The Syrian-born radical Islamic cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed has described Michael Adebolajo, the alleged Woolwich terrorist he claimed he converted to Islam as a "hero."
Bakri said Adebolajo was a hero because he had the "courage" to remain at the scene after the killing and confront police officers. He also claimed that God destined for the soldier Lee Rigby to die.
In a telephone interview with The Independent from exile in Lebanon, Bakri declared: "He was not a coward, he did not flee the scene."
Bakri, who admitted that he knew Adebolajo and met him on several occasions in 2004 when he was a London preacher described him as a "very quiet, very shy man" who asked "basic questions about Islam."
The Independent reports he said: "I knew him as Michael when he came to the meetings and then he converted and he became known as Abdullah; I hear he then started calling himself Mujahid. He asked questions about religion, he was curious. He had first started coming when there was a lot of anger about the Iraq war and the war on terror. Whether I influenced him or not, I do not know. But he was a quiet boy, so something must have happened.
"He was also asking me questions about racism. I think the racism of British society turned him towards Islam. He will only be judged by God. If he dies, then he will become a martyr. He did not target civilians, it was a military target. The British soldier also died for his beliefs. The military is involved in killing Muslims around the world. To many Muslims around the world, he [Adebolajo] is a hero, because he was fighting back. Lots of Muslims in the UK will condemn what he said, but there are many who will believe it is justified. It will make the British Government sit up and think about withdrawing their troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. It is not for me to condemn what he has done – I can’t say what he has done is forbidden."
Bakri said he could understand why the alleged killers carried out the attack on the machine gunner and drummer.
According to the The Independent, he said: "I saw the film and we could see that he [the suspect] was being very courageous. Under Islam this can be justified, he was not targeting civilians, he was taking on a military man in an operation. To people around here [in the Middle East] he is a hero for what he has done.”
Bakri said Adebolajo used to visit his stall in London where the two talked about Islam. He said Adebolajo also attended talks and meetings the now banned group Al-Muhajiroun held.
In an interview with Reuters, Bakri said: "I think Michael, or Mujahid, is going to stand for what God has destined for him. God destined for him to carry out the attack and God destined for the British soldier to die for the cause he believed in."
Bakri, who was known as the Tottenham Ayatollah, and who named his son after Osama bin Laden, was once filmed in 2007 arguing that beheading the enemies of Islam was permitted.
He was banned from returning to the UK after the 7/7 London bombings for alleged links to al-Qaeda.
The UK Express reports he said in the 2007 "beheading" video: “When you meet [Westerners], slice their own necks. And when you make the blood spill all over, and the enemy becomes so tired, now start to take from them prisoners. Then exchange them until the war is finished. Verily they remind the sunnah of removing the head of the enemy. They remind the sunnah of slaughtering the enemy. They remind the sunnah of how to strike the neck of the enemy. They removed the head of the enemy. Use the sword and remove the head of the enemy.”
He now lives in exile in Lebanon. According to the Daily Mail, he left London shortly after the 2005 bombings. The Home Office barred him from returning to the UK.
He founded the Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahir in the UK and later Al-Muhajiroun.
Digital Journal reports that Anjem Chadoury former leader of Al-Muhajiroun, also admitted that Adebolajo attended meetings.
According to Digital Journal, Choudary said he had known Adebolajo after he converted to Islam in 2003. He said Adebolajo stopped attending meetings of the group two years ago.
Digital Journal reports Choudary told The Independent: "He attended our meetings and my lectures. I wouldn't describe him as a member [of Al Muhajiroun]. There were lots of people who came to our activities who weren't necessarily members. He was a pleasant, quiet guy. He converted to Islam in about 2003. He was just a completely normal guy. He was interested in Islam, in memorizing the Koran. He disappeared about two years ago. I don’t know what influences he has been under since then."
Bakri's comments come as the UK police are being urged keep a close watch on the comments and activities of radical Muslim clerics. The Daily Mail reports that the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 have come under harsh criticism after airing interviews with radical UK Islamic clerics, including Anjem Choudary.
When BBC Newsnight questioned Choudary on the video which showed Adebolajo explaining, with reference to British foreign policy, why he and his companion Michael Adebowale carried out the attack, Choudary said: "what he said in the clip, I think not many Muslims can disagree with."
A cellphone video showed the 28-year-old Adebolajo with bloodied hands, wielding an ax and a butcher's knife, while attempting to justify the gruesome murder of the British soldier Lee Rigby.
According to the Daily Mail, Tory MP Bob Stewart, a former army Colonel and former commander of UN forces in Bosnia, responded to Choudary's comments, saying: "He was sailing close to the wind but he knew exactly what was saying to make sure he didn't go too far. If he advocates racial killing we have a law against racially aggravated crime."
Stewart said it was time for UK to "tear up human rights laws and deport extremists deemed to be a threat to the public." According to Stewart, Labor's Human Rights Act, based on the European Convention on Human Rights, should be scrapped to allow the UK authorities take action against hate preachers and terror suspects. He said: "It may not be as democratic as libertarians would like but, I am sorry, we are fighting a war."
Baroness Warsi, a senior Foreign Office minister, criticized the decision to air the interview, saying: "We all have a responsibility, including the media, not to give airtime to extremist voices – idiots and nutters who speak for no one but themselves. The heartening thing in the midst of all this tragedy is that the British Muslim community has, with a unified, unreserved voice, condemned the killing and pledged support for our armed forces. This is a real maturing of the community which has taken years of painstaking work and frank discussions behind closed doors. This time everyone has stepped up to the mark. Yet here broadcasters are undoing all this by giving a platform to one appalling man who represents nobody. I am really angry."
The Daily Mail is reporting that the British Prime Minister is planning to launch a new terror task force, Tackling Extremism and Radicalization Task Force (TERFOR), which will implement measures to muzzle Islamic hate preaching in the UK and ban extremist clerics from using public platforms in schools, colleges, prison, and mosques to spread their message.