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Mother of J'can mullah says he is welcome home

Observer and AP reports

Saturday, March 08, 2003    

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ABDULLAH el-Faisal, the St James-born Islamic cleric who was convicted in London for inciting his followers to kill Jews and non-Muslims, was yesterday sentenced to nine years in a British jail.

Justice Peter Beaumont also recommended that el-Faisal, who was Trevor Forrest before he changed his name, be deported at the end of his prison term.

Yesterday el-Faisal's family in Jamaica was happy that he had been spared life behind bars -- Britain's ultimate punishment given the abolition of the death penalty.

"It could be worse," said his mother, Merlyne Forrest, 64. "If you are wrong you are wrong so there is nothing that I can do. But I am glad that this is how it work out."

She added: "I heard that it (the sentence) might be life so I was praying that it wouldn't be. Since it is down to this I think it's not bad."

She sounded almost happy over her mobile telephone.

El-Faisa was sentenced to seven years on three charges of soliciting the murder of non-believers. He also got an additional two years on charges of using insulting words and distributing tapes of insulting words.

In handing down his ruling, Justice Beaumont said the sentences would run consecutively to "mark society's abhorrence of the views expressed". With good behaviour, el-Faisal could be released after four and a half years.

El-Faisal's case was the first prosecution of a Muslim cleric in Britain, and he was tried under an obscure 18th century law. His trial also marked the first time potential jurors were banned from sitting on the jury because of their religion.

The father of three, who ran a mosque in the East London community of Brixton, converted to Islam when he was 16, after a teacher at the Maldon Secondary School in St James introduced him to the faith. He quickly became immersed in the religion and travelled as far as Saudi Arabia where he studied Islam for seven years, before moving to London.

El-Faisal has steadily denied inciting the murder of non-believers, Jews, US citizens and Hindus. But at his trial prosecutors played tape recordings in which he called for the death of non-believers, backed the use of nuclear and chemical weapons and referred to training schoolboys to shoot AK-47 assault rifles.

He also told meetings of young British Muslims that it was their duty to kill non-believers and promised schoolboys they would be rewarded with 72 virgins in paradise if they died in a holy war.

The court heard that el-Faisal lectured to study circles around the country and made copies of his talks for sale at specialist bookshops.

On one tape he said: "People with British passports, if you fly into Israel, it is easy. Fly into Israel and do whatever you can. If you die, you are up in paradise. How do you fight a Jew? You kill a Jew. In the case of Hindus, by bombing their businesses."

El-Faisal claimed he was interpreting and updating the words of the Koran, the Muslim holy book.

But during the trial, prosecutor David Perry accused the preacher of hiding behind a "cloak of religion" to mask his hatred.

The cleric was arrested in February last year after a tape of one of his lectures was found in a car in Dorset, southwest England.

More tapes were seized by anti-terrorism detectives investigating al-Qaeda connections in Britain.

"As the jury found, you not only preached hate, but the words you uttered in those meetings were recorded to reach a wider audience. You urged those who listened and watched to kill those who did not share your faith," Justice Beaumont said in delivering his sentence.

Beaumont said el-Faisal's case was aggravated by the fact he had been sent to Britain to manage the Muslim community. The cleric was imam of a mosque in Brixton, an area of London heavily populated by Jamaicans and other Caribbean nationals.

"You had a responsibility to the young and impressionable of that community at times of conflict abroad and understandable tensions here," the judge said.

"Instead of calming fears, you fanned the flames of hostility. To me it rang hollow to say none of the young men to whom you preached went to fight in Afghanistan, Kashmir and Chechnya. No one, least of all you, will ever know," he added.

Richard Reid, a London man whose father is Jamaican, has been listed among El-Faisal's students. Reid was last year convicted of attempting, while on a flight to Paris, to detonate a bomb that was hidden in his shoe.

But outside court yesterday el-Faisal's lawyer, Jerome Lynch, said his client, although "misguided" was "not malicious", adding that there were plans to appeal.

"There is a realistic prospect that many Muslims will regard this sentence as harsh, even though they don't share his views," Lynch said.

Marshall Forrest, el-Faisal's brother who is a police officer stationed at the August Town Police Station in Kingston, like his mother, was relieved by his brother's sentence.

"I was expecting the worse," he told the Observer. "So as long as it's not life imprisonment then I am alright with it."

He had spoken to his mother in St James after family members heard the sentence in radio newscasts.

Mrs Forrest's relationship with her son began to deteriorate when, at age 16, he found Islam. But yesterday, she was already imagining what it would be like to have him home with her again.

"It's okay if Trevor wants to stay here, it's okay with me. I will be glad to see him," she said.

She added that his first wife -- a native of Westmoreland -- with whom he has two children, was welcome too, but she drew the line at her son's second Pakistani-born wife, who she has never met.

"He has another wife but I don't know if they would allow him to bring her," Mrs Forrest said. "I think they should send home that one to where she is from and send him home to where he is from. Because she is from Pakistan so I don't know if she would want to live in Jamaica."

She added: "There are four bedrooms. We will find space for him. But he has a child with the second wife. If he should come with (that child) then it would be three (children). I don't know what they will do but (whatever they decide) it's alright for me."

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