Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The New York Times: Militant Imams Under Scrutiny Across Europe

Militant Imams Under Scrutiny Across Europe


Published: January 25, 2005

LONDON, Jan. 24 - In nightly sermons broadcast on the Internet, Sheik Omar Bakri Muhammad, a 46-year-old Syrian-born cleric, has urged young Muslim men all over the world to support the Iraq insurgency on the front line of "the global jihad," investigators say.

He struck a similarly defiant tone this month at a rally attended by 500 people at a central London meeting hall, where a giant screen behind him showed images of the World Trade Center falling. "Allah akbar!" - "God is great" - some audience members shouted at the images.

After eavesdropping for months on his nightly praise of the Sept. 11 hijackers and of suicide bombings, Scotland Yard said last week that it was investigating Sheik Omar, the leader of Al Muhajiroun, Britain's largest Muslim group, and officials are exploring whether they can deport him. "We're fed up with him," said a senior British official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "He needs to be stopped, or he needs to go."

The more aggressive approach toward Sheik Omar is part of an increasing effort to monitor and restrict militant imams in Britain and across Europe. Authorities have stepped up surveillance of militant mosques in several countries, including Germany and France. French officials deported an imam this month after officials said he was inspiring men to join the jihad.

One major concern, officials say, is that more heated religious rhetoric is encouraging young men to leave home to fight in Iraq.

Although the dimensions of the recruitment effort from Europe to Iraq are not clear, there are indications that it is intensifying.

On Sunday, the German police arrested a man suspected of being a member of Al Qaeda and charged him with recruiting men to carry out suicide bombings in Iraq. These arrests were part of an ongoing investigation in cooperation with the United States of recruitment and other terrorist activities in Europe. A senior German official said he was certain there would be additional arrests of militants inside the country who have set up sophisticated recruitment and smuggling networks that lead to Iraq.

Italian investigators say several recruits from Italy carried out bombing attacks in Baghdad. Swiss officials say they are concerned that several militant clerics have openly urged men to become terrorists. And in Jordan, senior officials say they have recently arrested several dozen men who intended to cross the Iraqi border to serve as foreign fighters.

Bohre Eddine Benvahia, the 33-year-old imam recently deported by France to Algeria, had urged young men in a working-class neighborhood of L'Ariane, outside Nice, to join jihad, French intelligence officials said.


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