Revealed: The extreme views of Michael Howard's new best friend

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Indy Politics

The "whistleblower" who this week exposed a secret policy to massage immigration figures had earlier called for Islamic fundamentalists "to be silenced by nuclear weapons".

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The "whistleblower" who this week exposed a secret policy to massage immigration figures had earlier called for Islamic fundamentalists "to be silenced by nuclear weapons".

In e-mails to a BBC programme, Steve Moxon said the Muslim faith was "inextricably tied up" with terrorism and demanded the imprisonment of imams who preach "clear evil".

Mr Moxon was suspended on Monday after revealing that managers at the Sheffield office of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) were covertly fast-tracking applications from Eastern European nationals to work in Britain.

The disclosure severely embarrassed the Home Office and led to calls for the resignation of Beverley Hughes, the Immigration minister. In stormy Commons exchanges yesterday, Michael Howard seized on Mr Moxon's revelations and challenged Tony Blair to meet him. The Tory leader also invited the television cameras to film him and the shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, meeting Mr Moxon.

But Mr Howard was accused of political opportunism and the Conservatives were distancing themselves from the civil servant as details of two e-mails he sent to BBC1's Panorama in 2001 were made public.

In the e-mails Mr Moxon - who had turned to the Tories after being rebuffed by the Liberal Democrats - was savage in his criticism of the Saudi Arabian Wahhabi tradition to which Osama bin Laden belongs. He said the mullahs of the Wahhabi sect were worse than Hitler or Stalin and denounced the "stupid voices of appeasement" that failed to tackle them. He said "student fervour" in some Islamic schools risked the overthrow of some regimes in Khmer Rouge-style "Year Zeros".

He added: "An international alliance of Islamic Year Zeros feverishly exporting death to 'infidel' and non-fundamentalist Muslim alike, by Kamikazes literally in their millions, eventually will have to be silenced by nuclear weapons."

Mr Moxon continued: "British-domiciled imams and other people who preach this clear evil (a word that is appropriately used in the religious context) must be imprisoned (and not simply deported)."

In a second e-mail, he complained: "Islam is inextricably tied up with the main thrust of global terrorism through the Wahhabi sect ... Nowhere on any BBC coverage except for a brief reference on [Radio 4's] PM has this major fact been revealed, let alone debated."

Confronted by the BBC yesterday about his views, Mr Moxon said: "I can't recall what the context was, but certainly I have written something about the Wahhabi sect, which is obviously a problem." He added: "I am a supporter of immigration. In all developed countries, it is quite normal and desirable that there is a two-way flow of migration. The issue is different, obviously, when it comes to a serious imbalance, when the situation is out of control, as it appears to have got now."

Last night a senior Tory spokesman said: "We can't be aware of everything he has ever said or done." But he added that the fundamental point raised by Mr Moxon - of the covert fast-track policy run at the IND Sheffield office without the knowledge of ministers - was not affected by the controversy.

However, government sources mounted a ferocious attack on Mr Howard's judgement in supporting someone with such hardline views. One said: "Michael Howard was warned by newspapers and colleagues only a week or two ago that his biggest failing was his opportunism and that he would, as a result, fall foul of events. He has done it again."

Martin Salter, the Labour MP for Reading West, said yesterday: "Michael Howard should be a little more careful before blundering into the minefield that is racial politics, praying in aid statements made by someone who clearly has a wider political agenda."

Three days earlier, when Mr Moxon's revelations emerged in The Sunday Times, the issue had looked extremely promising for the Conservatives. Staff at the IND in Sheffield had been told to rubber-stamp applications so that migrants would not appear in the figures after 1 May, when several new countries join the EU, he said. Suddenly, Mr Blair's tough rhetoric on immigration from Eastern Europe was looking distinctly hollow.

To make matters worse for Downing Street, Mr Moxon was suspended from his post on Monday and Beverley Hughes, the Home Office minister, was savaged by MPs as she made an emergency statement in the Commons on the affair.

Ms Hughes appeared to blame her private office for failing to pass on a warning e-mail from Mr Moxon that had exposed the secret policy. On Tuesday, Ms Hughes lost her cool when she was again criticised by MPs in evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee. The media was in full cry, with The Sun dropping its usual abhorrence of whistleblowers such as Katharine Gun to praise Mr Moxon for his bravery.

But yesterday morning the first hint of a further controversy began to break. Mr Moxon had arranged to meet Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman, at the Commons at 10am.

During the 40-minute meeting, the civil servant asked the party to join him and the Tories in a photo-call ahead of Prime Minister's Questions. "He was very open," a Liberal Democrat source said. "He said, 'I'm a trouble maker, I have got a track record of raising awkward issues'. It was then the alarm bells began to ring."

Mr Moxon went on to say that he disagreed with the Liberal Democrats' policies on immigration and Europe. Mr Oaten thanked him for his time and, after consulting Charles Kennedy, the party leader, said that he could not take the matter any further.

The Conservatives, however, proceeded with a full hero's welcome to Parliament for Mr Moxon. He was filmed by TV cameras arriving at the gates of the Commons flanked by Mr Howard and David Davis.

Mr Howard even challenged Mr Blair in the Commons to meet him and Mr Moxon, but the Prime Minister refused, saying that it was an "utterly ludicrous" proposal.

Within minutes of PMQs, Westminster was swirling with rumour about Mr Moxon's past views and it emerged that he had sent his e-mails to the BBC in 2001. It was also claimed that he was the regional organiser for a fathers' rights group.

By last night, as the Tories distanced themselves from him, it was not clear just who would back him so eagerly in future.