BBC Puffery over Jihadi Charities
This was first published at the Gatestone Institute by the Director of Stand for Peace
BBC’s leading current affairs program, Newsnight recently broadcast an eight-minute film in which a BBC reporter accompanied a British “aid convoy” headed to the most dangerous parts of Syria.
The Aid for Syria convoy, comprised of half a dozen ambulances, travelled over three thousand miles through Europe and Turkey before finally crossing the border into Syria, purportedly to deliver food, shelter and medical supplies. The journalist Catrin Nye markedly noted the diverse background of their convoy’s participants, introducing a “a doctor from Manchester, a pharmacist from Halifax and a restaurant owner from West Yorkshire.”
During the broadcast, the BBC did not, however, reveal the names of the charities involved with the convoy. The Aid for Syria Convoy is, in fact, managed by charities that many might justifiably regard as “extremist”: One Nation, Al Fatiha Global and Aid4Syria.
These charities regularly organize fundraising events with Islamist themes, and invite radical preachers as guests. In mid-November, for instance, the Aid for Syria convoy ran an event named O’Ummah [Community of Muslims], Wake Up and Rise, starring as its key speakers, Zahir Mahmood and Moazzam Begg.
Zahir Mahmood is an outspoken supporter of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, the charter of which calls for genocide against the Jewish people. Mahmood claims that, “Hamas are not terrorists. They’re freedom fighters.”
Moazzam Begg, meanwhile, was a detainee at Guantanamo Bay who now runs a group called CagePrisoners, which lobbies in support of imprisoned Al Qaeda terrorists. Begg has previously admitted that he was responsible for “small arms and mountain tactics” at al-Qaeda training camps, to which he also sent money, on the Afghan-Pakistani border. Begg has also admitted that he fought alongside jihadists in Bosnia. Through CagePrisoners, Begg presently campaigns for the release of his fellow Guantanamo detainee, Shaker Aamer, whom Begg himself had previously described as a “recruiter” for al-Qaeda. The human rights activist Gita Sahgal has called Begg: “Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban.”
The aid convoy will be hosting another fundraising event this coming December 22 in Birmingham, where the jihadist Moazzam Begg is once again a guest, along with Yusuf Ahmed Az Zahaby, a British Islamist preacher.
Zahaby is a leading member of Al Hikma Media, where his colleagues include: Shady Suleiman, who calls for the killing of women who engage in pre-marital sex; Abdur Raheem Green, who speaks of a “Jewish stench” and claims it is permissible to beat women to “bring them to goodness;” and Suhaib Webb, who, according to FBI surveillance documents, spoke at a dinner in 2001 alongside the late Al Qaeda operative, Anwar Al-Awlaki, and raised £100,000 in donations for the legal defence of Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, an Islamist radical who shot and killed two police officers in Georgia, USA.
Convoy organizers have named some of their vehicles and charitable gifts after Aafia Siddiqui, an Al Qaeda activist described by FBI Director Robert S. Mueller as “an al-Qaeda operative and facilitator.” When arrested in 2008, Siddiqui was found in possession of bomb-making instructions and a list of New York landmarks. During her trial, Siddiqui demanded the court ensure none of the lawyers or jurors involved was Jewish.
The BBC film mentions neither Aafia Siddqui nor the convoy organizers’ support for a convicted terrorist.
Catrin Nye does briefly explain the nasheed [Islamic vocal music] to which convoy participants listen throughout the journey; although she fails to explain its contents. The nasheed in question is entitled, “I Weep for Syria” and is performed by Mishary Rashid Alafasy, a Kuwaiti singer of religious verse.
A spoken word section at the beginning of the nasheed claims the Baathists “rape honourable women in front of their husbands, and in front of their fathers and brothers. They [the Baathists] do not acknowledge religion and have nothing to do with humanity.” The nasheed itself further details the crimes of the Baathists against the ummah [the Islamist concept of the entire Islamic people], and notes that, “[The Syrian people] hold fast to their religion/ Their blood is the perfume of graves.” This nasheed is apparently popular with jihadi groups.
While none of these claims about the Baathists’ violence is implausible, this is not the rhetoric one expects of a charitable organization.
Nye also fails to address accusations that aid convoys are linked to terrorism. During a brief search of the convoys’ vehicles at the British border, Nye narrates: “They head first to Dover, but they face an early setback … One ambulance is stopped by counter-terrorism officers. The group do face suspicion that they are going to Syria to fight.” It is also briefly noted, without explanation, that border police turned away one member of the convoy at the Greek-Turkish border.
Nye asks no further questions of the convoy organizers. Nye has also ignored requests for comment.
While the convoy travels through Turkey, the charities liaise closely with the Turkish charity IHH. The Times has reported that the IHH, a banned terrorist organization under Dutch law, is involved in gun-running missions to Syria. In 2001, during the trial of Ahmed Ressam, it was revealed that the IHH was involved in a plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport.
The BBC does not follow the convoy into Syria itself. Once the convoy leaves the BBC cameraman and journalist behind, with the support of the IHH, the convoy of ambulances crosses into Syria.
German media has recently reported that similar convoys of ambulances from Germany, ostensibly full of medical supplies, are actually used to bring weapons into Syria. Once the convoys arrive in Turkey, out of the reach of European security services, according to German newspaper General-Anzeiger, the German charities’ ambulances allegedly take on new cargo – switching medical supplies for Kalashnikov rifles. Like the British convoys, the German charities are also involved with Salafist organizations and extremist preachers.
Nye appears convinced that her aid convoy, unlike its German cousins, rejects extremist thought; there is no mention of any links of terrorism. Nye even films one of the convoy drivers, Kasim Jameel, explaining that the organizers are dedicated to preventing anyone with extremist ideas or violent designs from participating in their charitable mission. Jameel has added in television interviews that, “Al Fatiha Global has a strict vetting policy … We have certain people who actually go out and check people’s social networking profiles, like Facebook and Twitter. If somebody has something on there which may seem a bit radical, then that’s it, they’re not accepted.”
Jameel, however, apparently forgot to vet his own social media postings. In a number of them on his Facebook account in the last few months alone, Jameel has lauded Syrian jihadi “martyrs” and paraphrases a notorious quote by Osama Bin Laden: “Our men love death like your men love life.”
Jameel has further promoted excerpts from religious commentary on the Quran that justify violence against Jews; he describes them as “dishonest” and the “enemies of Allah.” Jameel also claims that Shia Muslims have “defamed the mother of believers.”
Other posts by Jameel have expressed support for the Saudi preacher Mohammad Al-Arifi, who has declared that, “Devotion to Jihad for the sake of Allah, and the desire to shed blood, to smash skulls and to sever limbs for the sake of Allah and in defense of his religion, is, undoubtedly, an honor for the believer.”
On November 19, Jameel promoted a group protesting the arrest of an Al Qaeda operative, Abdul Basit. The group supported by Jameel describes the Muslim woman who informed the authorities of Basit’s connections to terrorism as an “ FBI witch” who will be “sent to her grave.”
Facebook pages controlled by the convoy charities themselves have also promoted inflammatory material. One of the charities, Aid4Syria, has circulated a video by Sheikh Muhammad Al-Arifi, in which he encourages his listeners to wage war in Syria: “Nothing is left but death, either your die for the sake of your religion or be sold to those transgressors.” Arifi has previously described the killing of “infidels” as a “great honour” and advocates the murder of Jews.
Other convoy participants are even more explicit in their support for terror. Majid Freeman, who in the BBC film is introduced as just “Majid,” has encouraged European Muslims to “do jihad in Syria,” and has promoted “tributes” to the late Al Qaeda terrorist Anwar Al-Awlaki on his Twitter and Facebook accounts.
Freeman has also posted tributes to the Al Qaeda operative Aafia Siddiqui: “Not a day goes by when we don’t think of a our sister Aafia Siddqui. … Allah, unite the Ummah and remove the backstabbers … and use us as a means to help the oppressed.”
The continual failure of the media and politicians to examine these extremist charities properly is a weary one; the British Charity Commission has repeatedly warned that aid money for Syria is ending up in the pockets of extremist groups.
Much of the media seems to subscribe to the naïve notion that honorable endeavors attract only those with honorable ideas. Even if these Islamist charities solely pursue charitable objectives, however, they have apparently planned a supplementary purpose for these convoys: establishing terror-aligned Islamism, through the provision of social welfare, as an indispensible component of an anti-Assad Syria.
This phenomenon is not even new: it has been examined before in a piece about Interpal — a British charity that works with the Palestinian terror group, Hamas — in which it was made clear that charitable support for terror groups’ social services only helps justify and fund the terror groups’ violence.
An important step towards tackling this problem would be an undertaking by members of the media – especially the BBC, funded by taxpayers — to start living up to their minimal professional obligations by taking a straightforward look at the ideas and persons behind these charitable groups which they falsely portray as paragons of virtue.