Wednesday, Feb 26, 2003
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By Hasan Suroor
The Jamaican-born Sheikh Abdullah el-Faisal, who was arrested in February last after questions were raised about his activities following a front-page splash in The Times, has been found guilty under the antiquated Offences Against the Person Act 1861 which was last used in 1905 against an Italian revolutionary. The offences for which he has been convicted include ``soliciting'' murder and inciting racial hatred.
El-Faisal, denounced by moderate Muslims as a ``clown'' and a ``lunatic'', had been under police surveillance after the September 11 attacks for exhorting his audiences to support Osama bin Laden but he had not been directly linked with any terrorist organisation though his name figured in an American dossier of alleged suspects. The 39-year-old Muslim convert, whose venomous speeches defy his gentle demeanour, described himself as a ``social worker'' but the police called his actions ``deeply offensive and dangerous''. The court was told how he went around Britain telling his followers to kill Jews and Hindus, often quoting Osama's utterances.
Tapes of his inflammatory speeches, in which he justified killing Jews and Hindus and exhorted his supporters to take up arms against ``non-believers,'' were played before the jury during the four-week trial. In one tape, he tells his audience to ``learn to fly planes, drive tanks and you have to learn how to load your guns and to use missiles.''
The jury was told that he was ``not some crank in the Speaker's Corner'' but a cleric addressing impressionable youth ``from a position of authority''. Police said it had nothing to do with freedom of speech ``but everything to do with racial hatred and religious bigotry and encouraging people to commit acts of terrorism.''
El-Faisal, 39, came to Britain in the Nineties after studying Islam in Saudi Arabia and is alleged to have known some Al-Qaeda activists, including James Ujjama, currently in an American jail for allegedly running an Al-Qaeda training camp in Oregon. His supporters, who gathered outside the court, criticised the verdict saying it was an act of political persecution.
El-Faisal's conviction came as the Government indicated that another extremist Muslim cleric, Abu Hamza, could be thrown out of Britain in the next few weeks, signalling the start of a crackdown on religious militants.
The Immigration Minister, Beverley Hughes, told MPs that Hamza's activities were being ``watched very closely'' and he could be stripped of his British citizenship. Egyptian-born Hamza, has already been banned by the Charity Commission from speaking at London's Finsbury Park Mosque which he had turned into a hub of extremism. El-Faisal is also believed to have attended the Finsbury Mosque when it was under Hamza's control.
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