British Muslims take path to jihad
Kashmir terror group claims suicide bomber was from Birmingham
Jeevan Vasagar and Vikram Dodd Friday December 29, 2000 The Guardian
Hundreds of young British Muslims have fought for religious causes around the world, an Islamic leader claimed yesterday, following reports naming a student from Birmingham as the suicide bomber who killed eight people in Kashmir on Christmas Day.
Kashmiri guerrilla fighters Jaish-e-Mohammed named the bomber as Bilal Ahmed, 24, and said that he had packed a stolen car with explosives before blowing himself up outside an Indian army barracks in Srinagar.
The attack - which killed up to six Indian soldiers and three Kashmiri students returning home to celebrate a Muslim holiday - was one of a series intended to derail a ceasefire announced by India during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
The Foreign Office has not confirmed the bomber's identity and doubt even surrounds his name, which has also been given as Mohammed Bilal or Abdullah Bai, the latter thought to be a nom de guerre.
Jaish-e-Mohammed, which means Mohammed's army, is one of the newest and most active splinter groups opposed to Indian rule in predominantly-Muslim Kashmir, a burning issue not only for residents but also for Kashmiri immigrants and their children in Britain.
Jaish claims that Bilal was born into a Pakistani family in Birmingham and was a "nightclub-going lad" until he became a born-again Muslim at 18 after seeing the Prophet Mohammed in a dream.
Birmingham is a focal point for such recruitment; it was home to three of the eight Britons jailed in Yemen in 1998 over a terrorist bomb plot, while a 24-year-old Muslim convert from Birmingham was reportedly killed in a US missile attack on Osama Bin Laden's Afghanistan base.
A striking illustration of the potency of this issue in Britain's second city came during last summer's local elections, when a party called Justice for Kashmir increased its representation to five council seats, making it the fourth largest party group on an extraordinary single-issue platform.
Mohammed Ghalib, president of Birmingham-based lobby group Tehreek-e-Kashmir UK said of the suicide bomber: "The story will encourage the youth that this is a good thing and may encourage them to become more militant. If you call them terrorists then they'll become terrorists. If Indian army soldiers died in a bomb attack then most people here wouldn't mind."
Sheikh Omar Bakri-Mohammed, founder of London-based Islamic group Al-Muhajiroun, claimed yesterday that around 1,800 British Muslims take part in "military service" each year, recruited at mosques and university campuses across the country.
The Syrian-born cleric said the recruits were often undergraduates suffering from an identity crisis who were persuaded to rediscover their parents' faith and encouraged to fight against infidel "occupying forces" in Kashmir, Palestine and Chechnya.
"People who go from here and sacrifice themselves to Almighty God as human bombs will achieve martyrdom, and they will go to paradise," he said at a north London office he rents under a bogus business name. "The enemy who dies will go to hell-fire."
The British authorities admit they do not know how many British Muslims go abroad to fight with terrorist groups.
A Home Office spokesman pointed out: "When someone is leaving the country they do not say at customs they are going to be a terrorist, they say they are going on holiday."
However, changes to anti-terrorism laws could be used by the courts to prosecute British-based extremists.
At the moment, if extremist groups do not break any British laws, they are left free to continue fundraising, recruiting and training.
But when the Terrorism Act 2000 comes into force in February, groups can be banned, their assets confiscated and their members jailed if it can be proved they conspired to commit a terrorist offence abroad.
Labour MP David Winnick, a member of the home affairs select committee, said he understood the passions that issues such as Kashmir could provoke, but urged that the legislation be used to crack down on terrorists.
"I take the view that Britain should not under any circumstances be a safe haven for any sort of terrorist activities.
"While I believe a person has a right to put forward a point of view, I draw the line at actively promoting activities that could be described as terrorism."
Amir Khan, a spokesman for Birmingham's Justice for Kashmir party, expressed scepticism about claims that the bomber was from the city as no family members had come forward to ask for a funeral service at the mosque.
"The Kashmiri community is very closely linked. We haven't heard anyone saying that anyone from Birmingham has been killed in Kashmir."
But he warned that his party had robbed Labour of safe seats at council elections because of strong feeling over the divided Himalayan state.
"It's a war going on between the Indian army and Kashmiris. There is a very strong feeling. Because of the modern media you can turn on CNN and see how many people died today. I and others left the Labour party because they are...hypocritical on Kashmir. People's roots are in the area and we believe the only way we can settle this issue is [through] ourselves.
"Roger Godsiff, the MP for Small Heath, hasn't done anything on Kashmir despite the promises he made before the election when he was campaigning in the balti houses.
"People feel strongly for their brothers and sisters in Kashmir."
Originally, the Justice for Kashmir party had campaigned for the home secretary to review the sentences passed on two Kashmiris involved in an assassination attempt, as well as the broader issue of the war-ravaged province. The group has now renamed itself the Justice party as a means of widening its appeal to inner-city areas and ethnic minorities generally.
Joblessness in the Kashmiri community was very high, Mr Khan added, saying that the 10 poorest council wards in Birmingham were home to the Kashmiri community.
India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir since 1947. More than 30,000 people have died in the past 12 years in a Kashmir independence campaign .
Militant Hackney to Kashmir
Mohammed Omar, 25, a British-born Muslim who has trained with guerrilla fighters in Pakistan, said that many young Muslims who had thought themselves westernised were shaken by the Gulf war.
He claimed to have fought in Kashmir with the splinter group Jaish-e-Mohammed, which is said to have recruited the Birmingham suicide bomber.
"During the Gulf war a lot of Muslim people, who until then had been quite content, thought 'Hold on a minute - there is a large Muslim population in Iraq which is under attack by the same country that we are supposed to be a part of. What's my role in all this?'
"A lot of people like myself wondered what was my identity. Am I black? Am I Asian?
"I grew up in Hackney, where a lot of people said OK I'm black. I think it was a lot to do with peer group pressure because in Hackney there were a lot of people from Jamaica. There's nothing wrong with that, but in the end it's just a fashion statement.
"In 1992 or 1993, I saw Hizb ut-Tahrir [a radical Islamic group later banned from campuses] debating at Soas [London University's School of Oriental and African Studies] with intellectuals, like deans, who quite frankly got trashed by them.
"They seemed to provide a solution.
"I had an opportunity to travel around to different parts of the Muslim world. I went to Turkey and saw the world in a different light.
"What I saw inside Turkey was that if you were Muslim you were considered backward and the government would come down on you.
"I went to the Middle East and got arrested a couple of times just because I was speaking about Islam.
"I trained with the mujahedin in Pakistan, where there is assistance from some elements of the army. The training is not just physical but involves the mind as well. Every day I read the Koran.
"There was an immense amount of physical training. There were daily runs. There were assault courses. I was trained in the use of light arms, Kalashnikovs. Other guys were trained to use rocket launchers.
"We believe that fighting for the sake of Allah is one of the most rewarding things in life. If it is done sincerely, and you die, you will go to paradise.
"In a typical operation a couple of months ago, four mujahedin climbed into a military camp of the Hindus [Indian army] and fought and killed as many as they could before becoming shahid [martyrs].
"A lot of those men are not married. They are young single guys. I have got a wife. But this is not a time when I can go picnicking with my wife. It's a time of crisis for Muslims."
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