London (CNSNews.com) - A mainstream Islamic group has denounced plans for a "celebration" of the 9/11 attacks set to take place here on Saturday evening, saying ordinary Muslims were taking flak as a result of the extremists' activities.
The radical al-Muhajiroun movement announced this week that it plans to hold a conference to commemorate the third anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
Lectures and films will look at al-Qaeda activities and the focus will be on the anniversary of the day that "separated the world into two great camps -- the camp of faith and the camp of unbelief."
Al-Muhajiroun leader Omar Bakri Mohammed, a highly-controversial figure, told the London Arabic daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat that the 9/11 attacks were "a cry of jihad against unbelief and oppression." The aim of remembering it was to "revive the commandment of jihad among the youth."
In recent years, Bakri's Islamist group has garnered headlines around the world as a radical sect that advocates the imposition of strict Islamic law. Although derided by mainstream Muslim organizations as a marginal group with only a handful of actual members, al-Muhajiroun and its leader have shown a knack for attracting attention.
Last year, the group announced similar conferences to be held at the same time in four British cities but cancelled them at the last minute, claiming police interference.
In September 2002, another conference organized by al-Muhajiroun in North London attracted crowds of protesters from the far-right British National Party and the Anti-Nazi League. Police then intervened, reportedly to keep the two factions from fighting each other.
Last night, Inayat Bunglawala, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said that the only thing al-Muhajiroun ever accomplished was to help inflame prejudice against ordinary followers of Islam.
"It's left to ordinary Muslims to take the heat," Bunglawala said. "For the life of us, we can't understand what game they're playing at."
Each year, he said that his group - which claims to represent over 400 affiliated organizations, mosques, charities and schools - urged the media to ignore al-Muhajiroun.
In reality, he said the group could barely muster a few dozen members and was currently affiliate with no known mosque.
"In terms of having foot soldiers, they're absolutely miniscule," he said.
The Syrian-born Bakri, who lives in north London, came to the United Kingdom in 1985 after being deported from Saudi Arabia, allegedly for his connection to another banned group. He has since been given permission to remain but the government is reportedly reviewing his status.
He frequently speaks to groups of supporters outside London mosques after Friday prayers. According to published reports, police and intelligence agencies estimate he has between 300 and 800 adherents.
Neither Bakri nor any al-Muhajiroun representative could be reached for comment.
Speaking to Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, an Al-Muhajiroun official, said that a "large hall" had been secured for the convention in the East End of London but that its exact location was not being released generally for fear of trouble with the police.
In a press release posted on the Internet announcing the four-hour conference, Al-Muhajiroun refers to the 9/11 hijackers as "those 19 brave and courageous Muslims who forwent the enjoyment of the life of this world and sacrificed that which is most sacred i.e. their very lives, in defense of the life and wealth, honor and dignity of the Muslims worldwide."
Referring to the locations of some of the most deadly terror attacks since 9/11, including "Bali, Iraq, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Madrid," the group calls on "Allah [to] destroy the enemies of Islam" and teach infidels "many more lessons that will make them forget all about the 11th of September."
(CNSNews Pacific Rim Bureau Chief Patrick Goodenough contributed to this report.)
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