Friday, August 29, 2003

The British-based Islamist group Al-Muhajiroun is holding a conference on the second anniversary of September 11 to honor the 19 terrorists who hijacked the commercial jets used in attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

A poster touting the event to be held at four locations in England includes photographs of the al Qaeda hijackers and refers to them as “The Magnificent 19” — a word play on the 1960 film “The Magnificent Seven.”

Omar bin Bakri Muhammad, the group’s leader, told the London Arabic newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat that participants will discuss the motives of the hijackers, whom he called “heroes.”

The conference, being held in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Lester, will examine the root causes of the September 11 attacks and warned that if they still exist “the results might be similar to what happened in September [11] but in different methods,” according to the newspaper’s quotes of Bakri.

A message from al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden also will be read, the newspaper reported. The speech will be called “Jawami al-Kalam,” or compilations of words, drawn from earlier television messages by the al Qaeda leader.

Bakri, a Syrian-born British citizen, is viewed by U.S. officials as a key British contact of bin Laden, the attack’s mastermind who is believed to be in hiding somewhere along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The U.S. government has offered a $25 million reward for his capture.

One British parliamentarian has called for the government to ban the conferences.

Steve Atkins, a spokesman for the British Embassy, said a similar event was held last year and that the group’s activities are protected by free-speech laws.

“Everyone is allowed to express an opinion so long as it stops sort of incitement and stops short of acts of terrorism,” Mr. Atkins said.

Like last year’s conference, British police are expected to be called out for the conference because anti-Islamist demonstrators are expected, Mr. Atkins said.

As for Bakri, Mr. Atkins said: “The police and security services are fully aware of this individual and his organization, Al-Muhajiroun.

“The home secretary has already made it clear that his and their activities are closely monitored. Anyone breaking the law, whether provisions of the Terrorism Act, the Race Relations Act or the Public Order Act, will be prosecuted.”

In the newspaper interview, Bakri was asked about a phrase on the conference poster that said the United Nations is “a legitimate target.”

“They are legitimate targets because it represents the right-hand tool of the world Crusades led by America and its allies against Islam and the Muslims,” he was quoted as saying.

Bakri also said the bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, which killed at least 23 persons, will not be the last terrorist attack.

The Al-Muhajiroun group, which means “the Emigrants” in Arabic, was the subject of a now-famous FBI memorandum sent by FBI Agent Kenneth Williams in July 2001 to FBI headquarters.

Mr. Williams stated in the memorandum that he had identified a link between one Middle Eastern man taking flight lessons at a Phoenix-area flight school and Bakri’s Al-Muhajiroun.

The memorandum requested that the FBI launch an investigation of Islamist radicals who were taking flight lessons.

The memorandum was ignored by FBI headquarters and was identified by a special congressional inquiry as a key intelligence failure prior to the September 11 attacks, which killed more than 3,000 people and prompted the Bush administration to launch the war on international terrorism.

Bakri is shown on the conference’s poster with the 19 suicide hijackers who are broken down into four groups based on the four planes they commandeered. Three commercial jets crashed into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. A fourth jet crashed in the woods in Pennsylvania.

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