An Algerian-born man who claimed to have been sent by Osama bin Laden to attack American targets in Paris, has told investigators that he was recruited to the extreme Islamist cause at a mosque in Leicester.
Djamel Beghal, 35, named the mosque to investigators in Dubai – where he was arrested in July – as the "Mosque of Piety". According to the French press, the transcript of Beghal's "confession" to the Dubai authorities contains a lengthy passage on his stay in Britain from late 1997 to late last year.
Although living in north London with his wife and two children, and worshipping at a mosque in Finsbury Park, Mr Beghal told the Dubai authorities that he was approached by the mullahs of a mosque in Leicester.
Senior figures within the Muslim community in Leicester dismissed the suggestions of extremism and said there was no mosque by that name in the city. Ibrahim Fulat, of the Evington Muslim Centre, said: "There are no militant people here ... people are more concerned with business. We are a closely-knit community and we would know if something like this was happening."
Mr Beghal told investigators that he was given a preliminary training in jihad in Birmingham before travelling to Afghanistan last November.
Mr Beghal, who has joint Algerian and French nationality, also told investigators in Dubai that he had been given direct orders in March this year by one of Osama bin Laden's lieutenants to attack the US embassy and an American cultural centre in Paris. Since his extradition to France on Sunday, he has retracted part of this confession.
His lawyer, Fabrice Dubest, says he admits having been trained as a terrorist in camps in Afghanistan but denies receiving orders from Mr bin laden's headquarters to plan attacks on US targets in France. The Dubai authorities said Mr Beghal had confessed after being persuaded by moderate mullahs, sent to his cell, that murder and terrorism are contrary to the teachings of Islam.
According to the French newspaper Le Monde, he has since told French judges specialising in anti-terrorism investigations that he was blindfolded and beaten by the investigators in Dubai.
Sources in the French investigation say they are still treating Mr Beghal's statements in Dubai as a credible part of their evidence.
A series of names given by Mr Beghal to the Dubai authorities has led to more than 20 arrests in the past 10 days in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Britain.
Two of the people arrested in Belgium had bomb-making formulae and materials in their possession. A Franco-Algerian man who had been living at Mr Beghal's former home south of Paris – Kamel Daoudi – was arrested in Leicester last Tuesday after fleeing to Britain. He was expelled to France last Friday and was interviewed by investigating magistrates yesterday.
Members of the Muslim community arriving at the Jam-E-Mosque in Leicester yesterday, close to where Mr Daoudi was arrested, said there was no evidence of infiltration into the community by extremists.
Ismail Mogra, 70, said: "If a stranger comes here we know it, and can see it's danger." Another man, who declined to be named, said: "This is nonsense. We want it to stay peaceful here. We make sure there's nothing like that going on."
* A petrol-bomb attack on a Pakistani community centre in Edinburgh yesterday was feared to be a racist response to the US terror attacks. As forensic science teams and fire investigators combed through the debris of the Pakistan Association Mosque and Community Centre there were calls for calm from city leaders and a warning that extremism would not be tolerated.Reuse content