A Muslim schoolteacher was found guilty on Friday of attempting to recruit children into an “army” of jihadists to assist in carrying out a wave of terror attacks across London.
Umar Haque, a 25-year-old British supporter of the Islamic State, reportedly showed children violent Islamist propaganda including beheading videos, and forced the youngsters to rehearse attacks on police officers in the British capital.
As part of his defence, Haque argued that lying and jihad constituted part of his religion and he blamed “fascists” and police for his crimes, telling jurors he had been “preparing self-defence” against a “fascist” uprising, and said there were “fascist police as well as fascist groups.”
It is believed that Haque was self-radicalised online, and was inspired by an attack in March 2017 when Khalid Masood mowed down pedestrians on London’s Westminster Bridge in a rented car, killing four, before stabbing a police officer to death. The man claimed to form part of “a death squad sent by Allah” after the Westminster attack.
Using role-playing, Haque sought to prepare a young army for Islamist terror attacks to be carried out in locations such as the Palace of Westminster and Westfield shopping centre. Prosecutors claimed that Haque intended to use his child soldiers to assail highly visible London targets such as the Big Ben tower, soldiers from the Queen’s Guards, a large shopping centre, banks, and media stations.
“He tried to prepare the children for martyrdom by making them role-play terrorist attacks. Part of that role-playing was re-enacting attacking police officers,” said Dean Haydon, head of the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command.
The role-playing also included making the children re-enact Masood’s Westminster bridge assault.
“His plan was to create an army of children to assist with multiple terrorist attacks throughout London,” Haydon said. “He tried and he did, we believe, radicalise vulnerable children from the ages of 11 to 14.”
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Haque was born into a family of Bangladeshi origin and had previously worked for a mosque as well as Newham council in East London, before becoming a teacher in the Lantern of Knowledge, a small private Islamic school, and at a madrassa connected to the Ripple Road Mosque in east London.
According to police, although Haque was employed as an administrator at the school, he began teaching Islamic studies to 110 schoolchildren with the aim of preparing them as young militants of the Islamic State.
Haydon said the schoolchildren did not tell their parents or teachers anything because they had been “paralysed by fear” after Haque said he was a member of the Islamic State and warned the children they would suffer the same fate as those in the jihadist videos is they said anything.
Although police initially met a wall of silence from the children, eventually six of the students presented evidence at Haque’s trial at the Old Bailey, and told the court how he had taught them that fighting was good along with some physical training such as having them do push-ups to build their strength.
“He is teaching us terrorism, like how to fight,” one of the children said. “If you fight for the sake of Allah, on Judgment Day, when you get judged for your good deeds and bad deeds, fighting is good.”
On Friday, Haque was found guilty of a number of counts at London’s Old Bailey Court, including preparing terrorist acts. Two accomplices, 19-year-old Abuthaher Mamun and 27-year-old Muhammad Abid, were also convicted of helping him. Police said that Mamun had been involved in fundraising and attack planning. The three will all be sentenced at a later date.
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