By Haras Rafiq and Rashad Ali, who are Directors of CENTRI, an organisation that specialises in countering extremism.
Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly, the Stockholm suicide bomber, spent a short though eventful period at the Luton Islamic Centre, a Salafist mosque, about which the Observer revealed more details on Sunday. By their own admission, they found that he was a takfiri – a branch of Salafism identified almost exclusively with Al Qaeda and jihadist terrorism.
But although they identified it, they were unable to persuade him that he was wrong. Furthermore, they say that they did not recognise his potential for violence, and therefore did not report him to the police. The reason they gave was that, if they took such action, their strategy in tackling extremism would fail.
As the Centre’s press release states: "Rather than come to us and give us the opportunity to clarify their misconceptions, these individuals would go underground and associate only with like-minded people.”
Excuse us if we’re missing the point, but isn’t that exactly what happened with al-Abdaly?
We don't blame the Centre for the terrorist attack in Stockholm. But how on earth could it have de-radicalised the bomber when material published on its website, featuring scholars that it promotes, propounds much the same set of beliefs?
For example, a video starring Bilal Phillips, a hate preacher banned from Britain by Theresa May, justifies the concept of suicide bombing as undertaken by Hamas (see after 17:20). Or consider another lecture given by Abu Saifillah Abdul-Qaadir, who serves as the Imam of the Centre itself, which supports attacks on western troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
None the less – and here is the absolute kicker – there are people holding senior positions in the civil service and the police that are promoting these types of groups as the front line against violent extremism. They believe that Salafi groups speak the same political and theological language as the terrorists, and are therefore able to talk them down from violence.
As we see from the Al-Abdaly case, they're right to believe that both speak the same language. For further evidence examine, for example, the similarity of the views of Al Qaeda and such leading Salafist figures as Ibn Uthaymeen, a leading Salafi scholar. He believes that attacks on women in western countries are legitimate – as of course do Al Qaeda.
As we also see from the Al-Abdaly case, this strategy is deeply problematic. Millions of pounds have been invested in empowering and promoting these types of institutions to deliver benchmark de-radicalisation programmes. We've yet to discover, since the Prevent review being carried out by Lord Carlile has not yet been published, whether the Coalition will allow this strategy to continue.
As the evidence that we've cited indicates, it's deeply dangerous. The notion that Muslims who've become Al Qaeda terrorists can only be wooed back from the brink by Salafis whose theology differs from Al Qaeda on relatively minor points – such as the precise conditions under which offensive jihad can be launched and civilians targeted – is incompatible both with the Government's counter-terror strategy and the rule of law.
It also assumes that extremism is a default position for Muslims, which is an insult to the vast majority of British Muslims, who want nothing to do with Al Qaeda.
Let’s hope that Lord Carlile picks up on all this, and that the Government takes note.