- The Washington Times - Friday, July 8, 2005

London’s notoriously outspoken Islamists, a media-savvy faction who have publicly praised the September 11 hijackers and called for Islamic law in Britain, have fallen unusually silent since Thursday’s rush-hour attack on commuters.

Sheik Omar Bakri Mohammed, the radical cleric known for giving his cell phone number to reporters, did not answer yesterday or the previous day.

The Web site of the sheik’s followers was offline, and Anjem Choudhary, his top assistant, refused to comment on the blasts that left scores dead.

In contrast, Muslim clerics and residents of London condemned the bombings without reservation, including one of Mr. Bakri’s supporters.

“My reaction is the same as the British public — it is an act of terrorism and I’m deeply saddened,” said Abu Bakar Siddique. “Many innocents lives were lost and many Muslims died.”

In his lectures and interviews, Mr. Bakri often walks a fine line between the right to preach and the criminal offense of incitement of violence.

He has repeatedly called the September 11 hijackers “magnificent,” and in Internet sermons, as reported by the Times of London, he implores Muslims to fulfill their “duty” of jihad and to support the mujahideen abroad.

Mr. Bakri defended the March 2004 Madrid train bombing, and said that British Muslims should “kill and be killed” for Islam.

To his young supporters, he provides religious guidance and advises them on how to survive in what they perceive as a corrupt and racist society.

His detractors say that behind the cryptic language is an extremist whose incendiary sermons radicalize disenchanted youth.

“Do they think they can continue in this anarchism without paying the price?” Mr. Bakri asked more than 60 men who filled a community center in East London in March. No more than a handful were over 25.

The Syrian-born Mr. Bakri was expelled from Saudi Arabia in 1986 for his inflammatory preaching and involvement in the extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. He eventually settled in London.

He rose to notoriety during the 1991 Persian Gulf war, when he said Prime Minister John Major would be a legitimate target for assassination once on Muslim soil. His public invective became too much for the Hizb ut-Tahrir leadership, and in 1996 he resigned and formed Al-Muhajiroun.

Al-Muhajiroun disbanded in October 2004, amid a spate of public criticism and heightened scrutiny by British authorities, even though the sheik has continued to preach.

During an interview earlier this year at a McDonald’s in East London, Mr. Choudhary predicted there was a very high risk of a terror operation happening in the coming months.

“Someone will take it into their own hands,” he said. “I think it is just a matter of time.

“The Muslim community is under siege … and it is an obligation for every Muslim to prepare themselves mentally and physically for any outcome and eventuality,” he said.

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