Hate Cleric, Abu Qatada, Issues Rallying Cry From Prison

The Times
April 4, 2009
Abu Qatada. Pic: London Media
Sean O’Neill, Crime and Security Editor
Richard Ford, Home Correspondent

The extremist cleric Abu Qatada has issued a 6,000-word rallying cry to his followers from inside one of Britain’s most secure prison units.

The Palestinian preacher hails the “victory” of the Mujahidin and claims that his treatment has helped to radicalise a new generation of young British Muslims.

Despite demanding his freedom, he says that “the gift of prison” has helped him to lose more than 50lb (22kg) in weight. He even suggests that a vigorous exercise programme appears to have cured his diabetes and back trouble.

The cleric boasts of being told by Bilal Abdullah, the NHS doctor jailed for the car bomb attacks in London and Glasgow in 2007, that he was heavily influenced by the cleric’s taped sermons. He describes the bomber, who narrowly failed in his attempts to blow up a nightclub and airport terminal, as “truthfully a man from the men of Islam, in knowledge, action, steadfastness and manhood”.

His communiqu ƒ © was smuggled out of Long Lartin high-security jail, Worcestershire, and is circulating on jihadi websites and forums, where it is attracting widespread comment. The ease with which it has been distributed is an embarrassment for Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, who is in charge of prisons, and Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, who leads the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy.

Abu Qatada, 48, who returned to jail in December after spending six months free on bail, is regarded as the most dangerous jihadi ideologue to have operated from Britain and is classified as a high-risk Category A prisoner. He is being held in an isolated unit ““ effectively a jail within a jail ““ at Long Lartin with five other hardline inmates. All his telephone calls and letters are monitored and, if written or conducted in Arabic, translated.

He complains in his letter that he is strip-searched at regular intervals and has to give a week’s notice before making any contact with his family.

Nevertheless, he has been able to smuggle out a letter that, security experts say, has inflamed radicals around the world. His ability to do that damages the reputation of the Home Office’s Prevent strategy, which intends to counter radicalisation in Britain and internationally. The Government’s new counter-terrorism policy, published last month, claimed that “enhanced arrangements” were in place for gathering intelligence on extremist prisoners.

Abu Qatada’s influence has extended from Mujahidin groups in Algeria and Chechnya in the past, to Iraq and Afghanistan more recently. As long ago as 1999 he was said to be on the al-Qaeda leadership’s religious affairs committee.

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