Masood Azhar: The man who brought jihad to Britain

Masood Azhar: The man who brought jihad to Britain, by Innes Brown. Preacher Masood Azhar visited Britain in 1993, the VIP guest of Britain’s leading Islamic scholars. Today he is the head of one of Pakistan’s most violent militant jihadist groups, and wanted by the Indian authorities.

A BBC investigation has uncovered the details of his tour in an archive of militant group magazines published in Urdu. The contents provide an astounding insight into the way in which hardcore jihadist ideology was promoted in some mainstream UK mosques in the early 1990s – and involved some of Britain’s most senior Islamic scholars. Azhar’s tour lasted a month and consisted of over 40 speeches. …

Azhar [preached] that a substantial proportion of the Koran had been devoted to “killing for the sake of Allah” and that a substantial volume of sayings of the Prophet Muhammad were on the issue of jihad. … [He] spoke on “the divine promise of victory to those engaged in jihad”.

The story of Masood Azhar’s trip to Britain does not fit the narrative promoted by Muslim community leaders and security experts alike. According to them, the spread of jihadist ideology in Britain had nothing to do with the UK’s mainly South Asian mosques. …

His preaching led to actions:

One of the first recruits to Azhar’s new militant group was Mohammed Bilal from Birmingham. Bilal blew himself up outside an army barracks in Srinagar, killing six soldiers and three students in December 2000.

But there was another serious consequence of the Masood Azhar connection – the training camp facilities and logistical support he provided to British Muslims willing to carry out attacks in the UK. Several UK-based plots including 7/7, 21/7 and the attempt in 2006 to smuggle liquid bomb-making substances on to transatlantic airlines are now thought to have been directed by Rashid Rauf, a man from Birmingham who married into Masood Azhar’s family in Pakistan.

And tensions with moderate Muslims:

In the Midlands, one practising Deobandi Muslim told me he had been threatened with excommunication and violence for raising concerns about, among other issues, the propagation of sectarian hatred. …

These religious conservatives, being visibly Muslim, face prejudice from a non-Muslim population concerned about terrorists. But they pay a price for opposing the extremism in their midst. In all three cases the word “mafia” was used to describe those who had sought to intimidate them.