation the che-leila delegation met with earlier on today.”

Che-Leila was never a group that attempted to disguise support for terrorist groups, on the contrary their stated aim was to provide solidarity with such groups as an act of progressive politics. In 2003 long after Chandan’s 2002 press release about the Che Leila Youth Brigades being:

profoundly inspired by the unity of the National and Islamic Forces, where Islamic, Communist and Secular organisations are all united against a common enemy – the dark Zionist forces.”

Salma Karmi was reported as speaking on behalf of the group about “solidarity and resistance”. This was after Kremer, a Che Leila activist, wrote that her Che-Leila delegation met with a member of Islamic Jihad. And why wouldn’t they meet with terrorists when their whole raison d’etre was to provide them with support against the “dark Zionist forces”?

The same magazine reporting Karmi as a speaker for Che Leila refers to the British suicide bomber Asif Mohammad Hanif as one of the “heroes of the revolutionary youth”. Hanif detonated his bomb at the Mike’s Place bar by the Tel Aviv beachfront in 2003. He killed three people and wounded 55. There’s no suggestion that Karmi was involved in that terror attack or supported it. It is clear that the editors of this magazine were not peace activists.

The third issue of the Che-Leila magazine was released in 2005. It features an interview with Lebanese/Belgian national with Dyab Abu Jahjah who the magazine refers to as “the Arab Malcolm X”. In his interview he said;

“We had already two powers against us; the Zionists lobby which is very powerful here who have friends in the political class and in the economic and media sectors. At the same time, the regular establishment, especially on the part of parties like the VLD [right-wing Liberal Party], even to a certain extent to Socialist Party that are Labour Party look-alikes.”

He then adds:

“I have said this openly in an interview with a Dutch language Belgian magazine, that the only regret I have is that we did not burn Antwerp in 2002…”

“We see the enemy on the one hand the invaders and the colonisers, including the US and Zionists; the second part of the enemy, although its one camp, are the dictatorships. On a more radical note the states themselves, because we are Arab Nationalists, we don’t believe in these states. As long as they exist colonialism exists because colonialism created them. We believe if you democratise them the people will choose to eventually eliminate them, so the fight is with the dictators too. We don’t believe that one fight should be postponed against another, they are both the enemies.”

The magazine also featured an interview with “Ethiopian Marxist intellectual Mohamed Hassan” who said;

“The movement of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zwahiri, the two leaders of the movement which is commonly known as ‘al-Qaeda’, are a product of imperialist oppression and terror against the Arab nation and in many countries which have a majority Muslim population. Furthermore, and importantly for those in the ‘West’, this conflict is creating greater civil crisis within the Western countries. These times are demanding that progressives everywhere study these developments in order to struggle so to put an end to imperialist oppression and in order to create peace and friendship between the peoples in the West and in the neo-colonies…”

“The US has started the terror. Their terror is limitless and it is global. Of course their propaganda machine is very big. They try to fool the US and British white working class and dividing them from the rest of the working class by stating that there is terrorism against them from outside.”

Activism After Che-Leila

Four years later, with Che-Leila already confined to history, CLYB founder Sukant Chandan joined forces with Jeremy Corbyn to push Jahjah’s vehicle, the International Union of Parliamentarians for Palestine (IUPFP). They brought Jahjah to London for the launch of the British chapter of the group in Parliament and a second event just after. When he became leader of the Labour Party that launch event caused Corbyn something of a headache, mainly due to the fact that Jahjah had said some pretty terrible things in the past including;

“I consider every dead American, British and Dutch soldier a victory.”

At first Corbyn claimed he’d never met Jahjah, when the evidence became incontrovertible he admitted he had but that;

“I have no recollection of him. As an MP I have met thousands of people over the years. Because I meet them, it does not mean I share their views or endorse their views.” 

This is not the way Jahjah describes his relationship with Corbyn, he wrote on his blog in 2015;

I have briefly met and collaborated with Jeremy Corbyn in 2009. We organised a debate at the British parliament where Corbyn, myself, and Hezbullah MP, and current Lebanese government minister, Hussein Haj Hassan spoke. A day before, we had also spoken together at a rally of the British anti-war movement. Corbyn’s openness to dialogue is what made the visit possible.

Below Corbyn, Chandan and Jahjah sit together at the launch event in Parliament. In between Chandan (on the extreme left) and Jahjah sits a Hezbollah MP, also invited over for the launch (H/T Mr Corbyn in the Times):

In 2013, two years before becoming head of the Labour Party Corbyn wrote about an event he attended in Somerset;

“Aggressive US foreign policy was born out of post-war rivalry with the Soviet Union. After 1990 that whole rationale had disappeared and a new role had to be found to satisfy the voracious appetites of the arms and aircraft manufacturers and the ambitions of strutting generals. The events of September 11 2011 at the World Trade Centre in New York gave them their opportunity.”

With the similarities of their politics in mind it’s hardly surprising to find Glazebrook and Corbyn on the same platform at that obscure event. Glazbrook argues, with Corbyn sitting next to him, that;

“When we hear this narrative that the war and the destabilisation going on in Syria, the violence in Syria is solely the result of a violent crackdown by the Syrian government against peaceful demonstrators we need to bear in mind that actually this destabilisation campaign has been planned in London, Washington and Paris, funded by the Saudis and executed by militias from across the region and actually closer to the reality of how this situation came about is to understand that actually demonstrations were launched as a cover for an imperialist proxy war against Syria and that’s exactly what’s going on.”

“This colonial war by proxy is failing”

Salma Karmi Ayyoub is a prolific speaker on the topic of Palestine and human rights. She has spoken at events highly sympathetic to Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party and she has spoken on the topic of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. She continues her Palestine advocacy work and just a few days ago spoke at an event entitled Defining antisemitism: freedom of speech on British campuses and beyond where she passionately argued against universities adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

Kerry-Anne Mendoza rose to prominence with her website The Canary which is known for its strong support of Jeremy Corbyn and assertions that antisemitism is being used as a tool to attack parts of the left wing element of the Labour Party.

Mendoza has appeared on Question Time and was invited to give the 2018 annual Black History Month lecture by the National Union of Journalists. The lecture was cancelled after the Canary published reports relating to a Guardian freelancer working in Nicaragua that led to his deportation.

Recently at a meeting of the Labour Against the Witch hunt group Mendoza controversially claimed that:

“It is deeply, deeply offensive to me that there are groups of people that behave as if Jewish people first were the only victims of the Holocaust which they were not.”

Corbyn has just given an hour long interview to Mendoza under the auspices of The Canary that will air on Thursday evening.

While Chandan, Glazebrook and others have fallen into the political wilderness both Mendoza and Salma Karmi-Ayyoub are still active politically. Their connection to a group that saw its role, its very raison d’etre as a supporter of terror groups the world remains unclear.

To the best of our knowledge neither has ever spoken about being connected to Che-Leila nor spoken about meeting with terrorists therefore it is impossible to claim in the case of Mendoza that she was a member of the group and there is no suggestion that either met with terrorists or supported terrorism.