The Scottish Mail on Sunday
I fear IS ‘sisters’ will be next bridge killers
WHEN I saw the face of Khuram Butt staring out of the newspapers at me last week, after he was named as one of the three London Bridge killers, I was deeply shocked.
It took me back to the day nearly two years ago when I filmed him with a hidden camera as he protested, clad in headdress and robe, outside Regent’s Park Mosque in London.
We had gone undercover to make a Dispatches documentary for Channel 4, focusing not on Butt and his fellow Islamists but on a less obvious group – the ‘sisters’, the women who share their twisted views. Unlike their male counterparts, the women only ever express these views behind closed doors or online.
Now my greatest fear is that one of those women I watched being brainwashed – or, even worse, one of the children who ran around playing as the hate-filled rants were delivered – might go on to murder innocent people as Butt did.
I didn’t pay much attention to him that day in July 2015 as he handed out extremist leaflets to worshippers leaving Friday prayers, but last week’s events made me recall the vile propaganda he was peddling – in the same manner as the women, as I would discover. They were part of banned terror group Al-Muhajiroun
in all but name. Its former leader, Anjem Choudary, had just been arrested, and is now serving a prison sentence for urging support of Islamic State.
But his followers continued their ‘work’ without him – and no doubt still do now. What’s more, the woman leading the ‘sisters’, is Choudary’s wife, Rubana Akhtar.
Over the course of a year, I slowly gained access to Rubana’s
group, initially by contacting her followers on Twitter, then through texting and other social media.
After months attempting to win their confidence, I was introduced to Rubana, who used the pseudonym ‘Umm Luqman’, and was invited to one of her talks in a nondescript building next to a barber’s shop in Whitechapel, East London.
What I witnessed there convinced me that the stereotypical image of jihadis as young men needs to be adjusted, because the women were equally virulent in their views.
The hatred toward non-believers runs deep in this politicised version of Islam. The women believe that the self-declared Islamic State is the true caliphate. In essence, they are swearing their allegiance to IS, which has declared a war on British and Western society.
The casual way this small but motivated group trot out such abhorrent ideas in the presence of small children shows just how ‘normal’ they believe them to be.
I always felt the group were suspicious of me – and that was to prove the case. As a result, I believe they toned down their rhetoric in my presence but that didn’t prevent them from espousing truly shocking views which I captured on film.
Rubana referred to ‘filthy Jews’ and praised the advent of IS, saying ‘The good days have already begun, nobody would ever have thought in our lifetime we would see the establishment of the Khilafah [IS].’
She also mocked the Government’s attempts to tackle extremism, saying: ‘If they thought it was a plan to deradicalise people, God they got it so wrong, because if anything more and more people are becoming what they call radicalised.’
She even laughed about the Jordanian pilot who was burned alive by IS, suggesting that he would be accepted in martyrdom, before adding ‘My foot’, as her followers chuckled.
There may be a temptation to write these people off as harmless idiots, but let’s not forget that AlMuhajiroun have been linked to half of all UK terror plots and, although they have been a proscribed organisation since 2010, it is clear from what I saw that they still exist. We urgently need to address what extremism is, and what to do about it.
Perhaps I asked too many questions while undercover, because eventually Rubana cornered me in a small kitchen area as one of her followers stood behind me. She accused me of being a spy and demanded to look in my bag. I was scared they weren’t going to let me go, because she said she wouldn’t.
The stand-off went on for about 10 minutes. At that stage, I’d just discovered that Rubana was married to Choudary and that made her appear more dangerous. There were so many of them, there was nothing I could have done to protect myself if they had turned on me.
In the end, I pretended I was mentally ill and went into an emotional meltdown, screaming at her, which seemed to work, and thank goodness they let me go.
Looking back, I think I was lucky to get out unharmed.