|Intro||Islamist militant leader|
|A.K.A.||Omar Bakri Fostock|
|Birth||1 January 1958 (Aleppo, Mount Simeon District, Aleppo Governorate, Syria)|
Omar Bakri Muhammad (Arabic: عمر بکری فستق; born Omar Bakri Fostock in 1958) is a Syrian Salafi Islamist militant leader, born in Aleppo, Syria, to Syrian parents.
He was instrumental in developing Hizb ut-Tahrir in the United Kingdom before leaving the group and heading another Islamist organisation, Al-Muhajiroun, until its disbandment in 2004.
For several years Bakri was one of the best-known, high-profile Islamists based in London, and was frequently quoted and interviewed in the UK media. In December 2004 he vowed that Muslims would give the West "a 9/11, day after day after day," if Western governments did not change their policies. He has been described as "closely linked to al-Qaeda"—having released prepared statements from Osama bin Laden after the 1998 United States embassy bombings—but also as the "Tottenham Ayatollah", "little more than a loudmouth," and "a figure of fun."
In 2005, following the 7 July 2005 London bombings, The Times reported that "a dozen members" of his group Al-Muhajiroun "have taken part in suicide bombings or have become close to Al-Qaeda and its support network." Shortly after, he left the UK, where he had sheltered for 20 years, for Lebanon. While there he was informed by the Home Office that he would not be allowed back into the UK. Lebanon's state-run National News Agency said on 12 November 2010 that Bakri was among 54 people sentenced by a military court to life in prison with hard labour after being accused of acts of terrorism. After the decision Bakri told reporters, he would "not spend one day in prison", and said, "I will not hand myself in to any court. I do not believe in the law in Britain as in Lebanon." It was reported on 14 November 2010 that he had been arrested by the Lebanese police and was being transferred to Beirut.
Early life and education
Bakri was born into a wealthy family in the ancient city of Aleppo, Syria. According to Jon Ronson his family had "chauffeurs and servants and palaces in Syria, Turkey and Beirut."
From the age of five he was enrolled in the al-Kutaab Islamic boarding schools (a primary school teaching children how to recite and keep Quran by heart) where he studied the Qur'anic Sciences, Hadith (the sayings of the Prophet of Islam and his Companions), Fiqh (Islamic Religious Philosophy), and Seerah (The detailed biography of the Prophet of Islam), etc.
Bakri joined the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood as a young man but did not participate in their 1982 Hama revolt against the Syrian Ba'ath Party and the government of Hafez al-Assad.
In 1979 he left Lebanon and moved to Cairo, Egypt where he studied at Al-Azhar University for six months. He left Al-Azhar before he could get a degree due to disagreements with his teachers.
Throughout his life, Bakri states that he joined many Islamic movements including Muslim Students, Ebad ul-Rahman, al-Ikhwan (al-Tali'ah section), and Hizb ut Tahrir. According to an interview with "Jamestown Special Correspondent" Mahan Abedin, Omar Bakri joined Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HT) in Beirut and maintained contacts with it in Cairo, and started an HT cells in Saudi Arabia" where "by 1983 I had built a team of 38 brothers." However, when he learned that "HT leaders in Kuwait were reluctant to form or organize any activities in Saudi Arabia," where HT was banned, it came as "a huge shock" and led to his suspension from the party. "Therefore on March 3, 1983 – the 59th anniversary of the destruction of the Ottoman Caliphate – I launched a separate organization [in Jeddah] with the help of these 38 brothers and called it Al-Muhajiroun."
In 1984 the Saudi Arabian government arrested Bakri in Jeddah, but released him on bail.
In United Kingdom
Bakri moved to the United Kingdom on 14 January 1986. Later he travelled to the United States to study English after which he travelled back to the United Kingdom to assume the leadership of Hizb ut-Tahrir and become their spiritual leader.
In the UK he worked for ten years helping to build up Hizb ut-Tahrir. According to ex-Hizb ut-Tahrir associate Maajid Nawaz, Bakri encouraged its members to engage in vigilantism against non Muslims and Muslim women "We were encouraged by Omar Bakri to operate like street gangs and we did, prowling London, fighting Indian Sikhs in the west and African Christians in the east. We intimidated Muslim women until they wore the hijab and we thought we were invincible."
In 1996 Bakri split with Hizb ut-Tahrir over disagreements on policy, style and methods, declaring Al-Muhajiroun an independent organisation and continued as its Amir until 2003.
After the September 11, 2001 attacks Bakri praised the attackers as "magnificent", and changed his leanings towards the theology and philosophy of Al Qaeda. Bakri then stated that he had become a Salafi Muslim. Media outlets and British Muslims criticised him for his open support for various international jihadist organisations. On 13 September 2001, Bakri told the Daily Mail, "When I first heard about [the September 11, 2001 attacks], there was some initial delight about such an attack. I received a phone call and said, 'Oh, wow, the United States has come under attack.' It was exciting."
According to The Times, Bakri was left alone by British law prior to July 2005 despite actions such as an issuing a fatwa "containing a death threat against President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan" because:
Bakri, who acts as [al-Muhajiroun's] spiritual leader, insisted that his followers obey a "covenant of security" which, while encouraging terror abroad, forbade them from carrying out attacks in Britain.
But "the authorities may have been lulled into a false sense of security", because the covenant was not permanent. In November 2004 Bakri disbanded Al-Muhajiroun, saying that "all Muslims should unite together against a hostile West." Three months later Bakri said this "covenant of security" was no longer in force having been violated by the British government. "Experts note," according to the Times, that the July London bombings followed "four months later".
The same article reports "The Sunday Times has identified more than a dozen members of ALM who have taken part in suicide bombings or have become close to Al-Qaeda and its support network." Including Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan "a computer expert now in a Pakistani prison", Zeeshan Siddiqui, from Hounslow, west London, Bilal Mohammed from Birmingham, and Asif Hanif.
Bakri has claimed an estimated £250,000 in state benefits since claiming asylum in Britain in 1986. He is currently banned from returning to the United Kingdom.
His main students were Khalid Kelly, Anjem Choudary, Sulayman Keeler, Abu Izzadeen, and Abu Uzair, a trained civil engineer who leads or led the Savior Sect.
Return to the Middle East
On 6 August 2005 Bakri left the United Kingdom following stories that the UK Government were planning to investigate certain Muslim clerics under little-used treason laws. He was banned from returning by British Home Secretary Charles Clarke stating that Bakri's presence in Britain was "not conducive to the public good." He subsequently took up residence in Lebanon. During the 2006 Lebanon War, he tried to flee Lebanon on a Royal Navy vessel evacuating British citizens. He was turned away by the British Navy however.
In 2005 Bakri made a televised appeal to the captors of Norman Kember, a hostage in Iraq. After his speech Bakri said, "I appeal myself to them, you see, that to show guidance and mercy to any victim in their hand. But after that I can't myself guarantee anything except to tell you these people mean business."
Bakri has reaffirmed the fatwa on Salman Rushdie, saying from Lebanon, "Rushdie will continue living his life in hiding. Any fatwa will stand until it is fulfilled. He is always going to be worried about a Muslim reaching him."
During an online question and answer session a Vigil member asked Bakri if Dublin Airport should be a terrorist target because U.S. troops transit there on the way to Iraq. Bakri told the member to "hit the target and hit it very hard. That issue should be understood. Your situation there is quite difficult therefore the answer lies in your question." He said the 7/7 London bombers were in "paradise."
On 27 July 2007, a special edition of Newsnight entitled 'Battle for Islam' was broadcast, in which Gavin Esler presented on the battle for the heart and soul of Islam Omar Bakri featured live from Lebanon alongside Reza Aslan in Los Angeles, Benazir Bhutto in the studio in London with Maryam Namazie. Currently Bakri reportedly heads the Atibaa' Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah movement.
Bakri is, or was, married to Hanah and has seven children. According to ex-Hizb ut-Tahrir member Maajid Nawaz, Bakhri's daughter, Yasmin Fostok, "grew so disillusioned with her father's rhetoric that in one monumental act of defiance she left home and became a stripper."
On 30 October 2015 news reports appeared indicating that his son Mohammed had been executed for apostasy by ISIS, to whom he had fled to fight for in 2014
On 30th December another son, Bilal, was reported to have been killed while fighting for ISIS in Iraq.
Alleged ties to terrorism
British newspapers have called him the "Tottenham Ayatollah", despite him identifying as Salafi and the title "ayatollah" being a Shia epithet. Former Conservative MP Rupert Allason described him as a "terrorist who believes in planting bombs and blowing up women and children in Israel." Roland Jacquard, a French expert on Islamic terrorism, said that "every al-Qaeda operative recently arrested or identified in Europe had come into contact with Bakri at some time or other."
In January 2005 The Times monitored live, 90-minute internet lectures from Bakri in a chatroom in which he told listeners, "I believe the whole of Britain has become Dar al-Harb (land of war). The kuffar (non-believer) has no sanctity for their own life or property." He said Muslims should join the jihad "wherever you are" and told a woman she was allowed to do a suicide bombing. In another broadcast he said, "Al-Qaeda and all its branches and organizations of the world, that is the victorious group and they have the emir and you are obliged to join. There is no need... to mess about." Two days later, in another broadcast, he said that dead mujaheedin "are calling you and shouting to you from far distant places: al jihad, al jihad. They say to you my dear Muslim brothers, 'Where is your weapon, where is your weapon?' Come on to the jihad."
Andrew Dismore, a Labour MP, claimed that, "With these words he may well be committing offences under the Terrorism Act and other legislation. I will be raising this immediately with the Home Secretary and the Metropolitan Police."
Comments on terrorist attacks
Commenting on 11 September 2001 attacks, The Times claims he said "I am very happy today. As much as I regret the innocent people who passed away, with the USA you must pay." on his website. The Montreal Gazette however claims that he said in an interview "If Islamists did it—and most likely it is Islamists, because of the nature of what happened—then they have fully misunderstood the teachings of Islam. ... Even the most radical of us have condemned this. I am always considered to be a radical in the Islamic world and even I condemn it." Bakri, discussing the 2004 Madrid train bombings, is alleged by The Times to have said, "What happened in Madrid is all revenge. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life."
Financing of "mujahideen"
On 24 October 2006 British security officials arrested Omar Bakri's son, Abdul Rahman Fostok, at Heathrow Airport, and seized £13,000 that he intended to deliver to Bakri in Lebanon. The money was held under the Proceeds of Crime Act, pending an investigation, but Fostok was allowed to board his flight. Responding to this, Bakri said,
"I am not expecting any problem with the money but if I do not get it there will be trouble. I will take action because it is my property. God says you must do all in your power to get something back if it is taken from you – even if it costs you your life. They will be playing with fire."
Bakri claims that the money is a gift, but it has been reported that Bakri told followers on the Paltalk website in June 2006 that if they wanted to send him money for the financing of "mujahideen" they should do so through his son Fostok, who "keeps [a] low profile." He posted Fostok's mobile phone number and invited them to call him directly.
On 31 January 2007 British police arrested nine suspected terrorists who were allegedly planning to kidnap, torture, and behead a British Muslim in the army, all of which would be videotaped and later broadcast on the internet. The soldier had served in the War in Afghanistan, but had returned home to Britain on temporary leave. On 4 February secret recordings of Bakri Muhammad emerged in which he calls for the attack. Bakri told listeners,
"When you meet [Infidels], slice their own necks. And when you make the blood spill all over, and the enemy becomes so tired, now start to take from them prisoners. Then free them or exchange them until the war is finished." [Quran 47:4]. "Verily they remind the sunnah of removing the head of the enemy. They remind the sunnah of slaughtering the enemy. They remind the sunnah of how to strike the neck of the enemy. We saw him in his brother's house. They removed the head of the enemy. Use the sword and remove the head of the enemy."
He previously called for a kidnapping-terrorist attack in 2005. In another incident he said he hoped someone would "capture British Muslims who are in the Army over there." He has said that a Beslan-style attack is alright if children are not deliberately killed.
Them: Adventures With Extremists
British journalist Jon Ronson's "Them: Adventures With Extremists", a documentary and book published in 2001, depicts Ronson's interactions with Bakri.
Ronson depicts Bakri as a charismatic orator who tells a cheering crowd of 5000 that "he will not rest" until he sees "the Black Flag of Islam flying over Downing Street", and calls for the stoning of fornicators and closing of pubs. He tells Ronson, "I cannot take a day off, an hour off, even a minute off. I will take time off when I am with Allah, when I die in the battlefield and become a martyr."
But he also describes Bakri as living in a semi-detached council house, enjoying watching Disney's Lion King video, being unable to hold a fish caught on a fishing line, and calling himself "actually very nice."
In a phone call after the 9/11 attack on the evening of his arrest and release without charge, Ronson reports Bakri as telling him,
"Oh Jon, I need you more than ever now. You know I am harmless, don't you? You know I am just a clown. You know I am laughable, don't you? ... Why don't people believe you when you tell them that I am just a harmless clown?"
Arrests and conviction in Lebanon
Future Television interviewed Bakri on 11 August 2005. Bakri said he did not have ties to Al Qaeda, calling it a "media creation" and said he did not intend to return to Britain. During the interview, Bakri said "I left Britain on my own accord though I have not been accused of anything there or in Lebanon... but the London attacks are the reason I have returned". According to media reports, Lebanese police arrested Bakri as soon as he left the building after the interview. Police later said the arrest was "a routine arrest to determine his reasons and if his residency in Lebanon is legitimate." Lebanese Information Minister Ghazi Aridi later said Bakri was arrested as a "precautionary measure." British Ambassador to Lebanon James Watt said, "We made no request for his arrest, nor for his extradition. As far as I am concerned, this is a very simple story – it is a Lebanese citizen who returned to Lebanon and has been arrested by the Lebanese police. We have nothing to do with it and it's not in our place to comment on what has happened."
In mid-November 2010, Bakri was sentenced to life in prison in Lebanon in a terrorism case that he claimed to know nothing about, but was subsequently released on bail when witnesses who testified against him withdrew their testimony.
After his release he was reported to be living in Tripoli. In April 2014, his home was raided by Lebanese security forces because of his alleged involvement in fighting between the area's Alawite community and local Sunnis. He fled the city and the Lebanese authorities announced he was wanted for "endangering national security". In May 2014 he was arrested in the town of Aley and, in a press conference, the Lebanese Interior Minister, Nouhad Machnouk, alleged that Bakri "has contributed in every aspect in supporting terrorism".
In October, 2014, Bakri was sentenced to six years in prison with hard labor by a Lebanese court for founding a Lebanese affiliate of the Al-Qaeda linked Syrian terrorist group the Nusra Front, and of building a training camp for Nusra Front fighters in Lebanon. The following year, two of Bakri's sons were killed fighting in the ranks of rival extremist group the Islamic State. The first, Muhammad, was killed in Aleppo, Syria, and the second, Bilal, in Salah al-Din province in Iraq in December, 2015.
Quotes and views
On killing and terrorism
- (On the deaths of British servicemen in a Nimrod air accident in Afghanistan) "Allah has his own soldiers and I was so happy. I was just thanking Allah."
- "I condemn any killing and any bombing against any innocent people in Britain or abroad, but I expect the British people to condemn the killing of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan."
- "But I think that would be political suicide for the British government if they started to deport and imprison all extremists and radicals, because if, god forbid, something happened again, they would have nobody left to blame."
- "Why I condemn Osama Bin Laden for? I condemn Tony Blair, I condemn George Bush. I would never condemn Osama Bin Laden or any Muslim."
- "We don't make a distinction between civilians and non-civilians, innocents and non-innocents. Only between Muslims and unbelievers. And the life of an unbeliever has no value. It has no sanctity."
- "As long as the Iraqi did not deliberately kill women and children, and they were killed in the crossfire, that would be okay."
- "Copts (don't exist because) it (just) means Egyptian."
- "Secular Fundamentalists want to use religion to fabricate crimes against religious people, they are enemies of the religious people."
- "Muslim is (a person) who submits to God, who disapprove of man-made laws."
- All Jews, Hindus, and Sikhs are Kafirs (disbelievers) in Islam, all non-Muslims are guilty of not accepting the Message of Prophet Muhammad (Salah allahu alayhi wa sallem)."
- "Islam prohibits Muslims from allowing themselves to become captives of nonbelievers."
- "Juhayman al-Otaibi was a great man. He led a serious uprising against the House of al-Saud. In the end the Saudi authorities could not defeat Juhaiman and his men; therefore they brought in the Jordanians and the French."
- "We are talking about a cancer in the heart of the Muslim world. It must be eradicated and removed"
On the Balkans
"When Islam enters a territory, that state turns into an Islamic state. It's our duty to liberate them”. When asked about the European states that are considered Islamic, he said: “Spain, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia and Bosnia are all Islamic countries”.
On attempts to return to UK
On trying to get back to Britain during the bombing of Lebanon
- "They said 'sorry, the only people who will be in the boat are those who have British citizenship and those who've got British passports.'"
- "I know controversy surrounds all the news about me, I am myself accepting my destiny. But I have the right like anybody else to look for safety."
- "What concerns me is my safety. I'd be happy with a month's visa but this morning they told me I couldn't because I'm not a British citizen anymore."
On Paul McCartney
- "If he values his life, Mr McCartney must not come to Israel," Bakri was quoted as saying. "He will not be safe there. The sacrifice operatives will be waiting for him." Bakri added: "Instead of supporting the people of Palestine in their suffering, McCartney is celebrating the atrocities of the occupiers. The one who is under occupation is supposed to be getting the help."