How a teacher sought to recruit a terror 'death squad'

BBC News/March 2, 2018

By Dominic Casciani

A part-time religious teacher who tried to groom children to become future suicide attackers has been convicted of preparing acts of terrorism.

Umar Ahmed Haque, 25, was dragged from the dock at the Old Bailey shouting support for the Islamic State group.

He had been inspired to carry out an atrocity by the 2017 Westminster Bridge attack.

He had taken limited steps towards fulfilling that plan and sought to radicalise children in a small mosque.

Police believe he came into contact with more than 100 children, some of whom have received deradicalisation support.

Haque was arrested two weeks before the London Bridge and Borough Market attack.

Also convicted at the Old Bailey on Friday were:

Abuthaher Mamun, accused of helping Haque research and finance the plans

  • Haque's confidante, Muhammad Abid, who failed to alert the police
  • Haque had also been charged with showing an extremist video to children at the Lantern of Knowledge School in east London, but the jury was unable to reach a verdict on that count.

He had already admitted charges of possessing IS-related extremist material and showing extremist videos to children at the Ripple Road mosque in Barking.

A fourth defendant, Nadeem Patel, was found not guilty of conspiring with Haque to get hold of a gun for a terror plot. He admitted before the trial the illegal possession of a blank-firing gun.

What did Umar Haque do?

In hours of secret recordings from March 2017, played to the trial, Haque eulogised Khalid Masood, the man who had just carried out the first of 2017's terrorism attacks on London - and he outlined to his friend Muhammad Abid his ambitious plans to do the same with the help of radicalised London children.

Haque told his friend that they would be a "death squad sent by Allah" and he aspired to attack Big Ben, Westfield shopping centres, Heathrow Airport and other locations, as well as the media, Shia Muslims, far-right groups and the Queen's guard.

He bragged of enlisting children as young as 11 and the trial heard that he had played them so-called Islamic State videos showing beheadings to encourage them to buy into his ideology.

"I built such a closer trust [with the children] especially the Barking lot," claimed Haque. "Just pray for my protection. No one has broken their vow."

Police found Haque had been teaching religion in two locations during the time he was under investigation:

  • The Lantern of Knowledge school in east London, from 2015 to late 2016
  • The Ripple Road mosque in Barking from late 2016 until his arrest

He had also taught from 2012 onwards at another east London Islamic school, but there was no evidence in the trial that he had sought to brainwash children during while there. He had no formal teaching qualifications.

At Ripple Road mosque, where he worked as an administrator, Haque staged role-playing games in which boys as young as 11 were ordered to pretend to be part of an attack on London.

Police say many of the children were too frightened to tell their parents - particularly after Haque showed them a video of a decomposed boy, warning they would end the same way if they did not swear to become martyrs.

What did the children do?

The key evidence in the case came from six children, who cannot be named for legal reasons, but agreed to tell the police what had happened.

In a video-recorded police interview, the court heard from a young boy.

"He is teaching us terrorism, like how to fight," he said. "If you fight for the sake of Allah, on Judgment Day, when you get judged for your good deeds and bad deeds, fighting is good.

"He wants a group of 300 men. He's training us now so by the time I'm in Year 10 [14 to 15 years old] we will be physically strong enough to fight."

Haque may have radicalised about 110 children, 35 of which are receiving long-term safeguarding support, said Commander Dean Haydon, head of counter-terrorism at the Metropolitan Police.

"Haque paralysed those children through fear - showing them really distressing videos," he said, "We faced a wall of silence as a result. It was very challenging to fully understand what was going on in those classrooms."

How serious was Haque's plotting ?

Umar Haque became a priority for the security services after he was stopped from leaving the UK in April 2016 because of suspicions he was heading to Syria.

The security services continued to monitor him, including recording his conversations, and police arrested him as his plans, and the research steps he had taken, emerged.

The Old Bailey trial heard Haque had identified targets and began refining his plans, such as researching methods of attack.

Police searches of Haque's home found a notebook detailing his beliefs in martyrdom and an attack to-do list including, "purchase weapons, purchase a van, development recruitment pack".

His co-accused Abuthaher Mamun was charged with helping by trying to raise funds through investments.

But it was only after Haque's arrest that clear evidence emerged of his contact with children.

The BBC asked the Lantern of Knowledge school, which is Ofsted inspected, what it knew of Haque's activities but it declined to comment other than to stress that it treated the safety and welfare of the pupils with the utmost importance.

"The Lantern of Knowledge Educational Trust... adheres to statutory guidance for the safe recruitment of staff," it said.

How Haque became a religious teacher at Ripple Road mosque is also unclear. He was employed as administrator but then began to teach religious lessons to children.

The BBC has sought a response from the mosque's trustees but has not received one.

Haque will be sentenced towards the end of March.

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