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Militant London Sheik Had Predicted More Terror Attacks

Militant London Sheik Had Predicted More Terror Attacks

Author: Souad Mekhennet and Don Van Natta Jr.
Publication: The New York Times
Date: July 22, 2005

On the eve of four attempted bombings here on Thursday, Sheik Omar Bakri Mohammad, one of Britain's most outspoken militant clerics, predicted that another terrorist attack would hit London.

In a wide-ranging telephone interview late Wednesday night, Sheik Bakri also blamed the British government for the July 7 terror attacks that killed at least 56 people on three London Underground trains and a double-decker bus. He said "hundreds" of young, disaffected British-born Muslims now felt compelled to take action in Britain to protest Prime Minister Tony Blair's foreign policy, especially the support of the American-led invasion in Iraq, which they perceive as anti-Muslim.

"Unless British foreign policy is changed and they withdraw forces from Iraq, I'm afraid there's going to be a lot of attacks, just the way it happened in Madrid and the way it happened in London," he said during a 40-minute conversation.

His preaching is heard or seen by hundreds of people in central London halls and on his Web site, where he has urged young men to fight "jihad" against "occupiers" in Iraq, Israel and Chechnya. He routinely refers to the Sept. 11 hijackers as "the magnificent 19."

A Syrian-born, 47-year-old father of seven who has lived in North London for 19 years, Sheik Bakri was granted asylum in 1986, and receives public assistance of £300, or $545, each month. On the cover of The Sun on Wednesday, his photograph was accompanied with three bold words: "SEND HIM BAK."

Britain's home secretary, Charles Clarke, has identified Sheik Bakri as one of several extremist clerics who could be deported from Britain. As part of a new package of antiterror legislation, the British government is considering banning clerics from urging people to join a holy war or running a pro-jihad Web site.

Sheik Bakri said he would probably leave Britain within the next several days on his own, possibly permanently. He would not say where he intended to go.

"After all, I could worship God here, I could worship God back in Lebanon," he said. "I could do evil here, I could do that back in a Muslim country."

Sheik Bakri has preached to larger crowds of young people within the last year, blaming the United States and Britain for harming Muslims worldwide. He has also encouraged young people to join a "global jihad," but he insisted Wednesday night that he had never encouraged anyone to strike Britain. In fact, he said, he had urged some young people to take their jihad intention abroad.

"Nobody said, 'Go out in London and bomb,' " he said.

He said he believed that the British government and the British people deserved the "blame" for the July 7 attacks, saying Mr. Blair's re-election on May 5 made the attacks in London "inevitable."

"They know that the prime minister has his hands full of the blood of Muslims in Palestine and in Iraq and in Afghanistan," he said of young Muslims. But he said the policies of the West's "war on terror" had incensed young people, causing some to want to strike out against Britain. "We hear from many people who say they want to attack," he said.

Sheik Bakri has said Osama bin Laden warned European countries with troops in Iraq last April, giving them 90 days for them to remove their troops. No one listened, he said.

As for his own future, he acknowledged that he no longer felt at home in Britain. "They want to deport me, let it be," he said moments before the conversation ended. "They want to arrest me, let it be."

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