Omar Bakri Muhammad

Omar Bakri Muhammad is a prominent Sunni Islamist cleric who has a long record of supporting terrorism.“Cleric Omar Bakri ‘On the Run’ in Lebanon,” BBC News, April 2, 2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-26847794. He was the leader of U.K.-based Islamist organizations Hizb ut-Tahrir and the now proscribed al-Muhajiroun.Mahan Abedin, “Al-Muhajiroun in the UK: Interview with Omar Bakri Muhammad,” Jamestown Foundation, May 25, 2005, http://www.jamestown.org/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=290&no_cache=1#.VTatGvnF8no. Under Bakri Muhammad’s leadership, al-Muhajiroun celebrated terrorist attacks and praised the perpetrators of September 11, 2001 as the “magnificent 19.”Dominic Casciani, “Profile: Omar Bakri Muhammad,” BBC News, August 12, 2005, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/4144892.stm. In October 2015, Lebanese authorities sentenced Bakri Muhammad to six years of hard labor on terrorism charges.Jenny Stanton, “Son of ‘Tottenham Ayatollah’ hate preacher Omar Bakri is killed fighting for ISIS in Iraq,” Daily Mail, December 29, 2015, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3377973/Son-Tottenham-Ayatollah-killed-Iraq-sources.html.

Bakri Muhammad has influenced jihadists including Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebolawe who murdered British soldier Fusilier Rigby in May 2013 in London.Robert Mendick and Robert Verkaik, “Hate cleric Omar Bakri Muhammad preaches killing of women and children on Facebook,” Telegraph, November 29, 2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/11262996/Hate-cleric-Omar-Bakri-Muhammad-preaches-killing-of-women-and-children-on-Facebook.html. Bakri Muhammad reportedly helped convert Adebolajo. After Adebolajo and Adebolawe’s arrests, Bakri Muhammad justified the murder to British media.Kim Sengupta, “Exclusive: Woolwich killings suspect Michael Adebolajo was inspired by cleric banned from UK after urging followers to behead enemies of Islam,” Independent (London), May 24, 2013, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/exclusive-woolwich-killings-suspect-michael-adebolajo-was-inspired-by-cleric-banned-from-uk-after-8630125.html. Bakri Muhammad is also rumored to have ties to al-Qaeda and has called for the group’s flag to be flown over Lebanon’s presidential palace.Anne Barnard, “Lebanon Arrests Radical Cleric Who Backed Militants,” New York Times, May 25, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/26/world/middleeast/lebanon-arrests-radical-omar-bakri-muhammad.html?_r=0.

Bakri Muhammad has been imprisoned in Lebanon since May 2014.Ian Johnston, “Banned radical cleric Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohamed arrested in Lebanon over ‘links to terrorism,’” Independent, May 26, 2014, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/banned-radical-cleric-sheikh-omar-bakri-mohamed-arrested-in-lebanon-over-links-to-terrorism-9434213.html. From Lebanese prison, he maintained an incendiary Facebook profile on which he supported the killing of “kuffar” [non-believers] women and children, and preached that Christians and Jews are the enemies of Muslims. Facebook deleted the page in November 2014 after the British Telegraph newspaper alerted the social media company to its existence. Nonetheless, the page had remained up for a year before its deletion.Robert Mendick and Robert Verkaik, “Hate cleric Omar Bakri Muhammad preaches killing of women and children on Facebook,” Telegraph, November 29, 2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/11262996/Hate-cleric-Omar-Bakri-Muhammad-preaches-killing-of-women-and-children-on-Facebook.html.

Bakri Muhammad was born in Syria and joined the Muslim Brotherhood there in the early 1970s at the age of 15. At age 17, he joined Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) in Lebanon. In a 2005 interview with the Jamestown Foundation, Bakri Muhammad said he had become disgusted by the Brotherhood’s transformation into a state political party in Syria and other countries. From Lebanon, Bakri Muhammad traveled to Egypt and then Saudi Arabia, where he created multiple cells of HT. By 1983, he claimed he had recruited 38 people to HT in Saudi Arabia. Because HT was officially banned in Saudi Arabia, however, he worked with HT organizers in neighboring Kuwait. But the HT leaders there did not approve of Bakri Muhammad’s activities and suspended him from the organization in 1983. In response, with the 38 HT members he had recruited in Saudi Arabia, Bakri Muhammad created al-Muhajiroun on March 3, 1983, the 59th anniversary of the dissolution of the Ottoman caliphate.Mahan Abedin, “Al-Muhajiroun in the UK: Interview with Omar Bakri Muhammad,” Jamestown Foundation, May 25, 2005, http://www.jamestown.org/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=290&no_cache=1#.VTatGvnF8no.

Bakri Muhammad arrived in the United Kingdom on January 14, 1986. In coordination with HT’s leadership in Germany, Bakri Muhammad began to build the group’s U.K. chapter while also building up his al-Muhajiroun organization.Mahan Abedin, “Al-Muhajiroun in the UK: Interview with Omar Bakri Muhammad,” Jamestown Foundation, May 25, 2005, http://www.jamestown.org/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=290&no_cache=1#.VTatGvnF8no. In the 1990s, Bakri Muhammad met Anjem Choudary at a mosque in Woolrich, England. The two would go on to build the al-Muhajiroun network in the United Kingdom.Robert Mendick, “Hate preacher Anjem Choudary to be freed from jail despite remaining ‘genuinely dangerous,’” Telegraph (London), September 11, 2018, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/09/11/notorious-hate-preacher-anjem-choudary-released-prison-despite/. On January 16, 1996, Bakri Muhammad resigned from HT in response to what he called “a violation of Islamic rules” by HT’s global leader.Mahan Abedin, “Al-Muhajiroun in the UK: Interview with Omar Bakri Muhammad,” Jamestown Foundation, May 25, 2005, http://www.jamestown.org/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=290&no_cache=1#.VTatGvnF8no. Following his resignation, Bakri Muhammad devoted himself to building al-Muhajiroun independently of HT. According to Bakri Muhammad, al-Muhajiroun sought to establish a global Islamic caliphate and believed that both proselytization and jihad were necessary to establish this goal.Mahan Abedin, “Al-Muhajiroun in the UK: Interview with Omar Bakri Muhammad,” Jamestown Foundation, May 25, 2005, http://www.jamestown.org/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=290&no_cache=1#.VTatGvnF8no. British terrorism analyst Raffaello Pantucci linked al-Muhajiroun to half of the terror plots in the United Kingdom between 1995 and 2015.Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith, “Radical Islamist group al-Muhajiroun linked to half of British terror attacks in past 20 years,” Independent (London), March 23, 2015, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/radical-islamist-group-al-muhajiroun-linked-to-half-of-british-terror-attacks-in-past-20-years-10128492.html.

Bakri Muhammad has denied that he or al-Muhajiroun recruited anybody to fight abroad. He claimed that he encouraged people to travel abroad to help their Muslim brothers but not to engage in violent activities.Mahan Abedin, “Al-Muhajiroun in the UK: Interview with Omar Bakri Muhammad,” Jamestown Foundation, May 25, 2005, http://www.jamestown.org/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=290&no_cache=1#.VTatGvnF8no. Nonetheless, he has been linked to multiple violent jihadists, including Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the mastermind of the January 2015 Paris attacks. Abaaoud has been connected to the banned Islamist group Sharia4Belgium, for which Bakri Muhammad helped transport fighters to Syria.Jay Akbar, “Mastermind of Paris terror attacks was linked to at least six UK hate preachers including ‘Tottenham Ayatollah’ Omar Bakri Muhammad,” Daily Mail (London), November 22, 2015, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3329327/Mastermind-Paris-terror-attacks-linked-six-UK-hate-preachers-including-Tottenham-Ayatollah-Omar-Bakri-Muhammad.html. Mohammed Bilal, who blew himself up in Kashmir on December 25, 2000, was also reportedly one of Bakri Muhammad’s students.Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith, “Radical Islamist group al-Muhajiroun linked to half of British terror attacks in past 20 years,” Independent (London), March 23, 2015, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/radical-islamist-group-al-muhajiroun-linked-to-half-of-british-terror-attacks-in-past-20-years-10128492.html. In 2016, an ISIS data breach revealed the names and information of 22,000 ISIS recruits. According to the leak, Bakri Muhammad had acted as a sponsor for multiple British jihadists who had gone on to join the terror organization.Josie Ensor and Raf Sanchez, “Islamic State leaks reveal banned cleric Omar Bakri recruited British jihadists,” Telegraph (London), March 10, 2016, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/islamic-state/12190513/Islamic-State-leaks-reveals-banned-cleric-Omar-Bakri-recruited-British-jihadists.html; Lexi Finnigan, “Isil leak of 1,736 top secret documents names ‘16 British terrorists,’” Telegraph (London), March 10, 2016, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/12189582/Isil-leak-of-1736-top-secret-documents-names-16-British-terrorists.html. Khuram Shazad Butt, one of the attackers in the June 3, 2017, London Bridge attacks, also allegedly belonged to al-Muhajiroun.Mark White, “London Bridge attackers were part of banned jihadi network,” Sky News, June 6, 2017, http://news.sky.com/story/london-bridge-attacker-khuram-butt-was-part-of-banned-jihadi-network-10906091.

Bakri Muhammad and Choudary dissolved al-Muhajiroun in 2004 ahead of a pending government ban. They reorganized the group under various aliases, including Islam4UK, Muslims Against Crusades, Call to Submission, Islamic Path, London School of Sharia, the Saved Sect of Savior Sect, Ahl ul-Sunnah Wa al-Jamma, and Al Ghurabaa. In 2010, the U.K. government banned al-Muhajiroun and its other iterations.“Ministers ban suspected aliases of banned extremist group,” BBC News, June 26, 2014, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-28049374; “Proscribed Terrorist Organizations,” Home Office, accessed August 16, 2016, 6, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/538297/20160715-Proscription-website-update.pdf; “London cops sweep up 9 terror suspects,” CBS News, September 25, 2014, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/london-cops-sweep-up-9-terror-suspects-anjem-choudary/; Eilish O’Gara, “Radical UK Preacher Anjem Choudary Charged With Inviting Support for ISIS,” Newsweek, August 5, 2015, http://europe.newsweek.com/radical-uk-preacher-anjem-choudary-charged-inviting-support-isis-331221.

Bakri Muhammad left the United Kingdom for Lebanon in 2005, after which the U.K. Home Office permanently banned him from returning.Anne Barnard, “Lebanon Arrests Radical Cleric Who Backed Militants,” New York Times, May 25, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/26/world/middleeast/lebanon-arrests-radical-omar-bakri-muhammad.html?_r=0; “Britain Bars Cleric From Returning,” New York Times, August 12, 2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/12/international/europe/12cleric-wire.html. In 2010, Bakri Muhammad was arrested in northern Lebanon on charges of terrorism. He was sentenced to life in prison, but released on bail after multiple witnesses recanted their testimonies.Ian Johnston, “Banned radical cleric Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohamed arrested in Lebanon over ‘links to terrorism,’” Independent, May 26, 2014, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/banned-radical-cleric-sheikh-omar-bakri-mohamed-arrested-in-lebanon-over-links-to-terrorism-9434213.html. Lebanese authorities arrested Bakri Muhammad again in 2014 for founding an organization affiliated with the Nusra Front and building training camps in Lebanon. He was sentenced the following year to six years of hard labor.Jenny Stanton, “Son of ‘Tottenham Ayatollah’ hate preacher Omar Bakri is killed fighting for ISIS in Iraq,” Daily Mail (London), December 29, 2015, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3377973/Son-Tottenham-Ayatollah-killed-Iraq-sources.html.

 
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