Syrian born radical Islamist Sheikh Omar bin Bakri Muhammad is the founder of the London branch of HizbAl-Tahrir (the Islamic Liberation Party ), and of the organization "Jama'at Al-Muhajirun" ("The Emigrants," inreference to those who accompanied the Prophet Muhammad on his Hijra from Mecca to Medina). Additionally,Sheikh Bakri presents himself as the spokesman of Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front for Jihad AgainstJews and Crusaders. This organization, by Bakri's own admission, participates in fundraising for Hamas and thePalestinian Islamic Jihad, and is "in touch" with Hizbullah. Bakri has further claimed to have recruited volunteers fortraining in paramilitary camps located in the U.S. and Lebanon.
Sheikh Bakri's Activities: A Partial Timeline
The Paris-based Intelligence Newsletter reported that Bakri was recruited at an early age by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood movement, and participated in its leader's, Issam Al-Attar, revolt against then-Syrian President Hafez Assad that was "drowned in blood in 1982 at Hamat." As a result, he was expelled from Syria and moved to Beirut.
In Beirut, he joined Sheikh Khalil Al-Mat and the local branch of Hizb Al-Tahrir. Then, in 1983, (or according to some versions in 1979 during Syria's invasion of Lebanon) he took the alias of Omar Fustuk and settled in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he established "Al-Muhajirun" as a front for the Hizb Al-Tahrir in the Arabian Peninsula. Al-Muhajirun now has offshoots in Lille, France, and Hanover, Germany. In 1995, 47 Sunni organizations were reported to be active in Western Europe under the umbrella of Hizb Al-Tahrir, which is headquartered in Hamburg.
In 1985, after the Saudi government deported him he then went to London where he later left Hizb Al-Tahrir following a disagreement with its leaders. While Bakri wanted to deal with numerous issues troubling the Muslim community, such as racism and unemployment, the Hizb Al-Tahrir leaders claimed that such activity would sidetrack the party from its main goal, the establishment of an Islamic caliphate.
In 1993, Bakri became a legal resident of Britain, and in March 1996 he applied for citizenship.
Living in London
Sheikh Omar Bakri preaches at several London mosques. Between 1994 and 1998, he gave speeches at Islamist rallies in Trafalgar Square and Wembley Stadium. He founded the Al-Khilafa publishing house in London and serves, he says, as a judge in the "Shari'a Court of the UK." Bakri often presents himself as the spokesman of the International Islamic Front, and cited this title on a letter he wrote to Osama bin Laden. Bakri has described the International Islamic Front as the political wing of the [International] Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders, led by Osama bin Laden.
In an interview with the Daily Mirror, Sheikh Bakri acknowledged that he lives on social benefits from the British government: "He receives nearly £300 a week in state handouts for himself, his [Lebanese] wife, and their five (as of 1996) children. He told the Mirror, 'Islam allows me to take the benefit the system offers. I'm fully eligible. It is very difficult for me to get a job. Anyway, most of the leadership of the Islamic movement is on [state] benefit.'"
Up until September 1998, when seven radical Muslims were arrested in London on suspicion of involvement in terrorist activity, Bakri insisted that the British government was tolerant of his activities. In an interview with the London Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat on August 22, 1998, Bakri was asked why the Islamic groups never attacked Britain. Bakri replied, "I work here in accordance with the covenant of peace which I made with the British government when I got [political] asylum… We respect the terms of this bond as Allah orders us to do."
The London Sunday Times reported that one of Bakri's aides, Makbool Javid, was appointed by Jack Straw, then Home Secretary in Blair's government, to the newly-established Race Relations Forum. In an interview some nine months later, Bakri said, "The British government knows who we are. MI5 has interrogated us many times. I think now we have something called public immunity."
But after the arrest of the seven, Bakri changed his tune, and in an interview with an Egyptian weekly he denounced Britain as "the spearhead of blasphemy that seeks to overthrow Muslims and the Islamic caliphate." He explained that "the arrested Egyptians are political refugees who are not involved in terrorist activities," adding that Muslims in Britain condemn the "barbaric" acts of the British government against "innocent Muslims who, it is now apparent, were lulled and betrayed into believing they could seek sanctuary in Britain from their corrupt regimes… It is clear the British government has adopted a harsh policy against the peaceful Muslim community, using fear, force, and the methods of tyrannical regimes such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, Algeria, Syria, Iran, and other Middle Eastern governments… [as] a ransom for future economic favors" extracted after a recent visit to London by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince.
Actually, the friction between Sheikh Bakhri and the British government began long before September 1998. As early as 1991, during the Gulf War, Bakri was questioned by MI5, following a claim that he had called for the assassination of then-Prime Minister John Major. According to the Mail on Sunday, Bakri said: "Major is a legitimate target. If anyone gets the opportunity to assassinate him, I don't think they should save it. It is our Islamic duty and we will celebrate his death." Bakri later told The Birmingham Sunday Mercury that he had been "misquoted," and clarified the point, saying that Major would be a "legitimate target" if he were to set foot in a Muslim country and that the same now applied to British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Bakri also said that in such a case he would not "condemn the killers."
This incident recently repeated itself, when Al-Muhajirun spokesman Abd Al-Rahman Salim said that Blair had become a legitimate target for any Muslim who wants to assassinate him, due to his involvement in the attacks on Afghanistan. The AFP quoted Salim as saying: "Now that the Americans, the British, and, it is safe to assume, also the French, have begun to bomb Muslims in Afghanistan, government buildings here [in Britain], military installations, and No. 10 Downing Street have become legitimate targets. This also means Prime Minister Tony Blair has become a legitimate target. If any Muslim wants to kill him or get rid of him, I would not shed a tear for him. In the Islamic view, such a man would not be punished for his deeds, but would be praised."
In December 2000, Bakri went to Birmingham to recruit volunteers, and while being there he gave an interview to The Birmingham Sunday Mercury on December 12, 2000. In the interview, Bakri explained that he had come to Birmingham to recruit people not only as members for his Al-Muhajirun party, but also to fight abroad in places such as Kashmir, Afghanistan, and Chechnya. He said that in Britain there were only physical training camps, but that volunteers were sent from Britain to military training camps in South Africa, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Kashmir, and the U.S.
The issue of paramilitary training courses was discussed at length in an interview Bakri gave to CNSNews.com, in which he again acknowledged that he was involved in financing training for volunteers sent to the U.S. He explained that his "Jihad network" was taking advantage of the fact that firearms training with live ammunition was more readily available in America than in Britain. "When we started to go to Afghanistan," Bakri said, "they started to label us terrorists, so now we go to the USA!"
According to Bakri, some of the men undergoing training in the use of firearms and explosives, and in surveillance and other skills, would be expected to join Jihad in one country or another. "Some may decide, 'I want to go and help my Muslim brothers in Chechnya or Palestine or Kashmir or South Lebanon.' That's up to them. It's independent of the organization," he said.
Bakri added that the training camps were run by private firms in "certain places," among them Michigan and Missouri, and that Muslims from various countries trained there for periods ranging from one week to three months. The recruits had "different backgrounds – some British, some American, Arab, or Asian – but all of them have European or American citizenship. There is no need for visas," he said.
"It's not illegal. We aren't hiding anything. It should be looked at with an open mind. We're talking purely about helping people who would like to train. The skills they learn… are part of the religious obligation every Muslim has. A Muslim must have military training at least once in his life," he said. In another interview, Bakri claimed that the Koran stated that it is the obligation of every Muslim reaching the age of 15 to do military service.
Bakri continued, "In our [Muslim] countries, this is easy. We can fulfill this obligation by joining our national armies. But some Muslims would not like to join the British or American forces... [and] would rather go to an independent training camp."
"Why call this 'terror training?' All Americans can learn how to shoot – what happens when this American person is a Muslim? Or are you calling us second- or third-class citizens?" Bakri asked.
In another interview, with Milan's Il Giornale on October 14, 2000, Bakri said that The International Islamic Front for Jihad against the Jews and the Crusaders (The IIF), created by Osama bin Laden, was actively supporting Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. "We collect funds to be able to carry on the struggle; we recruit militiamen; and sometimes we take care of these groups' propaganda requirements in Europe." According to Bakri, during the previous month The IIF had recruited 160 volunteers in Britain and sent them to Jordan, where they awaited opportunities to infiltrate into the West Bank and join the uprising against Israel. Recruits had also been sent in recent months to Lebanon, where they were training in Palestinian refugee camps. "In the 'Ein Al-Hilweh camp, for instance, new mujahideen are being recruited and trained with the aim of opening up another front in south Lebanon." He added that The IIF is also "in touch with Hizbullah and with Islamic movements such as Usbat Al-Ansar, which are determined to fight for the liberation of Jerusalem."
The Asian Age magazine reported that Bakri claimed that it was he who had recruited 24-year-old Muhammad Bilal to carry out the suicide attack that killed a number of Indian soldiers in Srinagar in December 2000. Bakri said that Bilal's brothers and cousins had also been trained by Al-Muhajirun, and that Bilal's parents were "proud of their son's sacrifice." He added that he had recruited 600 British Muslims in universities and mosques to fight in Kashmir. The magazine also reported that Bakri finances the Al-Maddad organization, which, with other groups, has recruited 2000 other young men from all over Britain.
Sheikh Bakri's fame has spread as far as eastern Asia, where The Bangkok Post reported that "…Southern separatists are receiving terrorist training and money from foreign supporters." According to the paper, a training farm about 20 kilometers from the Thai-Malaysian border had ties with "the Mideast and radical Muslims based in London." The paper mentioned Bakri as one of the farm's "foreign supporters."
Bakri has no objections to airplane hijackings, as indicated by his statements to the Egyptian weekly Roz Al-Yussuf: "The Islamic movement has the right to sacrifice whoever it sees fit. The rule is that [Muslim] children, women, and the weak should not be a goal except in one situation: if it is difficult to win without sacrificing them. So, if hijackers find [Muslim] women, and children and elderly people on a [hijacked] plane, they should set them free except if the goal of the hijackers is to free women, children, and elderly people held prisoners in countries. In this case, they can be kept, because the blood of Muslims is equal [to others' blood], but they can sacrifice foreigners on the plane… and if you study Shari'a you will know that. The fedya [ransom] of a Muslim is 12,000 dirhams, while that of a Dhimmi [i.e. a Christian or a Jew under Muslim rule] is 4,000 dirhams."
The bin Laden Connection
On several occasions, Sheikh Bakri presented himself as the spokesman of the political wing of The International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders, established by Osama bin Laden in 1996. Al-Ahram Weekly reported that Bakri was known for his connections with bin Laden, whom he described, in an interview with the weekly, as "the leader of all Islamist movements, whether we like it or not."
However, in his interview with CNSNews.com, Bakri denied any organizational connection with bin Laden. "We have no direct links with Osama bin Laden," he declared. "[But] we have ideological links with the world Islamic movement, including Osama bin Laden. We may agree with him in something and disagree with him in something. At the end of the day, there is no proof yet that he is involved in any terrorist activity. If terrorism means someone is supporting Muslims against the occupying forces in Somalia or in Arabia, I will never call him a terrorist. I will call him a freedom fighter. I will call him a hero."
Bin Laden was to participate, albeit not physically, in the Rally for [Islamic] Revival, planned by Bakri for September 6, 1996 but cancelled at the last minute. The conference was to have been one of the high points of Bakri's career, and Radical Islamist leaders from all over the world were to participate in one way or another. Bin Laden was to send a videocassette, as were Sheikh Omar Abd Al-Rahman, imprisoned in the U.S.; Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, who at that time was still imprisoned in Israel; and Hizbullah spiritual leader Sheikh Muhammad Hussein Fadhlallah. Sheikh Muhammad Ubaid, also of Hizbullah, who had been kidnapped by Israel, was supposed to send a "message" from his prison cell in Israel. Also expected to attend was Egyptian Jihad leader Yasser Tawfiq Al-Serri, who was sentenced to death in absentia in Egypt in 1993 for a failed assassination attempt on Egyptian Prime Minister Atef Sidqi. Recorded messages were also sent by the imprisoned leaders of the Algerian Islamic movement.
Following severe pressure by the Egyptian, Algerian, and Israeli governments, the British Home Office announced that Scotland Yard would be monitoring the conference for "statements made in support of terrorism or racism [that] would be in violation of British law" and a threat of possible persecution for any such statements. The conference was subsequently cancelled.
After the bombing of U.S. embassies in Africa, Bakri said that even if it was proven that bin Laden was responsible for the bombings in Saudi Arabia, Kenya, and Tanzania, "those still remain legitimate acts." He added, "The American troops in the Gulf region are there to fight against Islam and Muslims. Their presence is not legitimate and fighting against them is the duty of every Muslim. The American bombing of Sudan and Afghanistan, the war against Iraq and America's blind support for the Israeli enemy – these are acts of war against Allah and his Prophet."
After the American missile attack on Afghanistan and the Sudan, Bakri read an announcement, that he said had come directly from bin Laden, to the Italian daily La Repubblica on August 24, 1998. The announcement said, "…The war has begun. Our response to the barbaric bombardment against Muslims of Afghanistan and Sudan will be ruthless and violent…" Bakri added, "Our response could happen in any corner of the world. Retaliation for the U.S. attacks will end only when the last American soldier has left Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, and when the embargo against Iraq is over… We will not give a truce to America."
On July 15, 1999, Bakri published a letter written to bin Laden on his Al-Muhajirun website, calling on him to act against the West. The letter was removed from the site after U.S. protest, but was read aloud in mosques in North London, Bradford, Sheffield, and Leicester. In his letter, Bakri wrote, "…The Islamic Movements have not used the real weapon yet… Oh Osama… You and your brothers are now breathing life and dignity into the body of the Ummah (nation). Our main mission as Muslims is to carry the Islamic message to the entire world…"
"We are an Ummah of Jihad and beyond doubt we have been chosen by Allah to lead the whole world if we hold to his command… The opportunity is here and we must not pass it by… Our Muslim brothers are firm in their Jihad so we must not lose time aimlessly and act now. The Ummah is our Ummah, the war is our war, and the enemy is our enemy, the mujahideen are our brothers, the victory or defeat is our victory or defeat, and the Khilafa is our Khilafa. Oh Osama… Let us hear the good news from you and your brothers, for a new dawn is near at hand." According to several sources, a reply from bin Laden was read aloud in mosques in London and Pakistan.
Excerpts of another letter to Bakri by bin Laden, sent by fax from Afghanistan in the summer of 1998, were recently published in The Los Angeles Times. Bakri later released what he called bin Laden's four specific objectives for a Jihad against the U.S.: "Bring down their airliners. Prevent the safe passage of their ships. Occupy their embassies. Force the closure of their companies and banks."
Sheikh Bakri's radical ideological doctrine is manifested in many different spheres. On several occasions, Bakri has expressed his hatred of Jews. He had "Kill the Jews" posters printed, and claimed that these were not his words but the words of the "scriptures."  In the Mercury interview, Bakri said that the Holocaust was "a tool used by Jews in order to justify their own hegemony over Muslims in Palestine. Much worse crimes have been committed against Muslims in Chechnya, Kashmir and Palestine."
Yet after issuing a Fatwa calling on Muslims to fight against Israel, Bakri told the BBC, "We have no problem with the Jewish community here. Our real problem is with the occupying forces… We are talking about a cancer in the heart of the Muslim world and that is Israel. It must be eradicated and removed." On another occasion, Bakri told protesters at a violent demonstration outside the London Central Mosque in Regent Park, "All Israeli targets are legitimate for you. All Israelis must be destroyed."
Bakri also called for the death of playwright Terence McNally for portraying Jesus Christ, considered by Islam to be a prophet, as a homosexual in his play Corpus Christi. Bakri also reportedly urged all homosexuals to throw themselves from Big Ben. In response, the Lesbian Avengers and Outrage, two London-based gay-rights groups, held a mock trial for Bakri, issuing a "Queer Fatwa" that read: "Omar Bakri Muhammad is hereby sentenced to 1,000 years of relentless sodomitical torment."
The most significant element of Bakri's doctrine is Jihad. A document entitled "Jihad: The foreign policy of the Islamic state" was posted on the Al-Muhajirun website. The document included a lengthy, in-depth analysis of the meaning of Jihad. "Jihad, as a term, cannot be translated as 'holy war,'" it said, "nor can it be translated as… 'struggle.' At best, its legal meaning can be understood as 'using military force, where diplomacy fails, to remove the obstacles the Islamic State faces in carrying its ideology to mankind.'
"The aim of Jihad, unlike the Crusades, past and present, is not to forcibly convert to Islam the inhabitants of other lands. Rather, it is to provide them with the security that comes from the application of Islam, leaving them the choice of adopting Islam or keeping their own religions… History confirms that this is and always has been the role of Jihad, for it was in Muslim Spain that the Muslims, Christians, and Jews were able to live peacefully under an Islamic authority…"
"The difference between the use of force by the West and that by Islam is that the Capitalist West uses force overtly and covertly for the benefit of a few, such as corporations, while Islam uses force openly and justly to carry its mercy to others…"
"Jihad is… one of the main Pillars of Islam after Tawhid (the assertion of Monotheistic faith) and Da'wa (proselytizing). In fact, Jihad is… Da'wa by the Islamic state as its foreign policy."
Unlike his London colleague Sheikh Abu Hamza Al-Masri (see Radical Islamist Profiles 1), who maintains that the Islamic revolution must begin in Yemen – Sheikh Bakri says that the revolution must begin in London. The Mercury reported that Bakri "lusts for the establishment of a global Islamic regime called Al-Khilafa, starting here in the UK" and that he wants to see the UK become the first Islamic state in a new world order. The paper also reported that Bakri called British laws and democracy 'phony' rules made up by "the monkeys in Parliament."
In an interview with the French Le Monde, Bakri stated his "intention to make the flag of Islam fly high at No. 10 Downing Street and at the Elysee." The article continues, "Islam, according to him, is the supreme ideology facing an immoral West, and… all contemporary leaders of the Muslim world, with no exceptions, are pawns of the West."
Similar messages were conveyed in an interview Bakri gave to Yeshiva University undergraduate newspaper editor Aaron Klein, who attended one of Bakri's conferences and reported on it in The Jerusalem Post. In a speech at the conference, Bakri said, "With thanks to Allah, we bring peace to all, and we help the world realize that Islam is the only way of life… Terrorism according to the West is defined as 'the systematic use of violence to achieve political or religious ends… Al-Muhajirun defines terrorism as 'to attack without the divine right'…"
Bakri told Klein, "…Clinton is a target of the Jihad, and American forces are a target of the Jihad wherever they are… American people must reconsider their foreign policy, or their children will be sent back to them in coffins. They need to think about the consequences of maintaining forces in Lebanon, the Golan Heights, and the Middle East as a whole. Clinton is responsible and he will pay… [The existence of Israel] is a crime. Israel must be removed…"
"…Our duty is to work to establish an Islamic state anywhere in the world, even in Britain…. Life is protected under us. There will be no minorities and majorities as in America. antisemitism in the U.S. is disgraceful. Synagogues and churches will flourish in the Khilafa as long as they adopt Islamic law. We restored life for Jews after the Crusades, and we plan to do so again…"
"And what Clinton and Barak are doing [in the peace process, then at its height] is putting themselves in a position of God, so they are now at direct war with the people who believe in God."
Reactions to the Attacks on U.S. and U.S.-UK Operation in Afghanistan
Following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S., Bakri told the BBC that "what happened was a direct consequence of the evil foreign policy of the USA. This is the compensation and payback for its own atrocities against Muslims." The Al-Muhajirun website offered an in-depth look at the issue, under the headline, "USA at war with Islam":
"In the eventuality that the American forces launch [an] attack against Taliban, the divine verdict already expounded by the Scholars of Islam is that the military and government buildings, the war machine and the soldiers of the alliance will all become legitimate targets for Muslims wherever they are in the world and they must be fought against…"
"Oh Muslims, stand together and unite our Ummah (nation) to fight against the enemies of Allah and his Messenger Muhammad in this time of need. The Book of Allah (i.e. the Koran) calls you, the Ummah cries for your help and Paradise awaits you. Verily, Allah orders you in the Koran: 'Go and fight, young or old, and sacrifice your wealth and life in order to get paradise' (9:41) and 'Fight the Mushriks [polytheists] all together the way they fight you all together' (9:36)…"
"…It is time that we made a clear and unambiguous distinction between haq [truth] and batil [falsehood], between Imaan [belief] and Kufr [heresy], between oppressors and the oppressed, between the alliance of Shaytaan [Satan] and that of Allah …"
Sheikh Bakri also issued a "Fatwa Against [Pakistan's President] General Musharraf – USA." This ruling was posted on the Al-Mahajirun Website in Arabic, as well as in an English version. In Arabic, it reads: "Question: What do the clerics say about Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and other Islamic states allowing the U.S. to use their land, skies, ports, and military bases… while intensive preparations are underway for striking a blow at the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan [i.e., the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan]…?"
"Answer: There is no doubt that America attacked, and is still attacking, the Muslims in every place and is carrying out massacres against them… It is the obligation of all Muslims to be in a state of war with it. The minimal obligation is a complete boycott, by means of avoiding diplomatic relations [with the U.S.]… The only ones who claim that 'diplomatic relations' [with the U.S.] are allowed are the clerics of the treacherous sultans (i.e. the rulers of Arab and Islamic countries), most of whom are donkeys bearing books, and some are like dogs: they have renounced the verses of Allah and become like dogs, that should be left to pant, as a place is already reserved for them, surely on the lowest level of the fires of Hell."
"Those people… their situation is clear and there is no need for any doubt among any of the Muslims: They are Murtaddun [who were Muslims] who left Islam for heresy, if, at all, they were Muslims to begin with. They all are involved in the war against Islam and against Muslims and therefore the sentence of Murtadd Harbi [a Murtadd who should be fought] applies to them, as follows:"
"1)His blood becomes permissible, and he must be killed, as an obligatory punishment, without possibility of forgiveness, because he fights against Allah and his Prophet… 2)His marriage becomes invalid, as does his guardianship of his children and relatives… 3)His property is permissible … he will not be able to bequeath [it]… 4)He cannot be buried in a Muslim cemetery, because burying Muslims is an honor that is fitting only those who are Muslims, while they, male and female alike, are Murtaddun Harbiyun [who should be fought] and are not Muslims 5)He must be treated with animosity and hatred, exactly like the Harbi heretic is treated… 6)There is no distinction between a man and a woman with respect to this verse. The blood of a woman Murtadda Harbiya who fights is permissible, exactly like that of a male Harbi – even if her fighting is limited to singing: thus acted the Prophet against the fighting women of the Quraysh tribe. He permitted their blood and ordered them killed, although he generally prohibited killing women, and was even strict about this…"
The Fatwa appeared under the emblem of the "Shari'a Court of the UK," and, in the Arabic version, was signed by Sheikh Bakri, Shari'a Court Judge in London, and by the Secretary General of the Committee for the Protection of Legitimate Rights (in Saudi Arabia), Muhammad bin Abdallah Al-Musa'ari "Abu Majed." The two called on all Muslim clerics to study the matter and add their signatures to the ruling.
However, during its translation into English, the Fatwa underwent a transformation. It was signed by "Juristic Muslim scholars from various countries such as: Syria, Lebanon, Kuwait, the Emirates [UAE], Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and UK…" In this version, the names of Bakri and Al-Musa'ari appear only at the bottom, with telephone numbers for obtaining further information.
The English version also lacks the section about "book-bearing donkeys" and "panting dogs," and is replaced by the Koranic verse establishing that "the punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Prophet and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides, or they should be imprisoned… [5:33]." Similarly, the section referring to the Prophet Muhammad's killing of the Quraysh women is replaced by a paragraph that reads, "Therefore we ask Muslims with the capability, especially the army of Muslim countries, to move quickly and to capture those Apostates and criminals involved in these crimes, especially the ruler of Pakistan, King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, and Rabbani of Afghanistan and his followers [in the Northern Alliance]…"
*Yotam Feldner is MEMRI's Director of Media Analysis.
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