The Hate Factory (Part 2)

Click here for Part 1. Click here for Part 3.

Morten Storm (aka Murad Danish). (Video still)

VI — STORM AT THE MOSQUE

At the end of 2001, Farasat Latif and his associates relocated to a larger building on Bury Park Road. Unlike the Call To Islam Centre, this new building was a fully-fledged mosque, which they called Luton Islamic Centre.

Almost immediately, Omar Bakri turned up with a couple of his disciples. Under normal circumstances, refusing someone from worshipping at a mosque was considered off-limits, but such was the contempt that Latif and his associates held for Bakri, they forced him out.

Unfortunately, this was far from the end, for another, equally dangerous man soon arrived in town.

He was born with a movie-star name, “Morten Storm”, but in Luton he preferred to call himself by the Islamic name “Murad Danish”.

Storm was similar to Dhiren Barot in many ways: they were both converts to Islam who had symbolised their metamorphosis by changing their names. They had both been well-trained in terrorism at training camps abroad. They had both also fought in wars overseas, and written articulate books about their exploits. And they would both become leading inspirations among Luton’s budding jihadis.

Storm moved into a small apartment on Connaught Road. By day, he worked as a forklift truck driver. By night, he frequented the Ethnic Minority Training Project (EMTP), a programme run by Latif which helped young offenders turn their lives around by preparing them for work.

Latif recalls that Storm would always be smiling. He would lounge in the office’s IT suite, telling Latif about his shady past, and how he had come to Luton to redeem himself through Islam.

He had been president of the Danish Bandidos — a motorcycle club like the Hell’s Angels — and was regularly involved in violent turf wars with other gangs. He went to jail, where he continued to fight people, even slashing some across the faces with blades. Soon enough, he converted to Islam.

Upon his release from jail, he went to Yemen and attended a Salafi seminary in Dammaj run by Sheikh Muqbil, a renowned Salafi scholar known for his fierce opposition to bin Laden and to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Storm’s story thus appeared to be one of redemption to Latif, who says he was taken in by Storm’s charisma, and believed he was now on the right path.

However, unknown to Latif, Storm had been travelling back and forth between the UK, Yemen, and Denmark, organising small-scale operations for al-Qaeda. At one point he even corresponded directly with bin Laden (whom he named his son after).

Storm began to regularly attend Luton Islamic Centre, patiently listening to a variety of speakers. He at first seemed to get on with everyone, but as time went by, Latif noticed a sinister side to him.

In one example, Latif once walked into the EMTP IT suite, and saw Storm watching videos of executions in Saddam’s Iraq. Latif, disturbed, asked him not to do that, and Storm quietly obliged.

But the problems had only just begun.

Storm became increasingly outspoken at the mosque. More and more, he began to subtly question speakers during sermons, insinuating that their beliefs were not Islamic because they were weakened by compromise. For instance, he once suggested that anyone with a bank account was not Muslim, due to riba (interest) being regarded as haram.

Storm implied that one either followed every word of the Qur’an, or didn’t follow it at all. Latif had heard this before, from Abu Hamza.

According to Latif, as Storm’s confidence grew his insinuations became more overt, until he openly began trying to cause chaos in the mosque, backbiting and starting fights.

Latif said Storm was eventually confronted in debate by the Libyan imam Sheikh Riyadh, an experienced scholar who apparently showed up the hollowness of Storm’s totalitarian vision of Islam.

After being publicly outed as a totalitarian, Storm left the mosque and didn’t return. He did, however, begin to stand outside the mosque, distributing CDs of his pro-jihad book. Most of the Luton Islamic Centre’s worshippers ignored him. But one group did take an interest: al-Muhajiroun.

Since being beaten bloody, Shahed had been far less involved in the Luton al-Muhajiroun gang’s activities, and the group was thus in need of a new leader. Word of Storm quickly got around to the group’s members, who were amazed to find someone who had personally interacted with bin Laden, and had such stories to tell. Storm basked in the attention, boasting to his new fans that he was so feared by Danish authorities they had banned him from associating with more than two people.

Impressionable young Muslims began to congregate around Storm’s cultish charisma. They were drawn to his laid-back but assertive personality, and his rare combination of top jihad credentials and relatively advanced theological understanding (i.e. he had actually read the Qur’an).

Latif agrees that Storm played a significant part in the radicalisation of Luton’s second-generation jihadis. Yet, he has doubts that Storm was who he said he was. He said he seemed too outrageous and too open about his beliefs to be a genuine jihadi. And, given Storm’s associations with top al-Qaeda figures like al-Awlaki and bin Laden, the police did not seem to be as interested in him as they should have been.

Latif began to wonder if Storm was working for MI5. He said they regularly sent moles into his mosque. He could apparently spot them easily because they would show up and no one would have any idea who they were, and then, after briefly introducing themselves they would immediately start talking about jihad. When people tried to find out more about them, they would vanish and never be seen again.

Latif said he didn’t mind his mosque being flooded with moles — he understood it was a necessary part of intelligence gathering — but what he had a problem with was agents provocateur, whom he claimed MI5 also sent to the mosque to identify who was receptive to jihadi ideas. Both Latif and Baksh are convinced that these agents provocateur would undermine their own quietist arguments, as Storm did, and inadvertently radicalise young Muslims.

For his part, Storm has denied that he was an agent provocateur — at least at this particular time.

In any case, Raheem told me that around 2003, MI5 began to step up its activity in Luton. It began subtly:

“A guy from British Gas would turn up, asking to check the electricity meter. Then, a couple weeks later, another guy would come for the exact same reason. It was stuff like that which made me think something was up.”

However, as the year went by, this subtle intrusion would turn into open harassment: “All of a sudden, I’m getting these calls from posh-sounding people saying they were British intelligence, and asking me to meet them.”

Raheem met with such officers several times. He said they would be overly friendly, trying to break the ice by talking about things like the cricket results. They would quickly move into more serious matters, saying they weren’t the enemy. One agent pointed out how Muslim children had been killed by al-Qaeda, and another tried to turn Raheem against a friend by asking how he could be a true Muslim if he smoked cigarettes.

Raheem said he was offered money to inform on his friends. The agents tried hard to sell the job to him, saying he would be like James Bond. One agent grinningly offered him free, all-inclusive holidays. To Yemen.

There was a reason why British intelligence had suddenly become desperate to recruit informants in Luton. They had received information that there was a major terrorist cell operating in the town to plot a major attack on the UK.

In reality, there were two.

Both cells were being broadly overseen by al-Qaeda’s most senior operations group — which included top figures like Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi and Abu Faraj al-Libbi — from their base in Pakistan. However, the two cells had been encouraged to operate independently of al-Qaeda as far as possible, and were never informed of each other’s existence, despite working in close proximity both in London and Luton.

This arrangement was deliberate, adhering to the tactics of the prominent al-Qaeda theorist Mustafa Setmariam Nasar (aka Abu Musab al-Suri), who advocated “leaderless resistance” — multiple small groups that can operate without an external chain of command, and which are also isolated from each other, to minimise information leakage if individuals are captured.

Mustafa Nasar with bin Laden. Nasar’s theory of leaderless resistance forms the basis of jihadi terrorism today. (FBI)

The first of the two cells operating in Luton at this time was the most secretive, as it was led by the meticulous Dhiren Barot, who had been tasked with developing the nightmarish plans he had drawn for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed prior to 9/11.

The other cell operating in Luton was equally ambitious, and much closer to carrying out its attack. It would later be known as the Crevice cell, after the police operation to bust it.


VII — OPERATION CREVICE

Most of the plotters were from Crawley — another hub of al-Muhajiroun, south of London — but the plot was sparked in Luton and centred around three former or current residents of the town: Salahuddin Amin, Abu Munthir, and Q.

Amin had been a follower of Hamza and Bakri since the mid-nineties. He was close friends with Aftab Manzoor and Afzal Munir, two of the locals who had fought and died for the Taliban in Afghanistan after 9/11. (One of them may even have been his brother.)

He first met Khyam at Hamza’s old mosque on Leagrave Road, during a speech by Bakri, and after learning of Khyam’s plans to fight jihad, he decided to help him.

Amin was also good friends with Q, as their families were close, and they had both worked driving taxis for two companies in nearby Dunstable: Elite Cars and Express Cars.

Amin put Khyam in touch with Q, who soon involved Luton’s other fixer, Abu Munthir.

Shortly after 9/11, both Amin and Munthir fled the UK for Pakistan, joining an al-Qaeda cell there.

Q acted as middle man between Khyam in the UK, and Amin and Munthir in Pakistan. At this time, Q was also in contact with Mohammed Sidique Khan, the lead 7/7 bomber. Q arranged travel to and from Pakistan for both Khan and Khyam, and there they lived and trained alongside each other at the Malakand jihad camp (more on this later).

Through Amin and Munthir, Khyam established contact with Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi — apparently the third most senior member of al-Qaeda— and the groundwork for the Crevice plot was established.

The plan was to detonate fertiliser bombs at pinpoint locations across the country to inflict maximum casualties.

Khyam dispatched his friend, the aspiring fashion model turned jihadi Anthony Garcia (aka “Ali G”), to buy 600kg of ammonium nitrate fertiliser, from which they would build their bombs.

A few days later, Khyam’s other Crawley associate, Waheed Mahmood, obtained a job at National Grid Transco and stole CDs containing maps of high pressure gas pipes for a planned strike on utilities.

Al-Iraqi also tasked Amin with purchasing a radio-isotope bomb from the Russian mafia in Belgium, which he attempted, unsuccessfully.

In Crawley, the group discussed additional attacks to increase the body-count. They planned to sell poisoned drinks at football matches, and create a fake restaurant delivery service to poison random strangers.

They also began to shortlist their final targets for the fertiliser bombs, believing the best options would be the Bluewater shopping centre, the Ministry of Sound nightclub, and nearby gas pipelines. They also began construction of a remote detonator — the final component of the bombs.

Fortunately, MI5 and Special Branch had been watching the group since February 2003. Finally, in March 2004, as the group were halfway to completing their detonator, police swooped.

The UK members of the cell were all arrested, as well as Amin and Munthir in Pakistan, and Junaid Babar, who had been conducting operations from New York. If, as I suspect, Abu Munthir is none other than Sami al-Saadi, then MI6 would illegally send him for torture at one of Gaddafi’s prisons. Babar, meanwhile, would become the Crown prosecution’s key witness.

Police mugshots of the plot’s two ringleaders, Salahuddin Amin (left) and Omar Khyam. (Metropolitan Police)

All of those who were arrested received long jail sentences, apart from Babar, for his co-operation, and Q, due to a “lack of evidence”.

Much was made of Q’s exoneration, as he had repeatedly been implicated by Babar as the “emir” (leader) of the plot, coordinating operations for Khyam in the UK and Amin in Pakistan. UK tabloids raged about Q “escaping justice”, and even the BBC began harassing him, with journalists from Panorama storming into his takeaway with cameras, only to be forcibly ejected.

As a result of the media portraying Q as a terrorist mastermind who escaped justice, he apparently found it impossible to live in peace. He would be insulted in the street, made unwelcome at his mosque, and even had difficulty finding work.

But Q was not as he seemed. The official story regarding Q given by the prosecution at the Crevice trial is full of holes. At no point does it explain how MI5 came to surveille Q, and since Q is the starting point of the entire case, this is a glaring omission. Fortunately, after enquiring locally about the case, I soon learned, from a source I unfortunately cannot reveal, that Q was approached by security services in 2002 with a view to being recruited as a mole. Q accepted and, under the codename “Bashful Dwarf”, he continued operating his international jihadi network while bugged and/or wired, eventually leading security services to Khyam’s cell and thereby preventing what could have been the UK’s most devastating terrorist attack.

Of course, the public never knew this, so Q had to bear the slings and arrows from both the media and the locals, while also living with the pain of entrapping his old friend Amin.


VIII — CONQUEST OF THE WALKWAY

By the end of March 2004, Europe was still reeling from the Madrid bombings — the continent’s deadliest ever jihadi terrorist attack — and the revelations of the fertiliser bomb plot only heightened people’s anxiety.

Once again the media spotlight fell on al-Muhajiroun — most of the Crevice plotters had ties to the organisation — and discussions to ban it commenced in Whitehall.

Many locals, Muslim and non-Muslim, also began to close ranks against al-Muhajiroun, reiterating that they were not welcome in Luton, or the UK.

In spring 2004, the group held a meeting at a community centre on Woodland Avenue. The meeting had been called by Bakri himself, and among the attendees was Morten Storm, who was hearing Bakri speak for the first time.

In low spirits from a new wave of hatred against the group, and with the government talk of banning it, Storm must have found hope in Bakri’s sermon, which was about Fallujah, a Sunni city in Iraq that was refusing to surrender to Western forces.

During Bakri’s speech, he heaped praise on Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (aka “Sheikh of the Slaughterers”), an illiterate street-thug-turned-holy-man who had removed his gang tattoos by flaying his own skin, and was now leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), spearheading the country’s Sunni Islamist resistance against the West after Saddam’s fall. Zarqawi was so brutal that even Ayman al-Zawahiri, the de facto leader of al-Qaeda, told him he was going too far. But Zarqawi refused to curb his bloodlust, and his ultra-violent organisation would later break away from al-Qaeda to form the core of Isis.

Bakri evidently had no issue with al-Zarqawi’s excesses, seeing him as David taking on Goliath. The Americans had allegedly fired on unarmed protesters there, causing the whole city to turn against them. In revenge, one of al-Zarqawi’s lieutenants, Ahmad abd al-Isawi (aka “Butcher of Fallujah”) ambushed four American security contractors and hanged their charred corpses from a bridge. In revenge for this revenge, the American army launched an offensive on the city, but they were struggling against al-Zarqawi’s traps and ambushes.

Bakri told the crowd that they should seek to emulate men like al-Zarqawi in these oppressive times.

Storm was impressed with Bakri’s defiance in the face of perceived oppression, and began to regularly attend his speeches, which appear to have been designed specifically to incite rage toward the West. In his autobiography, Agent Storm, Storm recounts:

“[Bakri’s] acolytes would sometimes set up a projector, flashing images of Iraqis allegedly killed by the Americans. There were also photos of the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, which had just been made public. Such humiliation of Muslims made me seethe with anger.”

Storm, with his long history of waging jihad, his theological savvy, and his uncompromising hatred of the West, quickly got Bakri’s attention. Bakri loved that he had named his son after bin Laden, and began calling Storm “Abu Osama” (“Father of Osama”).

Storm was eventually inducted into Bakri’s inner circle, which would hold private meetings in which Bakri would offer his true opinions, saying, for instance, that it was perfectly okay to stab a non-Muslim in the street.

These meetings were restricted to Bakri’s closest followers — those he was certain were not working for the government. They included Bakri’s deputy and consigliere, Anjem Choudary; the leader of al-Muhajiroun Ireland, Khalid Kelly (aka “Taliban Terry”); and Bakri’s personal secretary, Abdul Waheed Majeed.

Both Kelly and Majeed would later become Isis suicide bombers.

Also present at these meetings was Mohammed Istiak Alamgir, the young accountant who received an epiphany after watching the World Trade Centre collapse, and then quit his job to become a full-time hate-preacher. He had by now risen through the ranks to become the leader of the Luton branch of al-Muhajiroun, and he will be central to this story.

Istiak Alamgir (aka Sayful Islam), leader of Luton al-Muhajiroun, and the town’s most notorious hate-preacher.

He was born to a Pakistani immigrant father who worked as a British Rail engineer. He grew up in a middle-class Muslim family, and did well at school, being selected to attend a science masterclass at Cambridge University. He later pursued a degree in business economics at Middlesex University, and is said to have acted like a typical student, going clubbing, frolicking with girls, occasionally studying. After graduating, he went on to marry, have two children and acquire a job as an accountant for the Inland Revenue.

In 1999 he met Bakri at a community centre on Leagrave Road. He claimed he found Bakri’s uncompromising view of Islam refreshing.

But it was only on 9/11 that he fully committed to jihadism. As he watched the twin towers collapse, he said he felt elated.

Shortly after, he adopted a new name, Sayful Islam (“Sword of Islam”), cultivated a long beard forked like a serpent’s tongue, and began street-preaching. Like his mentor Bakri, he had a habit of beginning his sentences with the word “Obviously”, as though his opinions were self-evident. He quickly became notorious around Luton as a loudmouth, and his booming voice and emphatic oratory quickly won him the respect of his fellow jihadis, who made him leader of Luton al-Muhajiroun.

Like Bakri, he was adept at stoking controversy. In April 2004, roughly two weeks after Operation Crevice, Alamgir gave an interview to David Cohen of the Evening Standard, in which he said, “When a bomb attack happens here, I won’t be against it, even if it kills my own children”.

Alamgir’s goal was simple: to create a seed of rebellion in the quiet town of Luton, which would swell to engulf the country and then the world in a wave of divine enlightenment. Like many other al-Muhajiroun members, he lived on state handouts, as he believed working for the “kuffar state” was haram.

Bakri (centre) and Alamgir (sky blue coat) during a camping trip in Derbyshire. The other unobscured face, behind Alamgir’s, is Rajib Khan, a fellow member of the Luton clique who would later be jailed on terror charges. (Met Police)

By summer 2004, Alamgir and Storm headed a street-gang of a dozen or so al-Muhajiroun members who would set up stalls from which they would distribute jihadi literature. Sometimes, they would be brazen enough to set up their stalls in the town centre, loudly ranting at passers-by.

They would often harass the mosques that had ejected them, particularly the Luton Islamic Centre, outside which they would loiter, telling visitors to the mosque that they were worshipping in a house of the devil. They would occasionally be confronted by Latif or Baksh, but there was little the imams could do as at this time the gang were not breaking any laws.

During election periods, Alamgir’s gang would put signs on lampposts telling people that voting was haram, and they would picket any mainstream Muslim politician who tried to canvas the area. For them, taking part in Western democracy was a hellfire-worthy offence.

At night they would sneak through the streets, searching for Western-dressed women on billboards and bus-stop adverts. When they found one, they’d spray-paint jilbabs over them, leaving only a slit for their eyes.

At weekends, the gang charged themselves with protecting local Muslims from football hooligans like the Men in Gear (MIGs). Whenever Luton FC played home games, the hooligans would get drunk before staggering through Bury Park, crooning and chest-thumping in an effort to intimidate. Luton football stadium is located in the heart of al-Muhajiroun territory, directly at the end of Kenilworth Road, where Alamgir lived, so the two groups would frequently encounter each other.

According to Storm’s autobiography, Muslim women wearing niqabs and jilbabs were the most common target of hooligan abuse, so he and his fellow jihadis would escort their “sisters” through Bury Park. If they saw or heard any Muslim women being sworn at or assaulted, they would approach the perpetrators, sometimes with hammers and baseball bats.

Storm recounts how, on one occasion he and another jihadi chased two men who had abused Muslim women through Luton’s Arndale Shopping Centre. Storm caught up with one in a Boots chemist’s store and dragged him to the ground among the shelves of cosmetics, beating his face bloody before escaping as the police arrived.

Bakri was impressed with Storm’s physical ability, and designated him the “Emir of Training”, tasking him with whipping into shape the local al-Muhajiroun in preparation for jihad.

Bakri was also impressed with Alamgir’s oratory, and tasked him with leading Luton’s dawah (proselytisation).

So, as Alamgir indoctrinated new followers, Storm trained them. He would teach them boxing at the local community centre on Wood Green Road, and twice a week he would take them to the Barton Hills, a nature reserve north of Luton, to carry out survival training and mock guerrilla warfare.

One of the men who was trained by Storm was local student Taimour al-Abdaly (more on him later).

Many locals were aware of what Storm was doing; he made no effort to hide it. But with his reputation, Alamgir’s rhetoric, and the gang’s jihadi links, they easily intimidated locals into silence. Their gang members, who had originally been pencil-necked students flocking to Bakri and Hamza’s talks in the nineties, were now grown up and well-connected, and locals had decided it wasn’t worth getting in their way.

Members of Luton’s al-Muhajiroun street gang on Dunstable Road. Alamgir is in white sneakers. Facing camera is Alamgir’s right-hand man, Moshiur Rahman.

IX — OPERATION RHYME

While Alamgir was sermonising in the streets, and Storm was teaching survival skills in the forests, another, much more serious terror cell was at work in Luton. This cell was not interested in such frivolities as Alamgir’s street stall or Storm’s assault course; several of its members had trained in al-Qaeda camps between 1997–2001, while the rest were professionals in engineering, architecture, or counterfeiting.

The cell, known to police simply as the “Luton cell” (but which I’ll call the “Rhyme cell” to avoid confusion) had been formed by al-Qaeda central command itself, and was led by Abu Hamza’s model student Dhiren Barot.

The team had first formed in the summer of 2001, but after 9/11 Barot decided to hold off on his own plot until security had relaxed. Barot did however remain in contact with Abu Faraj al-Libbi and other senior al-Qaeda members in Pakistan, and shortly after 9/11 he visited Dallow Road in Luton to meet with al-Muhajiroun member Abdul Aziz Jalil, a plasterer who had studied information systems at Luton University, was an experienced document-forger, and had trained in Pakistani jihad camps in 1997 and possibly 2001.

Barot, Jalil, and several other specialists began to develop the terror plots that Barot had conceived of prior to 9/11, using their extensive counter-espionage training to remain invisible to British intelligence from 2001 to 2003.

In January 2004, Barot visited Lahore to meet with his al-Qaeda handlers. On his return he set about finalising his team and proceeding with his plots.

By summer 2004 Barot’s team had grown to 14 men, each of whom had a different speciality. They included Junade Feroze, who owned a garage and could thus dispose of cars and obtain gas canisters needed for explosives; Zia ul-Haq, who was a construction expert and thus advised on effective methods of demolition; and Omar Rehman, who had studied information design and worked as a hotel guard and was thus tasked with disabling security systems.

Barot spent a great deal of time researching the pros and cons of his various terrorist plots, consulting each member of his team on their specific area of expertise. He also created a fake Brunel University library card so he could research explosives.

Barot’s forged university library card, used to research explosives. (Met Police)

The team were unusual in the lengths they would take to avoid detection. Barot and Jalil once drove from London to Swindon just to use an Internet café. There, using innocuous-sounding usernames like “kewl_n_kinki” and “bridget_jonesdiaries”, they communicated in code on Yahoo messenger.

Barot ensured none of his team ever used mobile phones. If they had to talk, it was always by phone-boxes. In addition, they would frequently employ illogical road routes to confuse anyone who might be following them.

Such was Barot’s assiduousness that his team was able to operate unhindered for three years in south-east England, including after security services began closely monitoring the area due to Operation Crevice. They only got wind of his plot in June 2004, when the Pakistani ISI captured an al-Qaeda computer expert, Naeem Noor Khan, and found Barot’s plans on his laptop.

The laptop contained some ambitious and highly unusual plots, all of which were meticulously researched and presented, with footnotes and diagrams. Such was the detail that it took 51 compact discs to store it all.

One plot, entitled “Radioactive Children”, was encrypted in a folder called “Brad Pitt”. It involved detonating a dirty bomb made from Americium-241 gathered from 10,000 smoke detectors. Another plan was to pack stretch limos with gas cylinders and detonate them in a car park under a building. There was also a plan to blow up a train as it passed under the Thames, flooding the London Underground.

Although not all of Barot’s plans were scientifically feasible, their presentation showed he was creative, dedicated, methodical, exacting and ruthless. Realising the danger he posed, MI5 threw all their resources behind tracking him (Operation Rhyme), but his counter-espionage skills were so good that they lost track of him on 28 July 2004.

Panicked, the security services arranged with Scotland Yard to sweep the area for him.

At the start of August, Noor Khan’s capture was leaked by the New York Times, to the intelligence services’ chagrin. Knowing Barot would soon find out about the capture and realise he was being tracked, MI5 stepped up their efforts to catch him.

Through hard work and a little luck, they found him in a north London barbershop on 4 August, and immediately arrested him. His team were captured around the same time during a meeting in Luton.

Barot committed a fatal error: he disregarded the rules put in place by the al-Qaeda strategist Mustafa Nasar, which dictate that a terror cell should be as small and isolated as possible, as every link in a chain is a liability. In Barot’s efforts to be meticulous, he delegated tasks to too many people, one of whom, Noor Khan, proved to be his downfall.

Barot’s team were jailed for a total of 136 years. Barot himself received a sentence of 40 years, but his reign of terror did not end there. He would become a dangerous hate-preacher in jail, radicalising several men, including Michael Coe, who on his release would call himself “Mikaeel Ibrahim”, becoming a bodyguard to Bakri’s deputy, Anjem Choudary, and then beating a schoolboy unconscious for cuddling a girl in public.

When prison guards realised Barot was radicalising men in jail, they took action. He wrote of this in his journal:

“Any time the prison feels that I may have found a “friend” that I may be “overly” socialising with, more often than not the individual/s concerned are promptly shipped out to other establishments. Why? For irrational fear of “sermonising” or “talent scouting” of course because they believe I have an arresting personality!”

X — PARANOIA

Operation Rhyme was the second time in four months that a major plan by homegrown jihadis to attack the UK, directed by senior al-Qaeda agents in Pakistan, had been barely foiled.

By now, UK intelligence must have regretted letting so many young Britons form connections to jihadis in Pakistan during the Covenant of Security.

The UK government finally decided it would have to get tough on extremists. Three weeks after Barot’s arrest, his mentor Abu Hamza was also arrested.

The US had long wanted to charge him with running training camps in the 1990s, and had previously requested his extradition, but it was only now, after Barot’s plot, that the UK government decided to act on him.

He was arrested on a range of charges such as inciting violence and racial hatred. In 2012, after an eight-year legal battle, he would finally be extradited to the US, where he would be imprisoned for life, his hook-hands replaced with sporks.

After Hamza’s arrest, Bakri feared he might be next. Several members of the Crevice cell and one member of the Rhyme cell had been members of his organisation. Bakri was more of a talker and less of a doer than Hamza, and had always been better at denying links to the violence committed by his followers. But he knew the government was now watching his every word. And he learned it was finally planning to ban al-Muhajiroun.

Bakri held a private meeting with his closest disciples in north London. His deputy Anjem Choudary, a lawyer, suggested that they should immediately disband and become an informal organisation with a different name and no fixed membership. This way they couldn’t be de facto banned.

Raheem recalls that at one meeting in Luton, Alamgir spoke out against ending the group, believing it was a sign of defeat. Despite this, Choudary went ahead with the formal disbandment of al-Muhajiroun, splitting it into two new groups, al-Ghurabaa, and the Saved Sect. (I will continue to call them al-Muhajiroun for simplicity.)

In October, Alamgir told the Guardian that the disbanding of al-Muhajiroun would lead to its members becoming “freelance”. I’d heard this word being used before among Luton’s al-Muhajiroun, and Raheem told me it was a euphemism for “lone wolf terrorist”.

Despite this bravado, al-Muhajiroun members knew that even though they had changed their organisation’s name, they were now being closely watched. Raheem said that at a meeting in London, Choudary told the group’s members not to “try anything silly”.

Meanwhile, MI5, too, were filled with paranoia. They believed they had not caught all of Barot’s team. They had been forced to swoop on Barot prematurely when his associate Naeem Noor Khan’s identity had been published by the New York Times. As a result, they had not been able to track everyone in the plot, which they were sure was far bigger than the dozen or so they had apprehended.

While searching for Barot’s “ghosts”, MI5 began to look into peripheral characters in both the Rhyme and Crevice investigations. They briefly considered two men, Mohammed Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, whom they had learned of while investigating Khyam’s cell.

In 2003, the Luton fixer Q had arranged travel for Khyam, Khan and Tanweer to the Malakand jihad camp in Pakistan. In July, the ISI became aware of the three men sharing a hostel, and suspected them of training at the jihad camp, meeting the senior al-Qaeda commander Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi, and planning attacks on Britain. They warned MI5, who were already aware of Khyam, but concluded Khan and Tanweer were not threats.

However, Q remained in contact with the men. In February 2004, he arranged a UK meeting between Khan, Tanweer, and Khyam. They were surveilled by MI5 at the Toddington service station six miles north of Luton.

Surveillance photo of a meeting six miles north of Luton between Khyam, Khan and Tanweer. (MI5)

Through Q, MI5 got to know Khan quite well. They recorded his voice, they followed him to his mother-in-law’s home, they had a photograph of him, they made inquiries about a telephone registered in his name, they even knew which garage he used to repair his car. Further, throughout 2003 and 2004, MI5 monitored Khan and Khyam meeting on five separate occasions.

Rashid Rauf, the al-Qaeda agent supervising Khan and Tanweer, wrote in secret documents uncovered in 2012 that at the time of the Crevice arrests, Khan and Tanweer expected to be raided at any moment and were “ready for martyrdom operations”. This is how close they were to Khyam’s cell.

Yet, despite all the links, MI5 dismissed the threat posed by Khan and Tanweer, and continued searching for more of Barot’s associates.

In May 2005, the ISI arrested one of the al-Qaeda commanders who had been overseeing the Crevice and Rhyme cells, Abu Faraj al-Libbi. The ISI tortured al-Libbi, and he told them of a “Madrid style” plot to attack trains in the UK. The ISI passed this information to British intelligence.

MI5 had by this time sifted through Barot’s 51 CDs of terror plots. Among them, they had found vague plans to attack London’s Underground, as well as detailed maps of it. But again they dismissed it, because it was one of dozens of plots Barot had proposed.

Barot had dreamed of making a bomb, but never got to. However, his CDs may ultimately have been just as devastating, because they filled the heads of MI5 agents with countless imaginary plots, ghosts that led them astray from the true threat.

MI5 were now caught in a web of hundreds of contacts stretching from the UK to Pakistan. SIGINT was a cacophony, and time was running out.

Desperate to find the missing links in Barot’s network, MI5 sent agents to Luton.

Morten Storm recounts in his autobiography how, in June 2005, he was visited at his home by a young man called “Robert”, who claimed to be from British intelligence. Robert stressed the magnitude of the current terror threat level, and asked Storm what he knew about Barot’s mentor Hamza. Storm said he had never met Hamza, but added that even if he had known him, he wouldn’t betray a fellow Muslim.

The men apparently spoke outside Storm’s house for two hours, and afterwards Storm became aware that he was part of an elaborate ruse, designed to turn jihadis against their “brothers”.

Storm is likely to have shared this information with Omar Bakri, who later ordered his followers at a meeting in Luton not to talk loosely with people they couldn’t personally vouch for.

And so Luton became quiet, until the 7 July, when 30 miles away four explosions shook the country.


XI — A NEW REALITY

Three of the bombers had been from Leeds, far in the north, and one had been from Aylesbury, to the West. Yet they’d chosen to meet in Luton immediately before launching their attack. This caused a lot of paranoia in the town, and both police and reporters descended in droves.

An ABC news report stated:

“Security officials tell ABC News they have discovered links between the eldest of the London bombers, Mohammed Sadique [sic] Khan, 30, and the original group in Luton. Officials also believe it was not a coincidence the subway bombers all met at the Luton train station last week.”

Word got around the town that the bombers had links to Q, which was true (albeit not in the way they thought). Q’s home address was leaked on a right-wing blog, and local thugs harangued him.

Of course, Q had only been in contact with the bombers due to MI5’s operation. The bombers generally had minimal direct association with Luton jihadis, but were influenced by the same preachers: Bakri and Hamza.

The two lead bombers, Khan and Tanweer, were known to have attended Hamza’s notorious Finsbury Park mosque, where they would watch gory DVDs of atrocities against Muslims. Sometimes, they would sleep in the mosque’s basement. Further, hours before the attack, Khan and Tanweer were called 20 times by a phone connected to Hamza’s aide Haroon Aswat.

Khan and Tanweer had also been closely associated with several disciples of Bakri, including al-Muhajiroun members Omar Sharif and Asif Hanif, who bombed Tel Aviv in 2003 (Khan allegedly even travelled to Tel Aviv to help plan the bombing).

In addition, prior to 9/11 Khan, like Khyam and Barot, had travelled to training camps in Kashmir courtesy of Bakri and Hamza’s network, and apparently with the approval of British intelligence.

Though Khan and Tanweer were associated with both Bakri and Hamza, it is uncertain if the hate-preachers knew in advance of this particular attack, as it seems to have been overseen directly by al-Qaeda and Jaish-e-Mohammed from Pakistan through their fixer Rashid Rauf and a man called “Haji”, who is probably Abu Ubaidah al-Masri. (These two men would also oversee the transatlantic airliner plot of 2006.)

According to Rauf’s notes, it was Haji who convinced Khan and Tanweer to become suicide bombers. The two were reportedly reluctant to make their martyrdom recordings because they were shy, but they did so when Haji insisted on it.

Whether or not Bakri knew in advance of the bombings, he publicly denounced them, claiming he was against the killing of innocents.

But two days later, Bakri held a private meeting in East London, attended by Alamgir, Choudary, Storm, and around 50 other followers. Also present were MI5 operatives and a Times undercover reporter. At this meeting, Bakri said:

“So, London under attack. Between us, for the past 48 hours I’m very happy.”

His comments were reported by the undercover Times journalist, but police were powerless to act, because Bakri’s statement broke no laws. The hate-preacher’s confidence thus grew, and he began to do more and more media interviews, each time revealing a little more of his true feelings, until he came right out and publicly called the 7/7 bombers the “fantastic four”.

But by now, politicians were finally getting sick of him. They decided to fast track the Terrorism Act 2006, which would make comments like Bakri’s illegal. Prime Minister Tony Blair, referencing Bakri, said of the bill:

“…[T]here will be new anti-terrorism legislation in the Autumn. This will include an offence of condoning or glorifying terrorism. The sort of remarks made in recent days should be covered by such laws.”

Anjem Choudary, the lawyer, advised Bakri to leave the country as he was at risk of being arrested. And so, a day after Blair’s remarks — on 6 August, 2005 — Bakri gave UK control of al-Muhajiroun to Choudary and then left the country for Lebanon. He was later informed by the Home Office that he would not be allowed back into the UK.

In November 2005, Choudary, Alamgir and two of their al-Muhajiroun friends were somehow allowed to travel to Lebanon to visit Bakri. They were quizzed by Lebanese security, and said they had come to help Bakri open a madrassah (Islamic seminary). They were deported back to Britain and, after brief questioning by British security, they were allowed to go free.

Choudary, having become de facto leader of al-Muhajiroun (which he now called “Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah”), held a meeting of his lieutenants in East London to discuss the best way forward for the group.

Choudary and Alamgir had similar outlooks, but disagreed in how to turn Britain into a caliphate. Choudary had a long-term strategy of outbreeding the non-Muslims, while also getting Islamists into high places in government through infiltration and conversion. Then, when there was a critical mass of Islamists in high positions, they could initiate a top-down Islamic revolution over the wider population.

In contrast, Alamgir wanted to create a bottom-up Islamic revolution, awakening the common people so that they could rise up and overthrow the kuffar government. As a result, while Choudary debated establishment figures on TV shows like Newsnight, Alamgir canvassed the streets.

Storm continued to join Alamgir and his gang at the dawah stalls in Luton and London, ranting about how Western crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan were “a million times worse” than 7/7. If a curious passer-by stopped to talk to them, they would whip out their phones and show videos of the carnage apparently caused by the West. They would give people their phone numbers, and links to extremist websites, telling them that what they would learn would “blow their minds”.

But this type of activism soon bored Storm, especially after the spectacle of 7/7. He felt that with Bakri and Hamza gone, al-Muhajiroun was no longer a credible organisation, more intent on preaching than insurrection. Alamgir and Choudary lacked the outrageousness of the original hate-preachers, and had not trained in al-Qaeda camps like himself, Barot, Khyam, or Khan. Instead, they were just middle-class university graduates who talked a lot.

Storm accused Choudary, Alamgir and their associates of being “big empty barrels” who were conducting “chicken-and-chips jihad” because they spent so much time sitting in takeaways, talking about revenge rather than engaging in it.

Choudary and friends in a takeaway, plotting the overthrow of Western civilisation over milkshakes. Choudary’s favourite milkshake flavour was chocolate. He was capable of drinking strawberry, but only when other options were not available.

As 2005 drew to a close, Storm, tired of “chicken-and-chips jihad”, left the UK to go find some real action. In Yemen, his plans to die a martyr were constantly foiled by circumstance, until he became frustrated.

According to his autobiography, he soon realised that Bakri was a pathological liar. Bakri had claimed to know many high-ranking al-Qaeda members, who were now telling Storm they had never met the man.

Storm had been deceived. His faith was shaken. He wondered, if Bakri had fooled him about this, what else had he fooled him about? The crack of doubt in Storm’s mind became a chasm when, shortly afterward, he began to see irreconcilable contradictions in the Qur’an itself.

It was then that he called up the Danish security agency, PET. After a series of meetings, he agreed to become a double-agent for PET, MI5 and the CIA. He would later return to his former friends in Luton, in order to spy on them.

However, the imams of Luton Islamic Centre, Baksh and Latif, believe Storm did not become a mole, but always was one. Baksh, in a sermon uploaded on YouTube, says Storm was one of many agents employed by the “enemies of Islam” to lead Muslims away from the truth, to destroy Islam’s reputation.

Latif was more measured, stating that Storm acted like a textbook mole, frequently bringing up the subject of jihad before he’d even got to know people, and then boisterously proclaiming the necessity of jihad to anyone who would listen, making no effort to keep his intentions secret.

Latif believes that despite Storm being a government agent, he played a real role in radicalising Luton’s youths, including one man who would later commit a terrorist attack. We will talk more about this later.


XII — THE OUTRAGE EXHIBITION

Storm may have had a low opinion of Choudary and Islam, seeing them as a far cry from the ideal jihadi, but they would both prove to be far more dangerous even than him. They may not have attended al-Qaeda training camps like the jihadis of old, but they both had good degrees from Western universities, and were good at maximising their media exposure.

As 2006 came around, al-Muhajiroun had about a thousand members nationwide. Among them was a Birmingham cell that was working with Rashid Rauf on the transatlantic airliner plot (which would eventually fail).

Meanwhile, in al-Muhajiroun’s main stronghold in the south-east UK, Choudary and Alamgir put their organisation’s numbers to good use with a series of public rallies.

In one protest outside the Danish embassy, they called for the head of the cartoonists for caricaturing prophet Muhammad. In another, they called for the pope’s head for reading a passage that called Muhammad “evil”.

These demonstrations would consist mainly of rants and chants that were designed to intimidate — “Remember, remember, eleventh September” — but they also engaged in the odd flag-burning, egg-throwing and street-scuffle.

The protests would often end with al-Muhajiroun members being arrested for breaking some law. One such member, arrested for assault during a protest outside the Old Bailey, was Michael Adebolajo, who would later behead army drummer Lee Rigby on a busy London street.

The protests would usually be led by the group’s UK leader Anjem Choudary, but his more senior lieutenants, such as Alamgir, would often speak alongside him.

Alamgir (left), Moshiur Rahman (centre), and Choudary at an al-Muhajiroun rally

Choudary was a measured and articulate orator, while Alamgir was passionate and incendiary. More importantly, he had a particular knack for twisting facts to fit his narrative; whatever was happening in the world, he was able to spin it into evidence that the West was oppressing Muslims.

The Danish cartoons and the Pope calling Muhammad “evil” were obviously easy to spin into a narrative of Western oppression. But Alamgir also managed to twist less fitting events in his favour.

In 2007, the government unveiled its new anti-terror programme, Prevent. Alamgir immediately proclaimed it a plot against Muslims, adding that any mosques who cooperated with Prevent were the slaves of the oppressors, and worse than kuffar. He pointed out the racial divides in Luton, particularly between the mostly South Asian community and the mostly white police force that “told them what to do”. In his typical melodramatic style, he called it “apartheid”, and “the next step in the eradication of Islam”.

Many young Muslims fell for this, because they had lost all faith in the government due to its long line of perceived foreign policy disasters. To make matters worse, neither the council nor the government put much effort into “selling” Prevent to the Muslim community. Thus, Alamgir had the last word, and the anti-terror policy ironically became a recruiting tool for al-Muhajiroun.

But it wasn’t just the jihadis who had a problem with the programme; even Latif believed Prevent was no good. While he doesn’t agree with al-Muhajiroun on the most important matters, he admitted that he shared their distrust of the government due to what he regards as its anti-Muslim foreign policy. He told me:

“After Iraq and Afghanistan, none of us could believe a word the government told us. They were oppressing Muslims abroad, and with Prevent they wanted to oppress Muslims at home too.”

Luton Islamic Centre was one of the few mosques in the town not to sign up for the programme, because Latif and Baksh believed the government couldn’t deradicalise Luton’s youths as it had lost all credibility with British Muslims. Latif believed that Salafis like him and Baksh were in the best position to deradicalise young jihadis as they often referred to the same theological sources and could use this common ground to win their trust.

But even for Salafis, it was not easy to counter a skilled demagogue like Alamgir, who was even able to spin the global financial crisis of 2008 into more evidence of Western oppression.

Alamgir initially painted the recession as evidence that Western capitalism was flawed. However, in a later speech, he concocted a more elaborate narrative, saying it was a deliberate act of sabotage by Jewish bankers, who had stolen the world’s money and didn’t want Muslims to have jobs.

Alamgir, a former accountant, would have been well-aware of the real reason for the financial crisis, but he deliberately caricatured its causes for his own ends, like any true cult leader would.

And like any true cult leader, he saw opportunity in the suffering of common people. Luton has the lowest Gross Disposable Household Income in the east of England, and one of the lowest in the entire UK (in 2012 it was ranked 127th out of 139). Further, as an industrial town, it was hit harder by the recession than the country in general. Worst affected of all was the Muslim neighbourhood of Bury Park, which has always been destitute even by Luton’s standards, with a youth unemployment rate of roughly four times the town’s average.

Alamgir knew that, with rapidly diminishing wealth and career prospects, local Muslims would be more inclined to consider other forms of meaning and status, such as jihad. As a result, he and his gang took full advantage of the recession and stepped up their recruitment drive in the town, often inviting the London branch to join in the campaign.

Unsurprisingly, rather than help beleaguered locals obtain jobs, Alamgir told them that working for Western institutions was kufr (an act of disbelief), and they should instead defraud the state whichever way they could (as he and his friends did), because in the end “all money belongs to Allah”.

Ultimately, however, the global financial crisis was not a big issue for Alamgir or al-Muhajiroun. Their main concern remained the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which they billed as a showdown between innocent Muslims who only wanted to be left alone, and an evil Judeo-Christian alliance tasked by Satan with annihilating them.

Alamgir talks about George W Bush and the Apocalypse at an al-Muhajiroun meeting in Luton, 2007. At this time he was still learning to be an effective orator, so relies excessively on anaphora. He will later improve considerably.

Atrocities like Fallujah and Abu Ghraib were obviously sore spots for many people, but Alamgir and his gang knew that few things infuriated young Muslims more than crimes against Muslim women; in their version of Islam, a Muslim woman’s body was so sacred that it could not even be looked upon by a man who was not her husband. Thus, rapes of Muslim women by Western soldiers were considered especially awful — on the one hand because of the suffering they caused, and on the other because they were a form of sacrilege.

As a result, Alamgir’s gang scoured the Internet for stories about rapes of Muslim women in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Raheem said that one case that got the attention of the local al-Muhajiroun was Aafia Siddiqui, and it is easy to see why. Her story was perfect for al-Muhajiroun: She was an MIT neuroscientist, philanthropist, and al-Qaeda operative who in the nineties had worked with the CIA to channel funds through the Al-Kifah Refugee Centre to jihadis in the East.

At her university she was known for her humanitarianism; she once made all her Boston colleagues send their shoes to destitute Bosnians suffering through a harsh winter. She also gave a rousing speech in which she advocated the jilbab for all women because she wanted them to be judged by their hearts, not their appearances.

Her fierce character and sharp mind won her the reverence of the top al-Qaeda commanders — highly unusual given her gender.

After travelling to Afghanistan, she disappeared between 2003 and 2008, and is believed to have become the “Grey Lady of Bagram” (aka “Prisoner 650”), a ghostly figure whose haunting sobs and piercing screams kept the other detainees awake through the night, and caused them to go on a hunger strike.

In any case, she resurfaced in July 2008, when she was arrested by Afghan police, who found her with plans for mass-casualty attacks and vials of sodium cyanide. She was gaunt and haggard, and alleged she had been tortured and raped. She was then handed over to US soldiers, interrogated, and later put on trial after allegedly stealing a rifle and shooting at them.

Her accusations of rape were never corroborated, despite medical examinations. But this didn’t stop news of her “vicious defilement” permeating Pakistani media, who painted her as the epitome of Western injustices in the Muslim world.

Her story also won her the admiration of jihadi groups everywhere, including Isis, who have been trying to secure her release through prisoner exchanges.

In August 2008, al-Muhajiroun campaigned in the streets of Luton at the “rape” of Siddiqui, portraying her as an unbloomed flower of legendary heroism and genius-level intellect, who was caged and defiled by kuffar brutes for five years. They conveniently left out the fact that Siddiqui was mentally unstable, suffering from paranoid delusions and obsessed with fantastical mass-murder plots like creating a virus that only killed adults.

Street-painting of “Lady Al-Qaeda”, Aafia Siddiqui (artist unknown).

As 2008 came to a close, Alamgir gave a speech in Luton in which he promised passers-by that there would be justice for the rapes of Muslim women in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A couple of months later, he saw his opportunity.


XIII — WAR

Announcements flooded Luton that the town was going to host a homecoming parade for the 2nd Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment (“The Poachers”), who had returned from Basra.

Alamgir immediately recognised this as an opportunity to vent al-Muhajiroun’s rage at Western foreign policy. He told his gang that these soldiers had committed atrocities against innocent Muslim women. He spoke of the “horrors of Basra”, but, according to one local witness, mistakenly claimed it was in Afghanistan rather than Iraq.

Clearly, Alamgir had no idea what role the Poachers had fulfilled in Basra, or what had even transpired there. For him and his gang, every action by non-Muslim soldiers in Muslim countries was an Abu Ghraib-level injustice that had to be called out.

And so the gang got to work on slogans and placards. They were going to show the nation exactly how angry they were.

On 10th March 2009 — the morning of the parade — local members of al-Muhajiroun met up for coffee. Then, as people began to gather for the parade, the gang took up their positions.

The town centre was lined with Union Jacks and Saint George’s Crosses. Most of the well-wishers were white working class and stridently patriotic.

The well-wishers numbered in the thousands, while Alamgir’s gang were about thirty strong. The jihadis waited at a quiet location away from the main parade, where the soldiers would eventually pass.

As the soldiers approached, flanked by flag-waving patriots, the protesters came out to confront them. They held up their placards and chanted “Rapists!”, “Butchers of Basra!”, and “British soldiers go to hell!”

The well-wishers, when they realised what was happening, turned on the gang, drowning out their chants with angry curses and patriotic songs. A sea of angry patriots descended on the massively outnumbered al-Muhajiroun, but police formed a wall between them and held them back. That didn’t stop one man later clambering onto the roof of the Arndale shopping centre and dumping bacon on the jihadis’ heads.

Footage of Luton al-Muhajiroun’s protest against the 2009 soldiers’ parade, from the POV of a well-wisher.

A great irony of the protest was that the 2nd Battalion Royal Anglian regiment had done far more to defeat al-Muhajiroun’s enemies than al-Muhajiroun; in the mid-nineties it had been stationed in Bosnia and Croatia, where it supported bin Laden’s jihadis against the Serbian nationalists. Further, in Basra its operations had been mainly directed against secular Baathists and Shia militias — both sworn enemies of Sunni jihadis.

But Alamgir and his gang, who rarely looked deeply into anything, would not have known this.

In any case, Alamgir’s protest made national headlines. Many of the patriotic white working class, thinking Alamgir spoke for the wider Bury Park community, began to march through Bury Park, intimidating Muslims.

One enraged young man, Kier McElroy, saw a snappily-dressed Muslim swaggering down the street, and sprinted toward him, smashing him with a flying kick to the back. (The victim was not actually a Muslim, but the Sikh Mayor of Luton, Lakhbir Singh.)

Violence of that kind continued for two weeks, and then, at the end of it, Luton Islamic Centre was firebombed.

The attack had caused over £40,000 worth of damage, but could easily have been more costly; a class of children had been due to attend the mosque, but fortunately no one had been inside when it was set alight.

It is still not clear who carried out the attack, but it is likely that it was local hooligans who had been riled up by al-Muhajiroun’s protest.

Alamgir had regarded the mosque as a “house of the devil” since being made unwelcome there, but, ever the opportunist, he now declared the arson an attack on Islam, and called for revenge on those responsible.

Latif indeed planned revenge, but not against those who had carried out the attack. He believed that the real problem was not the right-wing hooligans, but the local al-Muhajiroun who had sullied the name of Islam and turned the wider town against Muslims.

He and the Islamic Centre’s other imams organised a meeting of Muslim community leaders at the Quality Hotel, entitled “Al-Muhajiroun Exposed”. Latif challenged al-Muhajiroun to attend so that he could debate them and defeat their arguments in public.

Over a hundred local Muslims turned up. Latif hired security to search the bags of those who entered out of fear an al-Muhajiroun bomb might be among them. No bombs were found, and no al-Muhajiroun members attended.

Latif decided that if al-Muhajiroun were not going to come to him, he would go to them. He went to the site where al-Muhajiroun distributed their leaflets, and began distributing his own.

Inevitably, this led to a confrontation between Latif’s group and Alamgir’s gang that had to be broken up by police.

Some of Latif’s fellow Salafi quietists, furious at the police protection of al-Muhajiroun, tracked down Alamgir on Biscot Road and physically attacked him. Alamgir — the “Sword of Islam” — panicked and fled Luton.

Latif and other anti-jihadi Muslims told the local al-Muhajiroun to follow their leader and flee the town. They refused and called the anti-jihadis “fake Muslims” and “munafiqun”.

Two weeks later, al-Muhajiroun still hadn’t left the street. Baksh, the chairman of Luton Islamic Centre, now led a large crowd of Salafi quietists, moderate Muslims and other locals that confronted al-Muhajiroun on Dunstable Road, demanding they leave.

Luton’s Muslims, led by members of Latif’s mosque, confront the local al-Muhajiroun and demand they leave.

The following Friday, al-Muhajiroun once again set up their stall on Dunstable Road and began distributing pro-jihad leaflets. Baksh and Latif decided to set up their own makeshift stall opposite al-Muhajiroun’s, and they began handing out leaflets containing facts that “exposed the truth” about al-Muhajiroun. Latif says he and Baksh were told by a police officer to move away. Latif complained that he was peacefully distributing leaflets; it was the disruptive al-Muhajiroun stall that needed to be moved. Police then threatened Latif and Baksh with arrest, so the imams were forced to leave.

However, their protest had the desired effect. The locals began forming mobs around the Al-Muhajiroun stall, verbally abusing them, preventing them from preaching. The jihadis, taken aback by the backlash they were now receiving, decided to finally move from the busy shopping area of Dunstable Road. They made their new home on a quiet part of the adjoining Leagrave Road.

It was a victory of sorts for Latif, his mosque, and the wider community.

But Luton’s sectarian conflict had only just begun. Alamgir soon returned to Luton with burly jihadi bodyguards from al-Muhajiroun HQ in London, and a new far-right extremist movement was now solidifying in the town.

Things were about to escalate.

Click here for Part 3.