Camden Council giving al-Qaeda group freedom to preach

A leading local authority has refused to sever its links to a group which promotes the ideology of Osama bin Laden at a taxpayer-funded centre and encourages young Muslims to prepare for jihad.

Camden Council has repeatedly rejected the opportunity to take action over the Ministry of Dawah, which holds weekly lectures glorifying the al-Qaeda leader and extreme Islamist clerics such as Anwar al-Awlaki.

The Dawah group has been holding events at the Kings Cross Neighbourhood Centre in north London for more than two years.

The council has been asked to investigate the meetings and warned that in refusing to make a decision on the group's future it may be breaching the government’s Prevent counter-extremism guidelines.

Last year’s Prevent review included clear directives to local authorities, stating that “propagandists for terrorism and for ideologies taken up by terrorists should not be permitted to make use of publicly-owned venues” and that authorities “must be ready to take appropriate action”.

The Ministry of Dawah’s promotion of extreme Islamist organisations such as Hizb ut-Tahrir, and support for bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders on social networks and at the Kings Cross meetings, is in direct violation of those guidelines.

Events held by the group at the venue have included a “Maidens of Paradise” discussion about women, and “Deeds after Death” in which participants were told: “Did you know you can still get rewards even after your soul has departed from your body?”

A “Free Palestine” discussion asked participants to consider how “the Zionist Israeli state [is] using illegal weaponry such as white phosphorous to kill and murder innocent human beings including children”.

At another lecture the speaker tells the audience: “You are in a battle of ideas, a battle for hearts and minds, and it’s a battle that’s clearly about the West versus Islam.

“Your goal is to kick start [a] revival. It is to make sure that every single Muslim is talking about how we need to unite, how we will seek our progress with Islam alone. You know what to do, you know the work that is yours. You must publicly call for this.

“Realise my brothers you are part of this battle for hearts and minds and the battle will come to your door and you have to make a decision on what you are going to do.”

One lecturer claimed Israeli snipers were used to kill Palestinian children in Gaza and talked about his hope that Muslims would be able to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque with “no Israel, no occupation at all”.

“We should have the courage to say it here among Muslims. At work with non-Muslim colleagues and friends it is hard to say because they think ‘what are you going to do, wipe all these people out?’. No, we are going to return justice for the Palestinians. That is the aim,” he tells the young audience.

There is a further discussion on how Israel will be “wiped off the earth” by Allah.

The Ministry of Dawah claims to provide “activities and Islamic circles for youth, dealing with our issues, on the level, in a way we can understand. We hope to engage, entertain and excite”.

The centre is run by the King’s Cross Brunswick Neighbourhood Association (KCBNA), whose chief executive, Nasim Ali, was also the leader of the council until earlier this year. The council was the KCBNA’s biggest funder in 2010 and 2011.

Hasan Afzal, director of the anti-extremism group Stand for Peace, contacted the council earlier this month to warn that the Ministry of Dawah was using the centre to “whitewash the terrorist convictions of a number of Islamists”.

New council leader Sarah Haywood said in a statement this week that the KCBNA must take responsibility for the matter.

She said the council was aware of the concerns about the Ministry of Dawah and had encouraged KCBNA to “consider and review” its hosting of the organisation.

“Ultimately this is a decision for the KCBNA. We trust that they will make an informed decision,” said Cllr Haywood.

The council said it "always" followed the government's counter-extremism guidelines.

Mr Ali said he had been informed about the concerns last week and that the centre was now taking the issue “very seriously”.

“I have asked the council to give us the evidence. The Ministry of Dawah is an occasional hirer [of the room] and they did not tell the centre what they were going to be speaking about,” he said.

“Our trustees are looking into it to see if there is enough evidence to stop them hiring the centre. We hope the police will look into whether they might be promoting extremism.”

Mr Ali said that when he informed the Ministry of Dawah about the trustees’ investigation, the group had been “quite aggravated that these allegations have been made and said there was no evidence to back it up”.

He admitted that he was not aware how long the group had been using the centre, and said he had never attended any of the lectures.

Mr Afzal said: “It’s extraordinary that a council which witnessed terrorism in July 2005 has been so slow and unnecessarily politically correct to the extent that it is ignoring government guidelines which are there to protect Muslims and non-Muslims from non-violent extremism.

“If Camden Council is not doing its job then it is in violation of its duty of care to its residents.”

Last updated: 10:15am, May 18 2012