London: Maulana Masood Azhar was allowed to preach extremist ideology at several British mosques during a month-long visit to UK in 1993 on the invitation of Islamist scholars when young Muslims were asked to seek weapons training at terrorist camps in Pakistan, it emerged on Tuesday.
Senior representatives of the Deobandi sect, which controls nearly half of Britain’s 1,600 mosques, hosted Azhar during the visit in which hundreds of young Muslims were urged to seek weapons training at terrorist camps in Pakistan, according to a BBC investigation.
One of India’s most-wanted terrorists in relation to the attack on the Pathankot Air Force base, which claimed the lives of seven Indian soldiers in January this year, Azhar was chief organiser of the Pakistani jihadist group Harkat-ul Mujahideen in early 90s.
According to the report, during his UK tour – until now kept under wraps – Azhar delivered “sermons on jihad” to large audiences in London, Birmingham, Yorkshire and Lancashire and the message was of hatred for Christians, Jews and Hindus.
Witnesses said that large sums of money were donated after each talk. Azhar, then 25, was the product of a radical Karachi seminary and shortly before his arrival in Britain in August 1993 he had helped supply Osama bin Laden, then based in Sudan, with 400 jihadist fighters to wage attacks in Somalia.
The investigation, shared with ‘The Times’, has uncovered the details of his tour in an archive of militant group magazines published in Urdu.
The contents provide an astounding insight into the way in which hardcore jihadist ideology was promoted in some mainstream UK mosques in the early 1990s – and involved some of Britain’s most senior Islamic scholars. Azhar’s tour lasted a month and consisted of over 40 speeches.
Azhar, captured in India shortly after his British trip, was released from prison in 1999 in exchange for 155 passengers of a hijacked plane in Kandahar. After his release, he formed the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorist group which is blamed for several attacks in India.
The radical cleric is currently in “protective custody” in Pakistan after the Pathankot terror attack. The Deobandis trace their roots back to a Sunni Islamic seminary founded in Deoband in 19th century India. The original seminary in India has issued a fatwa against terrorism but some Deobandi madrassas in Pakistan reportedly propagate extremist jihadist ideology. The investigation will be broadcast as a two-part documentary titled ‘The Deobandis’ by BBC Radio later today and April 12.