London (CNSNews.com) - Young British Muslims are receiving military training provided by private companies in the United States, and some plan to use their newly-acquired skills to support violent struggles in the Middle East and elsewhere.
In an interview, London-based fundamentalist leader Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed told CNSNews.com that he was involved in funding and sending volunteers to train in the US.
His "jihad network" was taking advantage of the fact that firearms training, including the use of live ammunition, is more readily available in America, the Syrian-born cleric explained.
"When we started to go to Afghanistan, they started to label us terrorists, so now we go to the USA.!," Bakri said.
A Labor Party lawmaker, Andrew Dismore, confirmed that he has raised questions this week in the House of Commons, asking Home Secretary Jack Straw to investigate the training as well as the immigration status of Bakri and several other leading Muslims involved.
Some of the training reportedly is being provided by Sakina Security Services, a company headed by a UK-born Muslim, Mohammed Jameel. Sakina is the Muslim word for "tranquility."
Bakri said some of those learning firearms and explosives use, surveillance and other skills would be expected to join a jihad (holy war) being waged in one country or another.
"Some may decide: 'I want to go and help my Muslim brothers in Chechnya or Palestine or Kashmir or South Lebanon.' That's up to them, it's independent of the organization," Bakri said.
At training camps run by private firms in "certain places" - he cited Michigan and Missouri - Muslims from various countries were training for periods ranging from one week to three months.
The recruits have "different backgrounds - some British, some American, Arab or Asian - but all of them have European or American citizenship. There is no need for visas," according to Bakri.
While British Muslims can and do join shooting clubs and apply for firearm licenses six months after joining, opportunities for training are limited, Bakri said. America's relaxed gun control laws provided an opening.
"It's not illegal. We aren't hiding anything. It should be looked at with an open mind. We're talking purely about helping people who would like to train. The skills they learn ... are part of the religious obligation every Muslim has. A Muslim must have military training at least once in his life.
"In our [Muslim] countries, this is easy. We can fulfill this obligation by joining our national armies. But some Muslims would not like to join the British or American forces. He would rather go to an independent training camp," Bakri stated.
The Syrian-born cleric rejected the use of the term "terror" to describe the training. "Why call this 'terror training'? All Americans can learn how to shoot - what happens when this American person is a Muslim? Or are you calling us second or third class citizens?," Bakri asked.
He denied charges that he was allied to Osama bin Laden, the militant leader wanted by the US for allegedly masterminding the 1998 bombings of American embassies in East Africa.
"We have no direct links with Osama bin Laden," Bakri said. "We have ideological links with the world Islamic movement including Osama bin Laden. We may agree with him in something and disagree with him in something.
"At the end of the day, there is no proof yet that he is involved in any terrorist activity. If terrorism means someone is supporting Muslims against the occupying forces in Somalia or in Arabia, I will never call him a terrorist. I will call him a freedom fighter. I will call him a hero," Bakri declared.
Bin Laden, sheltered in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, has committed his life to the mission of ousting US troops from his native Saudi Arabia. He is on the FBI's "most wanted" list.
Bakri is a judge of the UK shari'a (Islamic law) court and heads an organization called Al-Muhjiroun.
He confirmed in the interview with CNSNews.com that Muslim activists from the US had recently joined British colleagues in a conference looking at ways to oppose the government's proposed new anti-terrorist law.
A new Prevention of Terrorism Bill widens the current definition of terrorism to include violence for religious and ideological ends and creates a new criminal offence of incitement.
"We discussed what is terrorism, who is a terrorist, the life of Sheikh Osama bin Laden, and how the new law will have impact on Islamic revival," Bakri said.
The activists had established two networks. The da'wah (propagation) network's aim was to prepare Muslims "intellectually, in order to engage in ideological struggle against man-made laws."
The second, jihad network, provides for "cooperation between international Islamic movements who are involved in armed struggle against occupying forces, to provide new [recruits] for training and fighting against occupying forces."
Asked whether he feared the proposed new laws would target people like himself, Bakri said he doubted it.
"The British government knows who we are. MI5 [the domestic intelligence service] has interrogated us many times. I think now we have something called public immunity. There is nothing left. You can label us ... put us behind bars, but it's not going to work," Bakri said.
On Tuesday, a Pakistani Muslim cleric, Shafiq ur Rehman, lost his appeal before a London court against a deportation order served for his alleged recruitment and funding of British volunteers to fight against the Indian government in disputed Kashmir.
The government labeled Rehman, who has lived in the UK for the past seven years, a threat to Britain's national security.
Most Muslim organizations involved in the conflicts cited by Bakri are designated "terrorist" groups by the US State Department.
Those "terrorist organizations" are Harakat ul-Mujahidin (Kashmir), Hamas and Islamic Jihad (Israel/PA) and Hizballah (South Lebanon). Militants involved in the separatist struggle in Chechnya are not officially listed as terrorists, but the State Department does link them to bin Laden as well as terrorists in the former Soviet republic of Georgia.