By: FT reporters
Khuram Butt filmed praying to black Islamist flag in Regent’s Park
Khuram Butt, one of the three men who attacked London Bridge on Saturday, was a known member of a British extremist Islamist group, a revelation that raises questions about how the security services monitor potential threats.
Six of his neighbours in Barking, east London, identified the 27-year-old Pakistan-born British citizen as an extremist who was filmed praying in front of a black Islamist flag in Regent’s Park in 2015.
The footage, later broadcast on Channel 4 in a documentary on British jihadis, shows the suspect in the company of leading figures from the banned al-Muhajiroun network. The police named a second man involved in the attacks as Rachid Redouane, a 30-year-old who claimed both Moroccan and Libyan heritage.
Mark Rowley, the head of national counter-terror policy at the Metropolitan Police, admitted Butt had been reported on an anti-terrorist hotline, was known to the police and intelligence services and was investigated in 2015, but that “there was no intelligence to suggest an attack was being planned”.
He said that as a result, Butt had been moved to the “lower echelons” of those under investigation by intelligence services. Mr Rowley said he had seen “nothing to show that a poor decision has been made”.
But Mohammed Shafiq, head of the anti-extremist Manchester-based Ramadhan Foundation, said he had a run-in with Butt as far back as 2013 and his organisation had repeatedly warned police about the threat posed by the Muhajiroun network.
Mr Rowley said that Redouane, who was also living in Barking, was not known to the police; the third man was known to the police, but Mr Rowley did not reveal his identity.
The three men killed seven people, left dozens more injured and thrust Britain’s response to Islamist terrorism to the centre of the campaign for Thursday’s general election.
After making 12 arrests in Barking and East Ham on Sunday, police searched three more properties in east London on Monday.
Forensic teams attended a property in Dagenham, where neighbours reported a loud bang at about 5am. The landlord said the current occupants had leased the premises six months ago.
That raid and another in Newham led to several people being detained, police said. On Monday afternoon, police raided an address in East Ham. Photographs taken by a neighbour showed several men being escorted into a police van.
The Met announced on Monday night that all those detained had been released without charge.
It is not clear whether the men who smashed a rental van into pedestrians before stabbing Londoners and tourists in Borough Market with long knives were acting as part of a wider network.
Ministers have said in the wake of the Manchester Arena suicide bombing last month that security agencies are working on 500 counter-terrorism investigations.
That leaves them little choice but to pick some to prioritise — although they may now face scrutiny about how someone with public ties to al-Muhajiroun was able to execute his plot uninterrupted.
Founded in the mid-1990s by extremist preachers Omar Bakri Mohammed and Anjem Choudary, al-Muhajiroun dates back to a time when Britain allowed jihadis to operate undisturbed, provided they did not target their violence against their hosts.
But that accommodation broke down following the 9/11 attacks and the group gained infamy for lauding the hijackers. It ostensibly disbanded to avoid new anti-terror legislation.
A string of successor organisations sprang up and were banned. More recently, members of the network are believed to have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join Isis’s so-called “caliphate”.
Omar Bakri, who declared that Islamists’ black flag would one day fly over Downing Street, fled the UK and was jailed in Lebanon. Despite years of sermons that police said helped to inspire his followers to violence, Choudary remained at large until 2016, when he was jailed for five years for supporting Isis.
Mr Shafiq of the Ramadhan Foundation said Butt and Choudhury “verbally assaulted” him after he condemned the murder of Lee Rigby by two Islamist extremists in 2013. That beheading of a young soldier in Woolwich is one of several attacks whose perpetrators had crossed paths with members of the Muhajiroun network.
Mr Shafiq said police had attended the confrontation on College Green outside parliament and Butt and Choudary had been led away. He added: “Many of us in the British Muslim community have been demanding action against these extremists to no avail. I am not surprised that Khuram Butt carried out the terrorist attack and there are serious questions for the authorities.”
Raffaello Pantucci, an expert on British jihadis at the Royal United Services Institute in London, estimates that what he called the “al Muhajiroun communities” — the networks that spread out from the original group’s key figures and their successors — comprise roughly 100-200 people in the UK at any one time.
“If you go and look at terrorist plots in the UK back in the ’90s, you almost always find a thread that goes back to the al-Muhajiroun communities,” Mr Pantucci said. “There are endless demos and Dawah [preaching] stalls. Some of them have been radicals for 10 years. Then suddenly they do something.
”The 2015 footage, screened in the Channel 4 documentary The Jihadis Next Door, shows a provocative demonstration led by members of this network at Regent’s Park mosque in central London.
The half-dozen demonstrators then move to the park, the London Bridge suspect among them. They pray before the black flag and listen to a sermon delivered by Mohammed Shamsuddin, an associate of a British jihadi, Abu Rumaysah, who is believed to have travelled to Syria to become the Isis executioner and propagandist known as “Jihadi Sid”.
One of the neighbours of the raided residence in Barking, where the suspect is believed to have lived, said he had seen a white van parked nearby on Friday. The suspect had driven it away at high speed. On Saturday, the three killers used a white van to conduct the beginning of their onslaught.
Reporting by Tom Burgis, Naomi Rovnick, Helen Warrell, Leila Haddou, Cynthia O’Murchu, Peter Campbell and Robert Wright
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