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Monday, 7 January, 2002, 17:21 GMT
UK 'terror target' claim dismissed
Taleban fighters
Mr Butt says the holy war against the West is not over
Downing Street and sceptical British Muslim groups have dismissed claims that Britons recruited for the Taleban will return to the UK and launch terror attacks.

Hassan Butt, 22, from Manchester, told the BBC's Today programme that many would return home to launch terrorist attacks that "strike at the heart" of the UK.

The Lahore-based activist, who claims to be a "spokesman" for Islamic fundamentalist group al-Muhajiroun, says he has recruited 200 British volunteers to fight for the ousted Afghan regime.

I do believe that they will take military action within Britain

Hassan Butt
The Metropolitan Police are investigating whether a prosecution can be launched against Mr Butt.

Mr Butt told the Radio 4 programme he would now personally encourage attacks on political and military targets in the UK.

But his claims to speak for al-Muhajiroun have already been denied by the organisation's leader, Tottenham-based cleric Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed.

And both Downing Street and the Home Office said Mr Butt's claims should be treated with caution, while Muslim groups accused him of being a fantasist.

Speaking from Lahore, Mr Butt insisted the fall of the Taleban did not spell the end of the holy war against the West.

'Mujahideen coming'

He said that although many British Muslims had been "martyred", others could be bringing the war home from Afghanistan.

"If they do return I do believe that they will take military action within Britain," he told the BBC.

"One thing I've always tried to stress is the point that the mujahideen that are coming in from Britain should strike at the heart of the enemy which is within its own country, within Britain.

Hassan Butt no longer represents al-Muhajiroun in Pakistan

Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed
"Those mujahideen that are coming from America should strike, again, at the heart of America and I have always been in favour of this."

The prime minister's official spokesman said there was "no evidence" to support Mr Butt's claim that hundreds of British citizens had joined the Taleban.

He added: "Attention seeking does take many different forms.

"We have to be slightly careful in giving too much credibility to claims like this."

British targets

It would be for the police to decide whether Mr Butt should be investigated under the Terrorism Act 2000, which makes it an offence for British citizens to incite acts of terror abroad or recruit people for terrorism training, he said.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said the Met was working with the Crown Prosecution Service to examine the comments on the radio, to establish if any offences had been committed.

Mr Butt said British Muslims would be encouraged to attack "British military and government institutes as well as British military and government individuals".

Asked if they would be helped by the al-Qaeda terrorist network, Mr Butt claimed that any Muslim - including many in the UK - would be willing to offer assistance.

But Mr Bakri Mohammed, a spokesman for the al-Muhajiroun group, said Mr Butt was no longer linked to the organisation.

Political party

"Hassan Butt no longer represents al-Muhajiroun in Pakistan," he told BBC Radio 4's World at One.

"We are an ideological, political party. We do not recruit people to go and fight on behalf of anybody or to indulge in any military activities."

Mr Bakri Mohammed, a radical Muslim cleric based in Tottenham, north London, added: "He no longer even exists in our offices in Lahore.

"He himself now, I think personally, functions as an individual or has his own organisation."

'Secret routes'

Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, leader of the self-styled Muslim Parliament of Great Britain, said the interview with Mr Butt was "very worrying and frightening", although he thought the claims were "more fantasy than realism".

Citing his return to Britain last month for three weeks, Mr Butt claimed none of the pro-Taleban volunteers were worried about being caught.

He said the method he used to enter the country was "irrelevant" but there were many "secret" routes into Britain for use by Muslims.

Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin said Mr Butt's comments about a domestic terrorist threat could be "largely fantasising" but his claimed three week stay in the UK raised questions about Britain's intelligence capabilities.

The shadow home secretary added that he viewed Mr Butt's remarks as "traitorous".

The BBC's Mike Thomson
"Government buildings and military installations will be targeted"
Hassan Butt
"If they do return, I do believe they will take military action"
Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, al-Muhajiroun
"We do not recruit people to go and fight for anybody"
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