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Senior British Islamist praises Osama bin Laden

This is a press release from Quilliam

A senior UK-based Muslim Brotherhood leader has publicly praised Osama bin Laden as ‘a great mujahid’, called on God to ‘treat him generously’ and questioned whether Al-Qaeda was responsible for the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

Kemal Helbawy, an influential Islamist based in London who regularly represents the Muslim Brotherhood in the western media, took part in an online ‘Question and Answer’ session on the pro-Brotherhood ‘On Islam’ website on Monday 2 May 2011 (the day after bin Laden was killed) in which he said:

‘I ask Allah to have mercy upon Osama Bin Laden, to treat him generously, to enlighten his grave, and to make him join the prophets, the martyrs, and the good people.’

He also suggested that the US had staged the 9-11 attacks:

‘I think that what the Americans claim about September 11th was a trick and a bait they accused Al-Qaeda of. All evidences and indications refer that the Americans are the ones who planned this matter, not the Afghans who have weak resources. The plot of 911 story was not tight. It should be reviewed closely and all parties should be listened to.’

He also referred to Bin Laden as ‘a great Mujahid’ (often translated as ‘holy warrior’).

Background:

Kemal Helbawy came to the UK in the 1970s as a spokesman for the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. He later co-founded both the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), the Muslim Brotherhood’s main British front-group – as well as Muslim Welfare House, a pro-Brotherhood organisation in Finsbury Park. For many years he has presented himself to western audiences as a moderate and as a counter-extremism expert, setting up a ‘Centre for the Study of Terrorism’,  taking part in interfaith events and even convincing London’s Metropolitan Police to help him and other Muslim Brotherhood supporters take control of Finsbury Park Mosque after the removal of Abu Hamza.

Despite this, Kemal Helbawy’s latest remarks on Bin Laden are the latest in a long-line of unacceptable statements. In 2009 on BBC Arabic Helbawy justified the murder of Israeli children on the grounds that they were ‘future soldiers’ and as far as back as 1992 he described the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as ‘an absolute clash of civilizations, between truth and falsehood. Between two conducts – one satanic, headed by Jews and their co-conspirators – and the other is religious, carried by Hamas.’

Following the ‘Arab Spring’, the Muslim Brotherhood has emerged as one of the most influential opposition groups in countries such as Egypt. Although the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has long regarded Al-Qaeda as a rival and has criticised its use of terrorism, it also nonetheless condemned his ‘assassination’ by the US (see their Arabic statement here).

The latest statements by Kemal Helbawy and other Muslim Brotherhood figures are a major blow to those western analysts and policy-makers who see the Muslim Brotherhood as a potential ally against al-Qaeda and a possible partner in counter-extremism efforts. They are also a severe set-back to pro-Brotherhood advocacy groups who have sought to rehabilitate the Brotherhood’s reputation in the West.

Quilliam statement:

A Quilliam spokesman said:

‘It is staggering that Kemal Helbawy has seen fit to praise Osama bin Laden, a man responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent people, both Muslim and non-Muslim alike. Osama bin Laden was a not a great man or a ‘mujahid’ – he was the leader of a murderous terrorist organisation which had no regard for human life.

‘This is a reminder that the Muslim Brotherhood is a deeply problematic organisation whose attitude to mass-murder and terrorism is deeply ambiguous at best. Fortunately the Muslim Brotherhood is not representative of Muslims in the UK or elsewhere – the vast majority of whom have decisively rejected bin Laden and all that he stood for.

‘Helbawy’s statements are the latest example of senior Muslim Brotherhood members giving different messages to different audiences. When speaking to mainstream audiences Helbawy presents himself as a moderate reformer; when speaking to Islamists he praises Osama bin Laden. This doublespeak undermines trust between Muslims and non-Muslims and hinders genuine efforts to tackle extremism and terrorism.

‘These latest remarks confirm that the Muslim Brotherhood’s branches in the UK and in the Middle East should be treated with the greatest suspicion by western governments. While there are certainly some relative moderates within the group, anyone who thinks that the Muslim Brotherhood as a whole has ‘reformed’ is clearly deluded.’

Quilliam added that it hopes that the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) would publicly distance itself from the statements made by Kemal Helbawy, one of the MCB’s original founding members.