An intriguing name has surfaced in the worldwide investigation into Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's life. That name is Moazzam Begg, and it is a name that is well known to those left-wing journalists and human rights lawyers who take everything former Gitmo detainees say at face value.
Abdulmutallab is the privileged son of a wealthy Nigerian family. As such, his journey to jihad has prompted much reporting. As the press has probed Abdulmutallab's radicalization, Begg's name has surfaced as one of the extremists he associated with, perhaps only briefly, in London. Although we don't know yet how extensive the relationship between Abdulmutallab and Begg is, it is a conspicuous connection to say the least.
Begg is a famous former Guantanamo detainee who has become a masterful anti-American propagandist. His organization, Cage Prisoners, claims to be a "human rights organization that exists solely to raise awareness of the plight of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and other detainees held as part of the War on Terror." In reality, Begg's organization exists solely to demonize the U.S. military and smear America's post-9/11 war efforts.
Begg himself is a demonstrable fraud. He claims that he was an innocent who was wrongly detained and then "tortured" by the U.S. in Afghanistan and Cuba. The only part of Begg's story that is true, however, is that he was once detained by America. The rest of Begg's tale is a demonstrable lie. Yet, Begg has many fans in the West including, apparently, Abdulmutallab.
In early 2007, Abdulmutallab was the president of the Islamic Society at the University College of London (UCL). The press has uncovered a number of disturbing aspects of Abdulmutallab's tenure as the head of the society. First and foremost, his organization hosted a "War on Terror Week" that was really a "Blame America" fest. The New York Times has aptly described the Islamic Society's "guest speakers" at this and other events as "radical imams, former Guantanamo Bay prisoners and a cast of mostly left-wing, anti-American British politicians and human rights advocates."
From January 29, to February 2, 2007, the Islamic Society hosted "a series of lectures" as part of its "War on Terror Week." One of the lectures, according to the Times (UK), was entitled "Jihad v. Terrorism" and billed as "a lecture on the Islamic position with respect to jihad."
The lecture was given by Asim Qureshi, who is a "senior researcher" at Begg's organization, Cage Prisoners. Qureshi's own words make his real purpose plain to see as he is, at times, an overt jihadist. During one particularly troublesome episode, Qureshi was captured in an online video ranting at a rally hosted by Hizb ut Tahrir, an organization that the BBC has found "promotes racism and anti-Semitic hatred, calls suicide bombers martyrs and urges Muslims to kill Jewish people." Indeed, the video shows Qureshi praising his "brothers and sisters fighting in Chechnya, Iraq, Palestine, Kashmir, [and] Afghanistan." Qureshi tells the crowd: "We know that it is incumbent upon all of us to support the jihad of our brothers and sisters in these countries when they are facing the oppression of the West." Qureshi and the crowd then break into a chant of "Allah Akhbar."
This is the Begg associate that Abdulmutallab invited to speak about jihad during his 2007 "War on Terror Week."
With respect to jihad, Abdulmutallab and his cronies are all for it. As the Times (UK) informed readers earlier this week: Abdulmutallab "is the fourth president of a London student Islamic society to face terrorist charges in three years. One is facing a retrial on charges that he was involved in the 2006 liquid bomb plot to blow up airliners. Two others have been convicted of terrorist offences since 2007."
Another of the speakers invited to give a presentation during "War on Terror Week" was Moazzam Begg himself. According to the Daily Mail (UK), "A poster advertising the week carried the name Umar Farook and includes events featuring former British Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg entitled Bring Our Boys Home." The "Umar Farook" in question is the same student-turned-bomber who almost got away with mass murder on December 25. Copies of the poster (which also lists Qureshi as a speaker) can be found online.
You can also still read Abdulmutallab's announcement for "War on Terror Week," which trumpets Begg's appearance as well as that of other speakers (including the far-left, tyrant coddling MP George Galloway, who reportedly denies speaking at the event) on an online Islamic forum. The handle of the poster on this forum, "Farouk1986," is the one that Abdulmutallab reportedly used regularly. Indeed, this is probably one of the web postings that the Telegraph (UK) had in mind when it reported that Abdulmutallab "made postings referring to a visit to UCL by the former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg."
Up until the last day or two, an online advertisement for the Islamic Society's "War on Terror Week" was still publicly available on You Tube. That video is now listed as "private," but before it was obscured from public view you could see what Abdulmutallab's event was all about. Reenactments of Gitmo detainees in orange jumpsuits being harangued by American soldiers at Camp X-Ray during the first weeks of Gitmo were spliced together with a video montage of Begg, Qureshi, and other speakers.
The image that was conveyed in the video was deliberately misleading--and intended to portray American soldiers in the worst possible light, while making the detainees appear to be innocent lambs. The primitive Camp X-Ray was only operational for four months in 2002 and has been replaced by multi-million dollar facilities. Long gone, too, are the orange jumpsuits. But the far left and jihadists love the images of Gitmo detainees in that garb because it makes them appear to be innocent victims abused by a ruthless and depraved America. That's why Abdulmutallab's organization, and Begg, use them.
It is not clear what Begg said when it was his turn to speak at Abdulmutallab's conference. A cursory search does not produce any online footage or transcripts of his talk. But it is likely that Begg went through his usual routine, claiming that he was an innocent who was wrongly detained and "tortured" by America.
Begg's story is a complete fabrication.
Begg has claimed that not only did the military and CIA personnel abuse him, but also FBI agents. The Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) investigated Begg's claim that the FBI forced him to sign a single-spaced eight page confession indicating, "among other things, that Begg sympathized with the cause of al Qaeda, attended terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, Pakistan and England so that he could assist in waging global jihad against enemies of Islam, including Russia and India; associated with and assisted several prominent terrorists and supporters of terrorists and discussed potential terrorist acts with them; recruited young operatives for the global jihad; and provided financial support for terrorist training camps."
The OIG "concluded that the evidence did not support the allegation that [FBI agents] coerced Begg into signing the statement." Begg even made handwritten modifications to his confession and initialed the accusations he conceded were true. Begg's confession is, in other words, a damning piece of evidence against him. It is for this reason, among others, that the national security establishment objected to Begg's release from Gitmo in 2005. The Department of Defense also performed three investigations into Begg's claims of abuse while in military custody and "found no evidence to substantiate his claims."
Despite the fact that Begg once admitted his noteworthy ties to terrorism and that his allegations of abuse and torture are unfounded, Begg has gained notoriety in the West. He is quite the celebrity and is regularly cited by the media as a credible source when it comes to all things Gitmo. Begg currently stars in an anti-American propaganda film on the ACLU's web site and regularly writes op-eds for Western newspapers. One well-known journalist here in the United States, David Ignatius of the Washington Post, even wrote a fawning forward for Begg's self-serving book, Enemy Combatant.
Incredibly, Ignatius wrote approvingly of Begg's shameless and deceptive self-promotion even though Begg admitted in that very same book that he approves of violent jihad. In Enemy Combatant, Begg writes:
"Linguistically jihad means 'struggle', the word that some scholars had attempted to confine its meaning to. They said that it was restricted only to the struggle within, the nafs, the inner self. Whilst that was partly true, I learned that throughout history--from the time of the Prophet, and the first Caliphates--up until modern times, the majority of Muslims (and the non-Muslims they used it on) always understood jihad as warfare."
Abdulmutallab was likely radicalized long before he consorted with the likes of Begg and Qureshi at the Islamic Society's January 2007 conference. For example, in a web posting dated February 20, 2005, he wrote of his "jihad fantasies." Abdulmutallab elaborated: "I imagine how the great jihad will take place. How the Muslims will win, and rule the whole world," then adding, "do I have to clarify anything further?"
Still, there is a chance that Begg and his ilk helped solidify Abdulmutallab's jihadist inclinations. Begg and Abdulmutallab also share another jihadist connection: Anwar al Awlaki, the al Qaeda cleric who was a "spiritual advisor" for at least two of the 9/11 hijackers and counseled the Fort Hood shooter.
Begg has been one of Awlaki's most vocal backers. Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens of The Centre for Social Cohesion in the UK has released a dossier on Awlaki's supporters in the UK. Begg and his Cage Prisoners organization are featured prominently.
In 2006, Cage Prisoners organized a public relations campaign to pressure the Yemeni government into releasing Awlaki. Then, when Awlaki was released in 2007, Cage Prisoners told readers that they could submit congratulations to Awlaki through them. As Meleagrou-Hitchens notes, this likely means that Awlaki was in direct contact with the organization. In December 2007, Begg interviewed Awlaki for the Cage Prisoners' website and Awlaki praised Begg's group for its support. (A transcript of the interview is available online here and you can also find audio of the interview, with pictures of Begg and Awlaki, on You Tube.) Meleagrou-Hitchens rightly observes that the interview is "extensive and friendly."
In September of 2008, just a few months before Awlaki was contacted by Major Nidal Malik Hasan (the Fort Hood Shooter) via email, Cage Prisoners hosted a fundraising event called "Another Ramadan 2008" during which Awlaki delivered a "live lecture" via his cell phone. Cage Prisoners called it a "big draw" for its attendees.
Then, in August 2009 (just weeks after Awlaki blessed attacks on non-Muslim soldiers on his web site), Cage Prisoners organized a conference called "Beyond Guantanamo" that was scheduled to feature a video of Awlaki. Local authorities forced Cage Prisoners to withdraw Awlaki's lecture. The group did so, but only under protest.
Press reports now indicate that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab spent time with Awlaki in Yemen.
The Washington Times has cited an anonymous intelligence official as saying, "It was Awlaki who indoctrinated [Abdulmutallab]." The intelligence official added: "He was told, 'You are going to be the tip of the spear of the Muslim nation.'" This same official told the Times that Abdulmutallab explained to the FBI how he was in a room in Yemen where he received Muslim blessings and prayers from Awlaki along with other wanna-be terrorists who were "all covered up in white martyrs' garments" and known only by their nom de guerres.
Thus, the al Qaeda cleric who Begg and his organization have supported for years is the same imam who reportedly blessed Abdulmutallab's Christmas Day operation. Perhaps this is just a monumental coincidence and Abdulmutallab's time with Begg in London (however long) did not amount to anything more than two jihadists commiserating on the state of the world.
In addition, none of this is intended to suggest that Begg played any direct role in Abdulmutallab's act of terror. The operational details may have been left to other alumni of Gitmo. Begg is a propagandist and a valuable one at that. From the UK he is an effective Trojan horse for jihadists around the globe, skillfully spewing his anti-American rhetoric with a deceptively smart-sounding British accent.
As Paul Rester, the director of the Joint Intelligence Group at Guantanamo, explained to Lieutenant Colonel Gordon Cucullu, the author of Inside Gitmo, "[Begg] is doing more good for al Qaeda as a British poster boy than he would ever do carrying an AK-47."
Indeed. Then again, perhaps there is more to this nexus than even the press knows at this juncture. Perhaps Begg's jihadist propaganda operation helped push Abdulmutallab further down his dark path.
The press, and U.S. authorities, would be well-served to investigate further.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.