By Ben Flanagan
The UK government has turned a blind eye to extremist groups on its home soil, allowing “hotbeds” of terror sympathizers to form and sow the seeds for terror attacks, a new documentary claims.
“The Making of Extremism,” broadcast by the Abu Dhabi-based Sky News Arabia, claims the British security services have historically viewed certain extremist groups as “weapons” in their pursuit of foreign-policy objectives.
Extremist groups’ domestic operations are seen by the UK government as “a tax they are willing to pay,” the documentary said.
The claims follow the recent lone-wolf terror attack in Westminster in London, which claimed the lives of five victims, and a string of more organized atrocities and attempted attacks in UK cities.
Arab News obtained exclusive footage of the Sky News Arabia documentary subtitled in English.
Muslim Brotherhood ties
The Sky News Arabia film traces the UK’s current problem with extremist groups back to its stance on the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), which was founded in 1928.
Some consider the group — which is now outlawed in Egypt and some other countries, but not in Britain — as forming the “roots of the modern-era extremist movements.”
The Sky News Arabia documentary tracked Britain’s relationship with the MB back to 1941. Colonial Britain then saw the Brotherhood as useful in quelling nationalism in Egypt, and later provided the Brotherhood with financial support, the documentary said.
The MB, known as the Ikhwan in Arabic, was banned by Egypt in 1954, with its members having been blamed for a failed attempt to assassinate President Gamal Abdul Nasser. Many of the group’s members fled to London, where they enjoyed the “protection of the British authorities who considered them political refugees,” the documentary claims.
Extremism in the UK
Decades later, the MB is still tolerated in Britain — and the documentary points to several examples of UK-based extremists that were apparently influenced by the group’s political ideology.
It cited the case of the Syrian-born Omar Bakri Mohammed, once one of London’s most notorious preachers, who in 2004 famously vowed that Muslims would give the West “a 9/11 day after day after day.”
Bakri is one of several alleged extremists that the Sky News Arabia documentary said UK authorities “turned a blind eye” to while he lived in Britain.
Although the radical cleric had his “indefinite leave to remain” in the UK terminated after making incendiary remarks about the July, 2005 terror attack in London, the documentary claimed that other alleged extremists have been tolerated by UK authorities.
“It seems clear that some security services in Britain are keen to keep these groups under their protection. Some say that monitoring these extremist groups is easier with their public presence,” the documentary claimed.
“Others reiterate the notion that they can be used as a weapon of extortion for some states. But, when some of these extremists… take part in operations within Britain itself, officials consider it a tax they are willing to pay in pursuit of the foreign policy objectives of the United Kingdom.”
‘Freedom of movement’
Ahmed Ban, a researcher specializing in political Islam, said that the MB and other groups enjoy “freedom of movement” in the UK.
“Not only (does) the Muslim Brotherhood (feel) comfortable in Britain, but also many other active jihadist components that openly advocate violence and enjoy the same freedom of movement,” Ban told Sky News Arabia.
“Britain seems to consider these militants under its control and (providing) it with a wealth of information that ensures security in the end.”
Britain has a long association with the MB, Ban told the Sky News Arabia documentary. Several decades ago, the UK’s colonial interest in Egypt was about “channeling the youth toward religion instead of nationalism,” in the hope of weakening the nascent Egyptian state.
The Brotherhood was subject to a long-running inquiry by the UK government, which in late 2015 found the group has a “highly ambiguous relationship with violent extremism,” but fell short of banning it as a terror organization.
But Amr El-Shobaki, former member of the Egyptian Parliament and expert on political Islamic movements, said that the Ikhwan has a historical association with violence.
“The violent discourse was present in the literature of many Muslim Brotherhood leaders,” El-Shobaki told Sky News Arabia.
Representatives of the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) did not immediately respond to requests for comment by Arab News.
Farah Dakhlallah, a former Arabic spokeswoman for the FCO, said that the UK government closely monitors the activities of the MB.
“We will continue accordingly to consult and share intelligence and analyses with the governments of the Middle East and North Africa,” she told the Sky News Arabia documentary.
“The British government examines closely the thoughts and activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in the UK and abroad.”
‘Bypassing UK monitoring’
Decades after the UK first made contact with the MB, the effects are still being felt domestically and further afield, another expert said.
While Britain’s strategy has been to keep an eye on alleged extremist groups, the tactic has spiraled out of control, said Maher Farghali, an expert in Islamist movements.
“They have more than 60 Muslim Brotherhood associations in Britain, all of which played a tremendous role later on making them the starting point to spread throughout Europe,” Farghali told the Sky News Arabia documentary.
“Britain allows a large number of extremists… to be under the eyes of the British security, and are working with the British security services. These groups expanded and managed to bypass the British monitoring and were able to recruit many diverse militants.”
Yet some commentators disagreed with the idea that the MB is given free rein in the UK.
Mohammed Al-Shafey, an expert who works for the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in London, said he believed that MB leaders based in London are closely monitored.
“I think they are watching them, but they are not going to say it,” Al-Shafey told Arab News. “You can’t say (the UK government) has turned a blind eye to extremists.”
But what the future holds for Britain’s relationship with the MB is not clear.
“With the escalation of violent acts in Europe, Britain became confused about the Muslim Brotherhood,” Kamal Habib, an Egyptian political analyst, told Sky News Arabia.
“The presence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Britain is no longer a comfortable existence, but rather a confusion and clash between its executive, regulatory or legislative bodies. Britain is now in a state of limbo in terms of worries (over) the Muslim Brotherhood.”
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