LONDON: Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the head of the banned Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), toured Britain during the 1990s, stirring up Muslim youths to become jihadis years before 9/11, a BBC investigation has found which was denied by the JuD spokesman on Wednesday. Hafiz Saeed, who has a $10 million bounty on his head for allegedly masterminding the Nov 2008 attacks in Mumbai, thrilled audiences in packed mosques in cities around this country by calling for a return to the days when Muslims waged jihad and infidels paid them protection money.
Hafiz Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), has always denied involvement in the Mumbai carnage. The revelation came amidst concerns for the British government and intelligence agencies about the large number of Muslims going abroad to fight “holy wars”. For most people this controversial religious calling came to the fore after 9/11, 7/7 (the attacks in Britain in July 2005) and the Arab Spring — young, disenfranchised and radical recruits heading from Britain to Iraq, Somalia, Libya and Syria.
The investigation, which was the basis of a 40-minute BBC Radio 4 documentary, The dawn of British Jihad, was broadcast on Tuesday night. It revealed that the roots of violent religious struggle by British Muslims were laid in the mid-1990s, much earlier than previously thought.
The tour of Britain was chronicled in Mujalla Al Dawah, a monthly magazine published by his organization, Markaz Dawa Wal Irshad. According to the articles uncovered during the BBC investigation, Hafiz Saeed arrived in Britain on Aug 9, 1995, and set about lecturing the youth about jihad. There was silence in Birmingham as he urged his audience to “rise up for jihad” and vilified Hindus. That address “in real terms laid the foundation of … jihad in the UK,” the articles claimed. In Hudders field, Saeed said: “In order to defeat infidels, it is our duty to develop all forms of arms and ammunition, including nuclear bomb. That is God’s command. We (LeT) have declared jihad and killing as first condition of our belief.” In Leicester on Aug 26, Saeed spoke at a conference attended by 4,000 people. His address “infused a new spirit in the youth. Hundreds of young men expressed intention to get jihad training”.
Summing up the British tour, the author wrote: “A large number of young people want to get jihad training. A group of around 50 college and varsity students has so far finalised its programme. The valleys of Britain are resounding with chants of jihad. The time is not far off when Muslims will wake up” and the era of the early Muslim invaders of Europe “will come back in the vales of Europe. There will be chants of Allahu Akbar over Alhamra if the spirit of jihad is back among Muslims of Europe.” Manwar Ali, a computer science graduate from London who became a jihadist but has now renounced violence, told the BBC he had persuaded Hafiz Saeed to visit Britain to rally support for jihad and raise funds. “Whenever Hafiz Saeed would come to Green Lane [Birmingham] or Rochdale, Skipton, Rotherham, Birmingham, Leicester thousands of people would turn up,” Mr Ali told BBC. Each trip raised £150,000 or more. Women removed their gold bangles and earrings in response to his call. Hundreds of Britons went to battlefields in the Philippines, Kashmir and Bosnia, with some losing their lives.
Britain banned LeT in early 2001. The militant group was banned by Pakistan in 2002, but shortly before that Hafiz Saeed resigned and formed JuD, which is currently on a watch list but officially not banned. Saeed was confined to his home in Pakistan for several months last year, but has been freed since. According to Raffaello Pantucci’s book, We Love Death As You Love Life, LeT has retained a complex network in Britain. Omar Khyem from Crawley, ringleader of a five-strong gang jailed in 2004 for plotting to use fertiliser bombs to blow up the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent and the Ministry of Sound nightclub in London, claimed to have established a camp in Kashmir with LeT. Aabid Khan, from Bradford, who was jailed for 12 years for heading a cyber-grooming radicalisation gang, claimed to have links to LeT. The United Kingdom is not the only western country visited by Hafiz Saeed during the 1990s. He visited the US in 1994.
The Jan 1995 issue of Mujalla Al Dawah published an interview with Hafiz Saeed about his visit to the US. “I was invited by an Islamic organisation called New York Cultural Centre (Al Markaz Al Saqafati New York). It is an organisation of our Salafist brothers and counts a number of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis among its members,” he said in the interview. “I was invited on the letterhead of the cultural centre as a professor and there was no mention of any jihadist organisation,” he added.