Police investigate terror threats by British Islamist

Ian Burrell,Home Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 08 January 2002 01:00

Police are investigating whether a prosecution can be launched against a British Islamic militant who is calling for terrorist attacks. Muslim leaders are demanding the arrest of the young radical, who said yesterday that 200 British Taliban volunteers were ready to launch terrorist strikes in Britain.

Hassan Butt, 22, who was raised in Manchester but is now based in Lahore in Pakistan, told BBC radio he would encourage attacks on political and military leaders and government buildings in Britain.

He said British al-Qa'ida volunteers were now in Pakistan "organising operations". He said: "If they do return [to the UK], I do believe they will take military action within Britain.

"The mujahedin are coming in from Britain to strike at the heart of the enemy, which is within its own country, within Britain ... I have always been in favour of this."

Mr Butt may now face arrest if he returns to Britain. Scotland Yard said last night that officers were considering whether his comments constituted an offence under the Terrorism Act 2000. A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: "The Met is working closely with the Crown Prosecution Service to examine comments made on the radio ... to establish if any offences have been committed."

The former member of the radical British Muslim group Al-Muhajiroun said the targets would be "British military and government institutes, as well as British military and government individuals". Mr Butt said he had returned to Britain undetected for three weeks over Christmas to be treated on the NHS for a stomach problem. He said he felt no guilt benefiting from medical care in a country he wishes terrorists to attack.

"I pay my taxes in Britain, my family pay their taxes, it was something I was owed," he said.

"The mere fact that the British Government had no idea I was here shows the incompetence and shows the vulnerability that Britain has when it comes to dealing with the mujahedin and the Muslims."

Last night the Muslim Council of Britain poured scorn on Mr Butt's credibility. A spokesman, Inayat Bunglawala, said Mr Butt had recently tried to sell his story to The Mirror newspaper. He said: "That shows what kind of jihadist [holy warrior] he is and how he despises material wealth. He is making wild claims which he is unable to substantiate. He is just trying to make a name for himself."

The Muslim Council has complained to the BBC at the prominence given to Mr Butt yesterday on the Radio 4 Today programme, claiming the interview was damaging to community relations.

Mr Bunglawala said: "We saw a massive rise in hostility to Muslims after 11 September and figures like Hassan Butt and Al-Muhajiroun are contributing to it. They are our version of the British National Party and are widely despised. We would urge the Pakistani authorities to take action and arrest him. He is inciting hatred."

Ahmed Versi, editor of Muslim News, said Mr Butthad made wild claims about "hundreds" of Britons travelling to fight for al-Qa'ida in Afghanistan. He said: "Many of the claims have proved untrue. He said hundreds of [British] Muslims have been to Afghanistan when it's only a handful."

Mr Butt, who was born in Luton and studied at Wolverhampton University, came to prominence shortly after the attacks on America, when he was a spokesman for the controversial Al-Muhajiroun. The group's outspoken leader, the self-styled Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, faced calls for his arrest after backing al-Qa'ida.

Al-Muhajiroun had directed media inquiries to Mr Butt at its "Lahore office". Yesterday, however, its London spokesman, Anjem Choudary, said: "He is no longer a spokesman. His comments are personal. We do not engage in military training or send anybody abroad."

Although he did not back Mr Butt's comments, Mr Choudary said British government policies on Israel and Kashmir might drive some British Muslims to violence. He said: "They will only have themselves to blame if something blows up in their face."