Two British jihadists who appeared in a terrorism recruitment video urging Muslims to fight in Syria were followers of an austere sect which is the fastest growing branch of Islam in Britain, it emerged last night.
Nasser Muthana and Reyaad Khan, both 20, went to the Al-Manar Centre in Cardiff, which is aligned to the ultra-conservative Salafi wing of Islam.
Jailed and banned radical preachers, including the convicted terrorist Abu Hamza and the terror suspect Abu Qatada, are also followers. The Salafis, who are hostile to music, television and even birthdays, are poised to control half of mosques within a generation, a study of the sects comprising British Islam found.
Its followers, whose faith teaches them to impose severe restrictions on the lives of women, have seen their places of worship in Britain increase by 50 per cent in four years.
The discovery of the Salafi link to the British jihadists, believed to be fighting in Syria, came on a day when:
The father of two Cardiff militants blamed “pop-up” extremism events held in privately hired venues for radicalising his sons;
Fears were raised over Britain’s counterterror policing as it faces a change in leadership, major reform and legal threats to the crucial use of mobile phone data;
A third Briton in the video was described as a former Aberdeen schoolboy who enjoyed drinking and fighting in his youth.
The Times has established that Nasser Muthana and Reyaad Khan, who appeared in the video for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (Isis), the insurgent group on a bloody rampage towards Baghdad, attended the Al-Manar Centre along with Muthana’s brother Aseel, 17, who has also gone to Syria.
The Muthana brothers used to go with their family to a mosque with a Sufi orientation, a strand of the faith regarded by policymakers as moderate.
The study of the sects shows that the most conservative and isolationist elements are dominant and growing.
Only two out of nearly 1,700 mosques are controlled by modernists. By contrast, the latest survey in the United States shows that 56 per cent of mosque leaders there have a modern outlook. The growth in Britain’s Somali population has altered the picture since “a lot of them were turning to Salafism”, Innes Bowen, the author of the study Medina in Birmingham, Najaf in Brent, said.
Salafis, sometimes known as Wahhabis after their 18th-century founder, aspire to return to the earliest practices of Islam. The simplicity of their message is attractive to converts.
“They tend to avoid music, television and photographs of living things,” Ms Bowen, a BBC producer, writes. As part of their pious lifestyle, families adopt Saudi practices such as women wearing black gowns and headscarves and being accompanied by a male relative in public.
“The strict discipline of Salafism means that many adherents live a life where contact with mainstream society is kept to a minimum. Many Salafis believe that television should be avoided and that they are permitted only to watch programmes that have a clear educational benefit, such as wildlife documentaries,” Ms Bowen adds.
“Cartoons for children are acceptable as long as they do not contain music, but entertainment programmes for adults are not allowed. Even photographs of human faces are banned by some.” Many believe that birthday celebrations are forbidden.
Nearly 100 mosques in the UK are Salafi-controlled and half of all mosques could be within a generation if trends continue, according to the study. Salafis have already taken control of some university Islamic societies. Extreme Salafi preachers since the 1990s include Abu Hamza, now jailed for terrorism in the US, Abu Qatada, facing a terrorism trial in Jordan, and Abdullah al Faisal, jailed for soliciting murder after The Times exposed him telling boys to kill Jews, Hindus and infidels.
Omar Bakri Mohammed, Salafi founder of the outlawed al Muhajiroun group, was banned from Britain but his marginalised followers formed new groups that earned publicity with provocations such as burning Remembrance Day poppies.
The Salafis, however, also have a pious wing opposed to al-Qaeda and extremists. One Salafi imam became a founder of the anti-Islamist Quilliam Foundation.
The leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a group later blamed for the 2008 Mumbai bombings, raised funds and recruited among large crowds of British Salafis which sent 50 Mujahidin volunteers to fight the civil war in Bosnia.