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Muslim leaders attack extremists' claims

Doubts cast on story of Britons killed fighting for Taliban

Vikram Dodd
Wednesday October 31, 2001
The Guardian

The head of the British section of an extreme Islamic group orchestrating claims that at least three Britons have been killed fighting for the Taliban was yesterday branded "an idiot" and a "lunatic" by a British Muslim leader.

Mainstream Muslim leaders fear the reporting of claims by al-Muhajiroun that British Muslims have died fighting in Afghanistan will intensify an anti-Islamic backlash here.

Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, leader of the self-styled Muslim Parliament, said the group had repeatedly alleged that British Muslims were flooding overseas to fight in various conflicts over the past decade, and that only one case had ever been proved.

Dr Siddiqui said: "They are using this to suit their own agenda. Either they are lunatics or working for some agency which wants to use these things to bring in draconian laws and confirm Muslims are a fifth column in this country."

He added: "Muslims are already feeling the heat of these claims; they are being spat at, called names like 'Bin Laden' and 'terrorist'.

"They have been using the war and the misery of innocents to make political mileage. They want to gain some kind of currency with a community which has rejected them."

Dr Siddiqui accused the UK leader of al-Muhajiroun, Omar Bakri Mohammad of being "publicity-hungry" and said the media should not report the group's claims without checking them Inayat Bunglawala, a spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said al-Muhajiroun was on a recruitment drive and was "widely despised" in the Muslim community because of its love of publicity.

Last night there were still next to no solid facts to support al-Muhajiroun's claims, which dominated the news agenda.

One of the "martyrs", Yasir Khan from Crawley, was said by some in the Muslim community to have been killed while delivering humanitarian aid.

Yesterday it emerged Mr Khan, 24, was sacked from his job as a driver and loader at Gatwick Airport two days after the attacks. The airline food company LSG-Skychefs said Mr Khan was dismissed when he refused to take on a different role within the company due to the downturn in the airline industry.

Nisar Ahmed, 43, the chairman of the Eagles cricket club in Crawley, for which Mr Khan played, said he had been planning a trip to Pakistan to find a wife before September 11.

Friends of Aftab Manzoor from Luton, reported killed in a US missile strike on Afghanistan, say he died after a car accident. There is no information on the third man, Afzal Munir, also from Luton.

Yesterday some broadcast and print media ran interviews with anonymous people who said they were planning to fight in Afghanistan. Some of these interviewees were supplied by al-Muhajiroun.

Dr Zaki Badawi, principal of the Muslim College and one-time adviser on Islam to Prince Charles, challenged the group to prove their claims.

"The al-Muhajiroun are trying to persuade us that thousands upon thousands of Muslim young men are going to fight - there is no evidence of this at all. There are some hotheads who are talking and bragging but they are not going to go there at all."

Downing Street said a handful of British Muslims may have left the country to fight with the Taliban.

The former Home Office minister Ann Widdecombe called for any Briton fighting with the Taliban to be tried for treason. She added: "If they come back to this country, they shouldn't imagine that they can then just enjoy the democratic freedoms and rights of a free society, when they have fought against it."

Robin Cook, the former foreign secretary and Leader of the Commons said: "If they have breached British law, of course they should be locked up. But we are a free country, people are free to leave this country."

But the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said action was needed to tackle increasing anger at the war among young Asians whose families were of Pakistani origin: "It is imperative that we understand the growing resentment and that we get into these communities and work to dissuade people from coming to a hardline view."




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