London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Born in Hackney, East London, and originally from Jamaica, the new leader of the extremist group Al Ghurabaa (the strangers), is a fluent Arabic speaker and a communication engineer by training. A close student of Omar Bakri Mohammed, the Syrian extremist cleric who left London following the 7 July bombings and is barred from returning, Abu Izzadeen converted to Islam as 17-year-old Trevor Brooks.
After becoming a Muslim, Trevor Brook changed his name to Omar but preferred to me known as Abu Izzadeen. Influenced by his brother Abu Abdul Rahman, also a convert to Islam, the extremist leader is married to an Arab with whom he has three children. He told Asharq al Awsat that 1994, the year he embraced Islam, was a watershed. He continues to regret the 17 years he spent prior to embarking on the path of righteousness, he added. “I still vividly remember the day I pronounced the Shahadah, in my father’s house. It was a day before I turned 18, on 17 April 1994.”
With the other leading British Islamists, including Anjam Choudary, secretary-general of Al Muhajiroun, which disbanded itself in October 2004, Abdul Rahman Abu Salim and Abu Ibrahim, the leader of Al Ghurabaa traveled to Beirut to meet the firebrand cleric Omar Bakri. Three months into their stay in Tripoli, north Lebanon, the men were deported by the Lebanese security services and their passports were confiscated. “They called up Sheikh Omar Bakri and interrogated him at the General Security headquarters. The following day, they interrogated us then confiscated out passports and deported us, without any reason.”
Of his visit to Lebanon, Abu Izzadeen said, “The Lebanese looked at our white robes and our beards as if we were descending from another planet.” He blamed the British government for interfering to cut short their trip. “If we had been drunk or had gone to a nightclub, we would not have been detained by the Lebanese authorities. They would have welcomed us instead of deporting us. We felt like we were being watched all the time.” But, he asked, “Why did [the police] wait three months” before taking any action?
The experience in Lebanon “left us shocked and embittered because we traveled to a Muslim country and [were amongst] brothers yet they treated us this way. They suspected us for no rational reason,” Abu Izzadeen said.
Familiar to the British public for his inflammatory remarks on evening news programs, Al Ghurabaa’s leader criticized the British media for waging “a fierce campaign against Islamists. Where are the so-called fundamentalists now? Abu Qatada is in jail, Abu Hamza is in Belmarsh [a high-security prison], Sheikh Omar Bakri is in Beirut and Khaled Al Fawaz has been imprisoned for the last 7 years. Even when we go in search of a Muslim country to settle in, they force us to return under their watchful eye. Londonstan is well and truly over. But dawaa will remain, God willing. The Western media enjoys exposing us every now and then but Muslims shouldn’t listen to them.”
A major turning point in Abu Izzadeen’s life occurred in 1995, when he met Omar Bakri, the then leader of Al Mujahiroun who would take him under his wing and register him for classes in Islamic studies. Most of the students at the institute run by Bakri were converts, he said.
Citing passages from the Quran and the Hadith (sayings of the Prophet) to justify excommunicating other Muslims who do not share his views, Al Ghurabaa’s leader revealed that Omar Bakri was closer to his heart and mind than his own father, since according to his interpretation of Islam, love and hate relationships ought to be decided through faith.
In an exclusive telephone conversation with Asharq Al Awsat, Bakri said, “Abu Izzadeen is a sincere seeker of knowledge. He is known for his eloquence and strong opinions. He feels estranged in our societies because he follows the methods of our good ancestors. No wonder the infidels and their allies want to defame him.”
In the wake of the July 7 bombings in London, Abu Izzadeen raised controversy when he said the victims of the attacks were infidels and refused to condemn the perpetrators. Refusing to be called a British Muslim, the extremist figure said he was Muslim and only loyal to God, not the Queen. “In Islam, nationality is no more than a travel ticket,” he said, but refused to divulge which passport he had used on his recent visit to Lebanon. God, he said, “made the relationship between a man and his brother based on religion and not race or citizenship.”
Asked about the classes that he attended as a student in the Sharia college in Nottingham, which was supervised by Omar Bakri before he left London, Abu Izzadeen said the classes included Tawhid (Unity of God), Usul Fiqh (fundamentals of jurisprudence) and Hadith (sayings of the Prophet). He stated that most students were not Arabs but rather converts or Asian students from Malaysia or Indonesia.
Asharq Al Awsat asked Abu Izzadeen what he would do if the British government decided to ban Al Ghurabaa, to which he replied, “The call would continue according to Allah’s will. The Islamists may have to go underground due to the harsh measures of the new anti-terrorism law in Britain, which limits freedom of expression and can even prohibit the banners that are raised by Islamists during demonstrations. This is a restriction of freedom that they never anticipated, however, the more they push the Islamists, the more the other side can expect some sort of outburst. Islam in the beginning was unfamiliar and will once again return to this state.”
Abu Izzadeen advised those amongst the Muslim youth who are committed to their faith to leave Britain and immigrate to Muslim countries. He emphasized, “Migration is a duty if you are unable to practice your religion.” Abu Izzadeen insisted, “Al Ghurabaa is not only an organization or a movement,” and that “the Muslim should preach to others as part of a group or individually.” He continues, “The truth is that Britain is strongly involved with the United States in a crusade against the Muslims and Islam.” He adds, “Al Ghurabaa is not an Islamic group or a traditional organization. The name ‘Al Ghurabaa’ is attributed to orthodox Muslims such as those of our times.”
As Abu Izzadeen speaks about British Prime Minister Tony Blair, hatred appears on his face. He describes the Prime Minister as a “tyrant” and names the US President George W. Bush “Pharaoh.” Abu Izzadeen believes that the Islamic Caliphate will be established one day despite the attempts of Bush and Blair.”
Abu Izzadeen stated that most of his neighbors in Croydon, Surrey, in Greater London, avoid him and that he does not care about this. He tells Asharq Al Awsat that he went on the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia last year. He also said that he visited Pakistan to give a series of lectures in 2001 before the 9/11 attacks and when the Taliban was still in power. He visited Pakistan as part of Al Muhajiroun.
Abu Izzadeen waged a fierce attack against Muslims who work as part of the police force or military as they, according to him, are supporting the disbelievers in the war against Islam and Muslims. He says, “It is haram (religiously prohibited) to join the armies of secular regimes,” as “military service under those regimes contradicts Walaa and Baraa (sincere loyalty to Islam).”
Like all fundamentalist leaders, Abu Izzadeen rejects democracy as a western legislation and approach. He believes it is the way of the disbelievers and that elections and democracy contribute to the destruction of faith. He alluded to a previous fatwa issued by Omar Bakri regarding this matter in response to a question raised whilst Bakri was still at the Shariah College in Nottingham, in which he said, “We are forum for Ahl Al Sunna wa Al Jamaa, therefore, why should we accept the way of secularists and their followers?”