Thursday 21 October 2010 | Terrorism in the UK feed

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Anwar al-Awlaki: MI5 warns of the al-Qaeda preacher targeting Britain

Young British Muslims are being groomed to carry out terrorist attacks in this country by Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical al-Qaeda preacher based in the Middle East, it can be disclosed.

 
Anwar al-Awlaki: MI5 warns of the al-Qaeda preacher targeting Britain
Anwar al-Awlaki has 'cemented his position as one of the leading English-speaking jihadi ideologues' Photo: AP

The security services fear that a new generation of British extremists is being radicalised by Awlaki, who recruited the Detroit plane bomber. They are concerned that Awlaki’s followers could unleash a wave of easily planned guerrilla-style terrorist attacks, similar to the massacre in Mumbai.

Such small-scale attacks could be carried out cheaply by individuals with little terrorist training and without the need for the support of a large organisation.

The British security services have become so worried about Awlaki’s rising influence that they have alerted ministers to their fears.

He is now regarded as one of the world’s most wanted terrorists.

A briefing paper, seen by The Daily Telegraph, has been circulated within government, warning that Awlaki has now “cemented his position as one of the leading English-speaking jihadi ideologues”. His growing influence was one of the factors that led to a raised terrorism alert level in Britain earlier this year.

Awlaki, who was born in America, but is of Yemeni descent, is in hiding in Yemen, where he also spent his teenage years. He has become the foremost influence on young radical Muslims across the world through his English language sermons delivered over the internet.

He said in a statement in March: “Isn’t it ironic that the two capitals of the war against Islam, Washington DC and London, have also become among the centres of Western Jihad [holy war]. Jihad is becoming as American as apple pie and as British as afternoon tea.”

His growing influence has also attracted young Britons to Yemen seeking to train as suicide bombers. It can be disclosed that at least one British Muslim has volunteered to be a suicide bomber in recent months after contacting Awlaki. MI5 and the police fear there could be more.

Authorities have rounded up Westerners studying at Arabic colleges in Sana’a, the capital, including at least two Britons who were later released.

Awlaki built up a base of extremist followers while living in London for two years until 2004, giving lectures at mosques, universities and closed study circles across the country, sources say.

He developed a following among terrorists and terrorist groomers, including the July 7 and July 21 bombers and the leader of the transatlantic airline bombers, it can also be disclosed. CDs of his sermons were found in the Iqra bookshop in Leeds — where the July 7 bombers held meetings — when it was raided in July 2005.

Mohammed Hamid, the recruiter of the failed July 21 bombers, attended his sermons, sources have told The Daily Telegraph.

His lectures were also found among the material seized from Aabid Hussain Khan, an international terrorist recruiter, from Bradford, West Yorkshire, in June 2006.

Abdulla Ahmed Ali, the leader of the trans-Atlantic airline bombers arrested in August 2006, spoke of his admiration for Awlaki during his trial. Meanwhile, Rizwan Ditta, who sold terrorist texts in Halifax, West Yorkshire, had material from Awlaki on a computer at his home when he was arrested in December 2006.

Major Nidal Hasan, who killed 13 people at the Fort Hood military base in Texas in November, had asked for Awlaki’s advice in emails about a suicide attack. Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab, the failed Detroit bomber, contacted Awlaki over the internet. Awlaki put him in touch with al-Qaeda in Yemen, investigators say. Faisal Shahzad, who tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square, New York, last month, has told investigators he was also influenced by the preacher.

Awlaki has become such a significant threat that the SAS has been deployed to Yemen in a bid to hunt him down. President Obama has also signed orders allowing drone attacks and special forces ground attacks in pursuit of Awlaki, who holds US citizenship.

In the past few weeks al-Qaeda has released a 45-minute interview with him which has become a hit on YouTube. In the interview Awlaki appeared to admit involvement in 14 plots in the US, Canada and Britain.

A government analysis of YouTube last year found that Awlaki had 1,910 videos on the site, one of which had been viewed 164,420 times.

 
 
7/7 bombings video of aftermath
7/7 attack victims
July 7 inquiry timeline
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