As part of our ongoing examination of factors enabling extremists’ abuse of civic space, HJS’ Centre for the Response to Radicalisation and Terrorism published a briefing titled: Banking Restrictions on Extremism-Linked Muslim Groups. The briefing investigates charities and groups to have faced banking restrictions, several of whose accounts were recently closed by HSBC in September 2014.
The account closures – initiated as part of a wider series of closures in response to a $1.9bn fine over “poor money laundering controls” – was at that time met with criticism from the groups themselves, local politicians and the media. Yet, Banking Restrictions on Extremism-Linked Muslim Groups has found compelling evidence that all of the charities to have faced account closures have known or suspected links to extremist ideology, individuals and/or organisations.
The briefing investigates each of the three Muslim groups to have faced recent banking restrictions by HSBC: The Cordoba Foundation; Finsbury Park Mosque and the Ummah Welfare Trust. While HSBC has not provided the reasons behind its decision, the briefing highlights the groups’ known or suspected extremist links, including:
- The founder and president of The Cordoba Foundation, Anas al-Tikriti, in 2006 affirmed “the right of the Iraqis to engage in legitimate resistance against foreign occupation” and has vocally supported the movement to boycott Holocaust Memorial Day. The group has also hosted, and attempted to host, extremists at events – on one occasion causing Tower Hamlets Council to withdraw its funding for the group’s event.
- Finsbury Park Mosque has a long history of radical Islamist activity. It has been estimated by a former mosque attendee that around 50 Muslims to have attended the mosque, which long served as a base of operations for hate preacher Abu Hamza, were killed fighting abroad. The new management, while apparently trying to distance itself from the mosque’s past, has in recent months damaged its reputation. One official locked an Al-Arabiya reporter inside the mosque against his will for asking questions about the mosque’s possible links to the Muslim Brotherhood. One of the mosque’s trustees – Mohammad Sawalha – has been described in a BBC documentary as a “fugitive Hamas commander”. Moreover, Azzam Tamimi – one of the MAB’s leading figures who acted as a spokesman to the media regarding the MAB’s takeover of Finsbury Park Mosque – has previously claimed he would like to carry out a ‘martyrdom’ operation if he had the opportunity and said it was “a noble cause”.
- The Ummah Welfare Trust appears to have, in 2007, worked with the Al-Salah Islamic Association, designated by the US Treasury as a Hamas fundraising operation. The UWT is alleged to have given money to Hamas-controlled organisations and Interpal, an organisation that was designated by the US Treasury as one of the organisations that “provide support to Hamas and form part of its funding network in Europe”, though they deny this. The UWT has published extremist material, including posting articles praising “martyrdom” as a “lofty rank”. Extremists have been given a platform at UWT events, which have in the past been gender segregated.
The briefing also looks at three other groups to have faced banking restrictions in the past, also with known or alleged links to extremist individuals and organisations:
- ‘Independent advocacy organisation’ Cage has supported convicted terrorists, including Aafia Siddiqui, who had wide-ranging links to al-Qaeda and was imprisoned for the attempted murder of US officers. Cage’s Outreach Director Moazzam Begg has defended Babar Ahmad, despite Ahmad pleading guilty to terrorism charges in a US court late last year. Its director of research Asim Qureshi announced that “it is incumbent upon all of us to support the jihad of our brothers and sisters in these countries when they are facing the oppression of the West” at a Hizb ut-Tahrir rally in 2006.
- Helping Households Under Great Stress (HHUGS) has posted a piece online criticising the conviction of jihadist recruiter Munir Farooqi, who was found guilty of soliciting to murder and preparing terrorist acts. HHUGS has held events promoting extremist individuals. One event featured Shakeel Begg, a cleric at the Lewisham Islamic Centre who in 2006 reportedly told students “You want to make jihad? Very good… take some money and go to Palestine and fight, fight the terrorists, fight the Zionists”. HHUGS has also hosted the extremist cleric Uthman Lateef at events in 2013.
- The Muslim Association of Britain, had “for many years been the most active organisation in the UK Muslim Brotherhood”. The MAB also organised for and welcomed Anwar al-Awlaki to carry out a lecture tour in Britain in 2002. While the MAB claims that it invited al-Awlaki “before he became notorious as an Al Qaeda ideologue”, he was in fact at the time “fleeing an FBI inquiry in the US in the wake of his involvement with three of the September 11 hijackers”. The MAB hosted former member Dr Azzam Tamimi in May 2014, who has said “I have a great honor [sic.] to be close to Hamas,” and has previously attempted to justify suicide bombing. The group’s official Facebook page regularly posts quotes by extremist cleric Shaykh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi.