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Al-Faisal's Journey

DIANE ABBOTT

Sunday, January 24, 2010    

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As I wrote this column, Jamaican Trevor Forrest was on a plane from Kenya to Jamaica. His name may not ring a bell, but if it does, perhaps you are from St James and knew his parents, Merlyn Forrest and (the late) Lorenzo Forrest.

Trevor Forrest has achieved international infamy as Sheikh Faisal (or Abdullah al-Faisal). After a high-profile trial in 2003, al-Faisal was jailed in Britain for stirring up racial hatred and urging his followers to murder Jews, Hindus, Christians and Americans.

Al-Faisal grew up in the farming district of Point in St James. His family were devout members of the Salvation Army who had moved to St James from Westmoreland. His mother still lives in the four-bedroom family home with his older sister Yvonne and several of his nieces and nephews. al-Faisal was clearly of a much more pacific disposition as a child than as an adult. His mother said, "Knowing him as I did when he was with me as a child... I did not have any problem; I didn't know him as anybody to be giving any trouble."

Al-Faisal converted to Islam at age 16, after he was introduced to the faith by one of his high school teachers in Jamaica. The unfortunate teacher could have had no idea how extreme al-Faisal's views would become. In 1983 he went to Guyana to study Arabic. A few years later he migrated to Britain. Then, in what were probably the most formative years of his young life, he travelled to Saudi Arabia and spent seven years pursuing Islamic studies.

In 1991 al-Faisal returned to Britain to preach. His years of study over, his political life begun. He began his career as an activist in Brixton, the traditional heart of Britain's black community. Al-Faisal started by preaching to crowds of people at the Brixton Mosque. The majority of the mosque's members at that time were black converts and the average age was 30. He also preached at Brixton Town Hall. The young cleric quickly developed a following and went on to preach all over Britain in towns including Manchester, Dewsbury, Bournemouth, Cardiff and Swansea. His lectures were so popular that they were taped and sold at bookshops.

In 1993 al-Faisal broke with the Brixton Mosque and moved out of the area. He set up his own study circles in East London. The authorities apparently already had their eye on him, and in 2000, he was stopped by customs officers at Heathrow airport who seized his lecture notes. But his fiery tapes were to prove his undoing. In 2002 his tapes were purchased by an undercover police officer at an Islamic bookshop in the East End of London. The police went on to raid other bookshops, al-Faisal's own home and in February 2002 he was arrested.

The taped lectures, which were played at his trial, shocked Britain. He exhorted Muslim mothers to buy toy guns for their children, to train them for jihad. He tried to recruit British schoolboys for terrorist training camps, promising them "72 virgins in paradise" if they died fighting a holy war. He told audiences to kill Hindus, Jews, and other non-Muslims like "cockroaches". On one tape, titled Jihad, he said: "Our methodology is the bullet, not the ballot." In a tape titled Rules of Jihad (thought to have been made before the 9/11 attacks), he said: "You have to learn how to shoot. You have to learn how to fly planes, drive tanks, and you have to learn how to load your guns and to use missiles.

Prosecutors further alleged that al-Faisal preached to a number of people who went on to become terrorists, including the 2001 shoe bomber Richard Reid; the 9/11 plotter Zacarias Moussaoui; the 2005 bomber Germaine Lindsay (who blew up Kings Cross tube and killed 26 people) and 2005 bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan. He was also alleged to be an associate of a notorious Muslim preacher, Abu Hamza al-Masari, who became famous for the hook he sported instead of an amputated hand.

In 2003 al-Faisal was sentenced to nine years in prison for inciting racial hatred and soliciting murder. Four years later he was released on parole, deported from Britain and he has spent the last few years preaching around Africa.

Now al-Faisal's life has come full circle and the Kenyan authorities have deported him back to Jamaica. What will happen when he lands, I do not know. But I suspect that this is not the final chapter in the life of this turbulent cleric.

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