4 November 2010

Quilliam welcomes YouTube’s decision to remove from its site a large number of videos by Anwar al-Awlaki, the extremist preacher who has inspired a number of terrorist plots including the Fort Hood shootings in the US and the recent attempt to murder the Labour MP Stephen Timms in London.

A Quilliam spokesman said:

“It is heartening that YouTube has decided to take down videos by Anwar al-Awlaki. The British government has done the right thing by contacting YouTube and making its concerns clear. Freedom of speech does not include allowing active supporters of al-Qaeda to incite violence and hatred against others and to recruit a new generation of followers online.

“It is unfortunate, however, that it took several terrorist attacks before action was taken. Innocent people have suffered as a result of this avoidable delay. In future, governments need to put in place better mechanisms for identifying and challenging such extremists before terrorist acts occur.

“It is also deeply telling that a number of prominent Islamist groups in the UK continued to promote al-Awlaki, and to facilitate his outreach and recruitment, even after it was clear that he was openly supportive of al-Qaeda and its affiliates. This shows that many Islamists, although they may not themselves be involved in violence, are often either unwilling or unable to identify violent extremists and to take action against them.”

For over two years, Quilliam has sought to raise awareness of the dangers posed by Anwar al-Awlaki.

In December 2008, Quilliam contacted East London Mosque and the London Muslim Centre to ask them not to host a live video link from Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. They refused and the event went ahead. The mosque defended its decision on the grounds that “none of the speakers that are involved with the event are banned from entering the UK or are convicted of any hate crimes” even though Quilliam pointed out to them that Awlaki had recently issued a declaration of support for al-Shabab, the Somali terrorist organisation.

In July 2009, Quilliam similarly contacted Kensington and Chelsea council in London to ask them to prevent a video message by Awlaki from being broadcast during an event to be held by the ‘Cageprisoners’ organisation (1) on 30 August 2009 at Kensington and Chelsea town hall. The event was co-sponsored by the Cordoba Foundation (2). On 22 July 2009, Quilliam received the following response from the council:

“Have had further discussions with police counter terrorism officers and GOL [Government Office London] and they are not advising me to cancel this booking or require Anwar al-Awlaki to be removed from the list of speakers. I will review this if the advice I am getting from the Police and Government changes.”

The council later took action to prevent Awlaki’s video being broadcast during the event, although only after the intervention of politicians. In response, however, Cageprisoners posted the video on their website where it could be viewed by people across the world. The Cordoba Foundation later claimed that they had “serious reservations” about Awlaki’s appearance, although there is no publicly-available evidence they took any steps to prevent him from speaking at an event that they were co-sponsoring. By this time, as Quilliam pointed out to Kensington and Chelsea council by email, Awlaki had already produced his openly pro-terrorist work ’44 ways to support jihad’.

Notes:

(1) Cageprisoners claims to be a ‘human rights organisation’. Previous to the 2009 event, Cageprisoners broadcast a video message by Anwar al-Awlaki at a fundraiser in 2008 and its website continues to host the videos which were intended to be broadcast at Kensington and Chelsea town hall in 2009.
(2)The Cordoba Foundation is an Islamist organisation which has been described by David Cameron as “a front for the Muslim Brotherhood”.