Scottish First Minister hopeful Humza Yousaf met former Hamas chief

SNP’s Humza Yousaf and ex-leader of terror group attended meeting with Scottish cabinet minister and officials


Humza Yousaf, a contender to replace Nicola Sturgeon as Scotland’s First Minister, met Holyrood officials with a former senior Hamas commander, the JC can reveal.

Yousaf, 37, now the Scottish Health Secretary, attended the high-level meeting with Hamas leader Mohammad Sawalha, also known by nom de guerre Abu Obada.

Despite Sawalha’s history — he had been named by BBC Panorama in 2006 as having “masterminded much of Hamas’ political and military strategy” — a meeting was secured with a SNP cabinet minister and government officials at the Scottish Parliament.

The meeting took place in 2008, when Yousaf was 22 and working as a parliamentary assistant for the late-Bashir Ahmad, Scotland’s first Muslim MSP.

Sawalha had been Hamas’ West Bank military chief and was then appointed to its political leadership. He reportedly had fled in 1990 after being placed on a wanted list by Israel. Hamas had at the time been proscribed as a terrorist organisation by the US, but the UK did not follow suit until 2021.

Scottish parliamentary questions reveal that Sawalha attended the meeting at Holyrood as a representative of Islam Expo, which was funded by a £2 million grant from Qatar and held in London in 2006 and 2008.

The Expos, run by Sawalha, included appearances by Sheikh Qazi Hussain Ahmed, a Pakistani politician who had praised the Taliban as “just and honourable men”, and Liberal Democrat peer Jenny Tonge who said the US “Jewish lobby” was “making all political parties obey the will of Israel”.

The JC asked Yousaf about the meeting and if he was aware of Sawalha’s background. Yousaf did not respond on those points but said he himself had a “strong track record of standing up against every form of hatred, including antisemitism”.

Lord Carlile, the former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said: “Yousaf must address the circumstances in which he judged it appropriate to have close contact with Hamas supporters. He has to face these questions head on were he to become First Minister.”

A senior Labour source said: “If these allegations are correct then Yousaf will come under serious pressure to justify the company he has kept and the interests he has represented.

“The longer this race goes on, the more it becomes obvious that none of the candidates are up to the job.”

Yousaf has called for “Palestine to be recognised as an independent state”, for an arms embargo on Israel, and talking of Gaza as a place “where people are starving and dying a slow death”.

Married to another SNP activist, Nadia El-Nakla — whose father is Palestinian and whose brother lives in Gaza — he has spoken about his fears for his wife’s family after Israeli air strikes.

In 2021, he wrote on Twitter: “Wife has been in floods of tears all evening. Her brother lives in Gaza with his wife and three young children. He tells us it’s raining rockets.”

In 2015, as Scotland’s minister for external affairs, he accused the UK government of barring him from visiting Gaza to see the impact of £500,000 of Scottish government aid sent to the region.

He wrote in a letter to the then-foreign secretary Philip Hammond: “I find it disappointing and frustrating that the FCO is effectively blocking Scottish ministers from visiting humanitarian projects in Gaza.”

The meeting that Yousaf attended alongside the Hamas leader, with the then-Scottish culture and external affairs secretary Linda Fabiani, took place in January 2008, soon after Yousaf had helped establish an Islamic lobbying group, The Scottish Islamic Foundation (SIF).

The SIF had close links to the SNP leadership and was planning a similar exhibition to the one run by Sawalha north of the border.

Its first chief executive, Osama Saeed, Yousaf’s cousin, who used to be an aide to former SNP leader and first minister Alex Salmond, was also at the meeting.

Saeed has expressed support for Islamists including Anwar al-Awlaki, the extremist preacher who inspired numerous Muslim terrorists, but who, he said, “preached nothing but peace”.

Shortly after the meeting with Yousaf, the SIF was awarded £405,000 in grants from the SNP government and announced the country’s biggest ever celebration of Islamic culture in Glasgow in June 2009.

At the time, Salmond predicted that “IslamFest” would be “an enormous event for Glasgow and for Scotland”. But the project collapsed and SIF was forced to repay £128,000 of the taxpayer funds it had received, with £72,000 already spent.

Yousaf, who became an SNP MSP in 2011, was a director of SIF Ltd between May 2008 to September 2009.

He and Sawalha were joined at the 2008 meeting by two other activists who have publicly supported Hamas, Anas Altikriti and Ismail Patel, who were also listed as part of Islam Expo.

The Iraqi-born Altikriti has voiced support for Hamas in the past, saying it was “fighting back” against Israeli occupation. Patel is the founder of the Midlands based Friends of Al-Aqsa.

He has said: “The current political map of Palestine… will have to include Hamas and Fatah amongst other political groups.”

He has also called Hamas a “resistance movement against colonial oppression” and the “backbone of Palestinian resistance”.

Before becoming a politician, Yousaf was a spokesman for the charity Islamic Relief. As a minister, in 2013, he signed off a Scottish government donation for the organisation, totalling £398,000.

There is no suggestion he acted improperly in doing so.

Islamic Relief has been accused by Israel of having linked to Hamas — a claim the charity has challenged in the Israeli courts — and been proscribed by the United Arab Emirates over similar alleged links.

Questioned on his involvement with the individuals at the 2008 meeting, Yousaf’s campaign office said on his behalf: “If elected as First Minister, I will be driven by values of equality and inclusivity. Meeting with the Jewish community and other faith communities will be one of my first acts.”

The JC has previously revealed other connections between the SNP leadership and Islamist extremists.

This included details of two Glasgow conferences attended by Iranian cleric Mohammad Shomali, the former UK representative of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Outgoing First Minister Sturgeon said of Shomali: “You’re helping us play our part in building a better world.”

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