Page last updated at 06:31 GMT, Monday, 8 February 2010

Young British Muslim ex-prisoners unrepentant on views

By Peter Taylor
BBC News

Bilal Mohammed says his loyalty is to Islam not the UK

Two young British Muslims who have served short prison sentences for terrorism offences have spoken frankly about their views to a new BBC documentary investigation into the extent of the radicalisation of Muslims in the UK.

The views of Rizwan Ditta and Bilal Mohammed, two young Muslims born and brought up in Halifax, West Yorkshire, will be anathema to the vast majority of the British people including many British Muslims.

Ditta claims: "You can go to any [Muslim] youth on the street and say, 'Do you believe in Jihad?' and he'll say 'Yes'. 'Do you believe that al-Qaeda is a terrorist movement?' He'll say, 'No'."

Bilal says: "The Western world is not letting anyone live in peace. It's the West who are at war with everyone."

The two are close friends. Both received prison sentences for possessing material likely to be useful to terrorists, most of it downloaded from the internet.

Ditta was sentenced to four years and Mohammed to two. Both had pleaded guilty.

Mohammed has the dubious distinction of being the first to be convicted under the new offence of glorifying terrorism.

Mohammed says that he was welcomed home with flowers and presents

They were released last year and are now out on licence with strict conditions. Both are unrepentant.

Mohammed says that he was welcomed home with flowers and presents. He claims that none of the Muslim community views him as a terrorist.

"They gave me support and comfort, saying everything is alright. Don't worry, you didn't do anything."

He reminded me of the reception that many IRA prisoners received when they returned home from the Maze prison.

There are an unknown number of sympathisers who, whilst not necessarily giving direct support to al-Qaeda and its surrogate groupings, nevertheless have some sympathy with their ideology and share a sense of grievance over Western foreign policy over Israel and the Palestinians, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

But Ditta and Mohammed are the angry voices of an extreme element of young British Muslims today. MI5 believes there are about 2,000 extremists in the UK who pose a potential threat.

The fact that these two were prepared to talk on camera for the BBC documentary series Generation Jihad is remarkable.

Growing anger

Rizwan Ditta grew up in a predominantly white area of Halifax where his family settled after coming to Britain in the 1960s.

Rizwan Ditta has sympathy for the al-Qaeda cause

He was well integrated with his white school friends but his parents were much relieved when they saw him showing greater interest in Islam, thinking he would now pay more attention to his studies.

But, as in many similar cases, they probably had little idea of the growing anger that accompanied his discovery of a new, more radical Islamic faith.

The younger Bilal Mohammed enjoyed listening to hip hop and going clubbing like the average teenager.

Then he saw some of his friends following the same path as Ditta and decided to join them.

"I believe that my loyalties and priorities, even though I've been born and bred in England, lie with the Muslims," he said.

Ditta also expressed a similar view. "For me to say I've allegiance to UK or I'm a British citizen is to spit in a lot of people's face because the blood has not even dried in Iraq or Afghanistan."

Such views are not representative of mainstream British Muslims.

Anwar Aktar, a British Asian commentator, runs a website designed to counter this kind of extremism.

"There are elements in the Koran, just like there's elements in the Torah, and just like there's elements in the Old Testament, that are about conflict, that can be used to justify racial supremacy, cultural supremacy," he says.

He describes radicals like Mohammed and Ditta as part of a "bizarre sect" whose views are based on a selective and over-literal interpretation of the Koran.

Videos seized

The police and intelligence services grew increasingly concerned after Ditta visited Pakistan in 2005 and 2006, and subsequently arrested him after seizing his computer.

They arrested Mohammed the same day. During Ditta's interrogation he alleges the police said: "We think you went to Pakistan with the intention of coming back, or somebody sent you back, to carry out a bombing campaign in the UK. You were the next 7/7."

Distribution of videos provided the evidence for the charges against them

Ditta says he laughed with incredulity. The police had searched the places where they lived and seized a selection of extremist videos and DVDs.

Mohammed had been selling some of them at his market stall. He said he was only trying to show the other side of the story.

But the content and distribution of videos provided the evidence for the charges against them.

Bettison says it will take a generation to root out extremism

Sir Norman Bettison, the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire - home to three of the 7/7 bombers and Britain's youngest convicted terrorist, Hamaad Munshi - draws a clear distinction between innocently searching the internet for information on Islamist extremism and doing so with a terrorist purpose in mind.

The law, as subsequently clarified, says that there has to be reasonable suspicion that possession was for a terrorist purpose.

His prognosis for the future is not encouraging. What our documentary series refers to as Generation Jihad is unlikely to go away anytime soon.

"I think it's a generation of treatment to prevent the infection spreading and I think that will take us probably 20 years," he said.

Peter Taylor investigates the extent of the radicalisation of Muslims in the UK in a three part TV series, Generation Jihad which is on BBC Two on Mondays at 9pm from 8 February.



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