Abdulmutallab, al-Awlaki, the Finsbury Park Mosque and Andrew Gilligan

The Caldicott inquiry has now cleared University College London and the students’ union Islamic Society of playing any part in converting the “Christmas Day bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to violent extremism. But UCL is not the only institution to have been falsely accused of involvement in Abdulmutallab’s “radicalisation”. The North London Central Mosque (NLCM) in Finsbury Park has also come under attack, on the grounds that it supposedly hosted a lecture by Anwar al-Awlaki that was attended by Abdulmutallab.

The source for this accusation was a garbled report in February this year by the US radio station NPR which informed its audience that Whitechapel Road was in Finsbury Party rather than Tower Hamlets, confused the NLCM with the East London Mosque and claimed that al-Awlaki had spoken at the mosque during a period when he was in fact in prison in Yemen. This did not prevent Khalid Mahmood MP taking up the NPR report in order to pursue his ongoing vendetta against NLCM.

The NLCM management issued a statement demolishing this nonsense, in which they said: “Let us be perfectly clear: neither Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab nor Anwar al-Awlaki has ever been invited to attend NLCM since we took charge of the mosque in February 2005. We can be certain that neither man has been given a platform at the mosque in any form.”

But this didn’t prevent witchfinder general Andrew Gilligan from using the discredited NPR report to attack the NLCM. Despite the NLCM’s unequivocal statement that neither Awlaki nor Abdulmutallab had been given a platform there in any form, Gilligan posted an article on his Telegraph blog, headed “North London Mosque: questions over terrorist preacher”, in which he suggested that “the sermon allegedly delivered in London could have been taped”. (This brought the following sharp response from NLCM: “We object strongly to this smear tactic and once again re-iterate that NLCM has not given a platform to either man – either in person, by tape or by any other means Andrew Gilligan cares to dream up.”)

Gilligan also seized on another dubious source to bolster his “questions” about an Awlaki-Abdulmutallab-NLCM connection. His article ended:

“And now a second piece of evidence has emerged: in a new book about terror operations by Harry Keeble, a pseudonym for a serving police officer with ‘S’ Squad, a support squad for covert operations sometimes involving anti-terrorism. The book, Terror Cops, states in passing that ‘Abdulmutallab also saw Awlaki at the Finsbury Park mosque’. Is ‘Keeble’ just recycling the same reports that have been denied by the mosque? Or does the Met know more than they’re letting on?”

As its crudely populist title indicates, Terror Cops is hardly a substantial work of analysis on the subject of counter-terrorist policing. The pseudonymous author, “Harry Keeble”, was a very junior officer in “S” Squad who is able to provide a basic account of front-line police work but clearly knows little about wider issues of anti-terror policy. Such information about these issues as appears in the book does not originate with Keeble himself but has obviously been assembled from secondary sources by his ghostwriter, Kris Hollington, in an attempt to give the book a more authoritative tone. So a moment’s reflection should have led Gilligan to conclude that it was hardly likely Keeble would be in possession of hitherto unrevealed state intelligence about Abdulmutallab and al-Awlaki.

Where, then, did Keeble/Hollington get the “information” about Abdulmutallab’s supposed contact with al-Awlaki at NLCM? You don’t have to look very far.

The relevant passage in Terror Cops reads: “The Sunday Times established that Abdulmutallab first met al-Awlaki in 2005 in Yemen, while he was studying Arabic. Abdulmutallab also saw al-Awlaki at the Finsbury Park Mosque. Evidence collected during searches of flats connected to Abdulmutallab in London indicated that he was a ‘big fan’ of al-Awlaki, as web traffic showed he followed the preacher’s blog and website. With a blog and a Facebook page al-Awlaki is often described as the ‘bin Laden of the Internet’.”

The Wikipedia entry on Anwar al-Awlaki (as it stood at the time Hollington was researching and writing the book) contains the following passage:

“The Sunday Times established that Abdulmutallab first met al-Awlaki in 2005 in Yemen, while he was studying Arabic…. He attended a sermon by al-Awlaki at the Finsbury Park Mosque…. Evidence collected during searches of flats connected to Abdulmutallab in London indicated that he was a ‘big fan’ of al-Awlaki, as web traffic showed he followed al-Awlaki’s blog and website.”

And earlier in the Wikipedia entry we find: “With a blog, a Facebook page, and many YouTube videos, he has been described as the ‘bin Laden of the internet’.”

The sole source given for the claim about Abdulmutallab attending an al-Awlaki lecture at NLCM was the February 2010 NPR report, and the Wikipedia entry has since been changed to reflect the fact that this report has been discredited.

So the Terror Cops claim about NLCM, which Andrew Gilligan suggests might have been based on inside knowledge of intelligence withheld for some sinister reason by the Met, was just copied and pasted by Harry Keeble’s ghostwriter from a Wikipedia article. And the Wikipedia article that Hollington plagiarised has since been amended because the charge against NLCM in the NPR report was without foundation. Gilligan just repeated the Terror Cops allegation without bothering to check where it came from, because it assisted the attack he wanted to make on NLCM. Whether it was true or not was a matter of indifference to him.

But this is par for the course with Gilligan. Rather than acting as a serious investigative reporter, he has increasingly revealed himself to be a malicious stitch-up merchant whose lightminded attitude towards evidence and baseless accusations against individuals and organisations he wants to hurt and undermine have brought the journalistic profession into disrepute.

Published by Islamophobia Watch in October 2010