THERE is a terrible, visceral rage among Luton’s young Muslim brotherhood, a fury so powerful that already dozens of men, all British born and highly educated, have disappeared to fight for the Taleban. It has left parents terrified, the town’s mosques full of loathing and yesterday, as The Times discovered first-hand, seen journalists and photographers physically attacked.
Afzal Munir, 25, a newly married business graduate and one of two men from the Bedfordshire town killed in a US rocket attack on Kabul, worshipped at a one-room radical mosque situated in the Call To Islam Bookshop, above an insurance shop in the Dunstable Road. Within a minute of arriving outside the mosque, this Times reporter and cameraman were set upon by a Muslim man, who had rushed, enraged, from a halal butcher shop.
“You insult Islam, you corrupt Islam!” he screamed, smashing the camera to the ground and grabbing another photographer by the throat. “You don’t understand how angry we Muslims are!” Five other Muslim men joined him, surrounding us, as he demanded the other camera. Their sense of fury was frightening.
Five hundred yards away, outside Luton’s Central Mosque, the third largest in the country, Mohammed Abdullah, a 22-year-old accountant, articulated this rage. His words should serve as a warning to Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, who yesterday said British men joining the Taleban would either die in Afghanistan or face prosecution if they returned here.
“They want to die there,” Mr Abdullah said. “These are well-educated people. They have families. I knew Afzal. He loved his wife. But you must understand: all Muslims in Britain view supporting the jihad (holy war) as a religious duty. All of us are ready to sacrifice our lives for our beliefs.I am jealous of Afzal. He has reached paradise.”
He continued: “There are people leaving all the time. Not just in Luton, but all over Britain. We, as Muslims, don’t perceive ourselves as British Muslims. We are Muslims who live in Britain. All we want to do is go to Afghanistan to defend the honour and sanctity of Islam. I have a wife who is eight months pregnant. But I am thinking of going and helping my Muslim brothers. I read that we are brainwashed. That is nonsense. We are intelligent people and we hate America and the British Government for the bombing.”
Behind such talk, which dismays the elderly leaders of Luton’s 22,000 Muslims, lurk the seductive, articulate disciples of Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, leader of al-Muhajiroun, the British Islamist organisation that encouraged Mr Munir and Aftab Manzoor, the other dead man, to join the jihad. Sheikh Omar, who is under investigation for allegedly issuing a fatwa against the Pakistan President, General Musharraf, described the two men as “martyrs beyond a doubt”. Shahed, the group’s Luton leader, admits that he urged the pair to join Osama bin Laden’s jihad — but not “physically” — by donating money.
“But if we write about issues, about what is happening to our brothers in Palestine, it can excite people. If I see Tony Blair on TV, and listen to his hypocrisy over Palestine, I want to grab his throat.”
The group has been causing problems in Luton since 1994, when Sheikh Omar and his followers tried to take over control of the Central Mosque. It, and other extremist organisations, now recruit outside the town’s 50-odd mosques.
Targeting the young, they repeat, again and again, that all obedient Muslims must support bin Laden and his holy war. They are banned from the Central Mosque and the university campus, but Mr Munir attended their Friday meetings. He went to school and college locally, loved cricket and football, and three weeks ago disappeared without telling his wife where he was going.
“He was a quiet, extremely religious boy,” Mohammed Sulaimen, president of the Central Mosque, said: “All parents are worried. Many have gone to join the Taleban, perhaps dozens. Afzal, he took his passport, some money, and he goes. This group, it keeps taking people, brainwashing them. They give them these pamphlets. It makes them angry. But what can we do? We can’t stop them going.”
Syed, a community worker, has visited Muslim communities across Britain. “They are disappearing all over Britain. They say they are going down to the shops, and never return. The fathers and mothers are full of fear.”
Shahed and supporters set up a stall in central Luton yesterday, chanting anti-American slogans and carrying banners: “Islam Will Dominate The World!” and “Man Made War Is War Against Allah!” “The Devil is America, and the British Government,” said Abdullah Khan, 23. “It is Bush and Blair I blame for Muslims going to fight. They are being provoked to do it by those two Great Satans.”
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