In 2003, Asif Hanif – Britain’s first jihadist suicide bomber – murdered three people at Mike’s Bar in Tel Aviv. He had attended Kingston University. This week, a second alumnus of Kingston University, Abdul Lathief Jameel Mohamed, committed a horrifyingly bloody massacre in Sri Lanka.
A significant number of takfiri jihadist terrorists have passed through British universities over the past couple of decades. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who had been a member of UCL’s student Islamic Society and its president in 2006-7 before graduating in 2008, joined al-Qaeda under the guidance of Anwar al-Awlaki and tried to bring down an American airliner in 2009 with a bomb concealed in his underpants. Kafeel Ahmed, a former president of Queen’s University Belfast’s Islamic society, tried to blow up a nightclub in London and then set fire to himself, fatally, in Glasgow Airport in 2007. Yassin Nassari, a former president of the University of Westminster’s student Islamic society, was convicted of smuggling missile blueprints into the UK in 2007. Waheed Zaman, the former president of the London Metropolitan University Islamic society, was convicted of conspiracy to murder in 2010 in a plot to place bombs on several airliners travelling from the UK to North America.
More recently, in April 2019 the BBC reported that no fewer than seven students from the University of Westminster alone had allegedly joined ISIS.
Whenever an atrocity is committed, it is natural to ask: why? What could drive a human being to slaughter his neighbours?
Ideology clearly plays an important part. Humans are, at least in part, rational. We do things for reasons which appear good to us. The beliefs which we hold, guide our actions.
In the case of Asif Hanif, evidence emerged which indicated that he had a connection to Al Mujhajiroun: the splinter group of Hizb ut Tahrir which has emerged as a nexus in many terrorist attacks. With Abdul Mohamed, the picture is not yet clear. We don’t know what meetings he attended, with which preachers, and during which period. Therefore, at present, it is proper to make only the most general of points about ideology and radicalisation.
Our research on Kingston University during 2006-7, the period at which Abdul Mohamed attended that institution, is not as complete as in the later years, where meetings were advertised on Facebook, and were the subject of some press comment. However, many will remember that in October 2006, the radical preacher Shakeel Begg told students at that institution that they should ‘fight jihad” in Palestine:
“You want to make jihad? Very good. Don’t shout and scream and fight with your Muslim brother who is doing something else for the deen [belief of Islam]. Take some money and go to Palestine and fight, fight the terrorists, fight the Zionists in Palestine if you want to do this.”
Shakeel Begg’s words were considered in a defamation case, brought by Begg against the BBC, who had called him an “extremist”. Begg lost the case.
We don’t know whether Abdul Mohamed attended this meeting. We will never know whether he heard these words, and came to the conclusion that he was under a religious duty to “make jihad”. But it is proper to raise concerns about the promotion of jihad and fighting in British institutions.
In the years following Abdul Mohamed’s sojourn at Kingston University, it is known that the institution played host to a range of speakers, who preached a thematically similar message. Islam is under attack. Only the Caliphate can restore the former glory of Islam. The Caliphate will purify society by the application of the hudood punishments. You have a religious duty to support the establishment of such a caliphate.
For example, in October 2009, Murtaza Khan spoke at Kingston. We don’t know what he said on that occasion. However, in that year, he gave a speech at the Lewisham Islamic Centre, in which he said:
“When the time is right, [be] stern towards the disbelievers. I am not promoting these views, even in the hadith you will find that you walk in the road, when Muslims are dominant, they made sure that the non-Muslims were pushed against the wall. That’s what Islam says but I’m not pushing that view in these days because I could be on my way to Belmarsh very soon [the audience laughs].
But the point is that when Islam is dominant, you have the right to show the power and the dominance of Islam. Even walking in the streets you shouldn’t give them way.”
Two years later, Khan spoke at a community centre in Walsall, in which he explained that the source of the problems experienced by Muslims was that:
“We don’t have a Khilafah any more. We don’t have an Islamic Empire any more.
In 2010, Kingston University Islamic Society published a lecture given by Uthman Lateef, with the ominous title: “And The Life of This World is but a Deceiving Enjoyment”. Lateef spoke alongside Murtaza Khan and the Al Qaeda recruiter, Anwar Al Awlaki at the London Muslim Centre in 2009 in the infamous “End of Time” conference. In a separate talk, he also disparaged informing on Muslims to the Security Services, describing it as “spying” and a pathway to “apostasy”:
“One, we need to know the Islamic position about doing that, right? The major sin involved, right, that could also become disbelief and apostasy, right? Informing the authorities about the Muslims, when the Muslims are involved in khair and goodness and everything else, that the kuffar will still use for their own ends against the Muslims.
And so we do not weaken the ummah by strengthening the kuffar. And that is exactly what spying is. You are a tool for the strengthening of their nation and the weakening of your own one.”
In 2013, Khalid Fikry spoke at Kingston University, having appeared at that institution on a number of previous occasions. The university permitted him to speak, stating:
“It should be noted that no concerns have been raised about the content of Dr Fikry’s speeches to date. Had there been complaints, or evidence that he had breached the values in the statement, KUSU would not have allowed him to speak again.”
Fikri had considerable form by that time, as an inciter of hatred against Shia Muslims. On 5th August, 2012 Fikri spoke outside HMP Belmarsh at an event described as the Belmarsh Iftar. At that time, Belmarsh held a variety of prisoners with a link to terrorist offences. He mentioned Abu Hamza, Adnan Abdul Bari, Abu Qatada, Khalid ul Fayyaz and also Babar Ahmad. He also discussed the case of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, convicted in relation to the first World Trade Center bombing, and said that he was imprisoned as the result of a “conspiracy against him with no evidence at all.”
In a Q&A session filmed in 2013, Fikri insists “every Muslim wishes to be under the umbrella of Khilafah Islamiyyah, means shari’ah, means the Islamic law as a whole.” This, he explained, “comes with the hudud, how to deal with a thief, or to deal with a zani, to deal with a murtad, and so on”.
We can make only a broad observation about the ideology which was prevalent in certain religious-political circles at this time. It was theocratic. It was apocalyptic. It was deeply emotionally powerful.
The alarm was sounded, by Quilliam and by others about the circuit of extremist speakers at British Universities. In 2009, I know that a senior academic wrote to the then Vice Chancellor of City University, Julius Weinberg, to raise his concerns. Weinberg later said that “there are people we would ban … People who were calling for behaviours that are outside the law”. Nevertheless, extremist preachers continued to parade through British Universities, unchallenged.
In 2015, the Prime Minister noted the extremism problem at Kingston University. His words were greeted with denial and fury. Professor Julius Weinberg, who had by then become Vice Chancellor of Kingston University, demanded that the Home Office substantiated its claim. John Azah, chief executive at Kingston Race and Equalities Council, declared:
“It has never, it does not, promote any type of extremism and it works very hard to ensure that there is freedom of speech.”
The chancellor of the university, Bonnie Greer, jovially tweeted:
“Cam must be referring to my graduation ceremony speeches”
Julius Weinberg returned to the fray in February 2016, with an article in The Guardian in which he stated:
“As for the prime minister’s complaint about Kingston University, not one of the four campus meetings that he identified as dangerous involved hate speech or anything of the kind.”
He went on to make the reasonable argument that speakers should be confronted, and their ideas challenged, rather than banned. But here’s the point. At closed speaker meetings, Islamist and jihadist speakers were never put on the spot. Nobody made the case for liberal democracy and a pluralist, open society in a challenge to their call for religious tyranny.
We will likely never discover whether the seeds of Abdul Mohamed’s radicalisation were sown, in part, during his days at Kingston University. But what we can say is that the mood music that scored the belief that extreme violence and theocracy was the only solution to the world’s problems was being played, at volume, within British universities during that period.
It isn’t that nobody noticed. It was that few cared enough to act.