London (CNSNews.com) - Radical British Islamic leaders warned on Thursday that the United States and Britain could face further terrorist attacks if there is an allied attack on Iraq - but an organization representing moderate Muslims denied the claims and accused the clerics of scaremongering.
A group led by Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad and his al-Muhajiroun organization made the warning in a statement distributed this week.
"If the U.S. and the U.K. continue to play with fire there can only be one consequence, which is for them to burn their hands and to choke on the smoke - Sept. 11 being an example," Bakri said.
Several other leaders joined in the statement, including Yassir al-Sirri, an Egyptian who was released from custody last month after the U.S. authorities dropped extradition proceedings against him. Al-Sirri was wanted for questioning about his connections with the Islamic Group, an Egyptian organization with links to al Qaeda.
In interviews, Bakri has claimed that he has personal knowledge of terror attacks being planned in retaliation for any military strikes against Iraq, but refused to divulge any details.
At a press conference Thursday, the group was planning to issue a fatwa, or religious edict, instructing supporters on how to respond to a potential attack on Iraq. But the meeting ended in shambles after journalists walked out en masse in protest at the group's demand for a $45 entry fee.
Bakri and al-Muhajiroun tread a fine line between rallying supporters with hard-line language and staying within British law. Al-Muhajiroun says its policy is not to incite violence in Britain or any other Western nation, but has admitted helping to train fighters in hotspots such as Palestine, Kashmir and Chechnya.
Mainstream Muslim groups question the organization's philosophy as well as its recruitment claims, however.
A spokesman for Britain's largest Islamic organization, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), said the recent rhetoric was misleading and counterproductive.
"These men are well known for their love of publicity," said spokesman Inayat Bunglawala. "The statements they come out with are highly irresponsible and inflammatory."
Bunglawala said the threats by the clerics had the potential to boost the popularity of extreme-right groups including the British National Party, which is in favor of sending non-white foreigners back to their countries of origin. Earlier this year, the BNP scored its first electoral successes, winning three city council seats in the northern England city of Burnley.
"The effect will be to make ordinary Muslims on the streets, people who don't subscribe to radicalism, the victims of attacks," Bunglawala said. "They (the clerics) have the luxury of being protected.""\b
The spokesman said the MCB "totally repudiates" the threats issued by the radicals.
"There are 800 mosques in Britain and Omar Bakri does not even lead one of those," he said. "He does not have the support of British Muslims."
A man with links to Bakri, Sulayman Balal Zainulabidin, was acquitted last week of terror charges stemming from his "jihad website," a business that offered weapons training to Muslims.
See previous story: Jihad Webmaster Acquitted By UK Court -- 08/09/2002 \ulnone
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.