A counter-terrorism expert has identified a large West-London mosque as being the key common factor between the young British Muslims who go to fight for the Islamic State, a number of whom grew up just streets away from each other in one neighbourhood of North Kensington.
Dr Abdulkarim Khalil, the Syrian-born chairman of the Al-Manaar Mosque in Westbourne Park explained when interviewed by London’s Evening Standard newspaper that while he was “very, very sad” that a number of former worshippers at his mosque had “got themselves into a situation that might influence the rest of their lives” by fighting abroad, he was ultimately unable to prevent the radicalisation. Dr. Khalil said:”On Fridays we have about 2,000 people come. Who meets who? Who says what to who? I think it would be dishonest if I told you ‘No’.
“But we try our best to control what goes on in our premises. We don’t allow people to address the congregation; we don’t allow people to distribute literature. Unfortunately these things happen on the big occasions, like on Fridays. And then you find people on the street outside the mosque, lobbying people, giving out literature — some of it for good causes, some of it for others”.
Counter-terror expert Raffaello Pantucci of London’s Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), has linked ‘jihadi rapper’ Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, who some believe to be the ‘man behind the mask’ of murderer ‘Jihadi John’, with the mosque. Pantucci makes records of important tweets made by British jihadists before they are deleted or taken down by the social media network, and has one tweet made by Bary in response to a picture of the building: “aah grove mosque miss dat, ramadan times subhanalla [God is glorious]”.
Other than Bary, a number of Britain’s most prominent jihadists are associated with the mosque, including North-Kensington locals, Al-Manaar worshippers, and best friends Hamza Parvez and Mohammed Nasser. They both traveled to Syria in May and while Nasser was killed in an explosion shortly after arriving, Parvez is still fighting and “is actively taking part” in the establishment of the Islamic State.
Another pair of friends who went for jihad abroad and are said to have been involved with the Al-Manaar are engineering student Mohammed el-Araj, a young man of Palestinian descent and Choukri Ellekhlifi. They both lived only minutes walk from the Mosque, which sits between a motorway flyover, a railway and a canal and were both killed while fighting for the Islamic state last year.
Amal Al-Wahabi, the young Muslim bride who was recently convicted of attempting to smuggle €20,000 to terrorists in Turkey in the underwear of a friend is also strongly linked to the mosque. She worked in the Portobello Day Care Nursery whose premises are inside the Al-Manaar mosque, and met her drug-smuggling husband Aine Davis, better known as ‘Hamza’ there. Hamza, who was radicalised in prison following a conviction for a firearms offence is still thought to be fighting for the Islamic State and is another man identified as a potential ‘Jihadi John’ suspect in the media.
When asked to explain the area’s apparent prevalence towards violent jihad, and the central role the mosque may play in radicalisation of worshippers, the director Dr. Khalil blamed poverty and language barrriers in the area. A local, quoted by the Standard said: “Most of these guys grew up on the estates, and there is a subculture where they are hanging out. And then they discover Islam and there’s not necessarily enough guidance”.
Counter-terror researcher Pantucci from RUSI points out the link between a past history of criminal gang activity and radicalisation, suggesting becoming desensitised to violence on the streets of London may be to blame in some regards. “What’s interesting is that they all kind of fit this profile of being young and on the fringes of gang culture”.