Peter Taylor interviews Salim Boukhari, one of the men arrested for plotting a major terrorist attack in 2000. From The Guardian:
Two of the men convicted, Salim Boukhari and Lamine Maroni, were revealed to have been living in England but MI5 and Special Branch knew virtually nothing about them. Both had got under the pre-9/11 radar. Maroni was an Algerian asylum seeker living in Sheffield, housed by a Home Office-sponsored agency called Safe Haven. MI5 had their suspicions about Maroni’s address and had local checks made a few weeks before the Frankfurt raid but they drew blanks.
Nothing was known about Boukhari, who was believed to be the ringleader of the cell. It transpired he had come to London from Algeria and lived and worked there on and off for almost 10 years. He had trained as a chef in Twickenham and done security work for Homebase and Safeways in Camden Town. He’d remarried a couple of months before his arrest and left a pregnant wife behind in England. . . .
Boukhari lived for a time in Leyton, east London, and attended the local mosque where he began to make friends. “It was just normal. There were no extremists speaking about Jihad,” he said. But, like many young Muslims seeking refuge among their own, he was vulnerable to what Veness describes as “the predatory activities of the terrorists who are seeking to recruit”. Some of the mosques were obvious locations for these “predators” – Boukhari also attended Finsbury Park mosque, which he described as “hotter than Leyton”. There was talk of Jihad. At least four of its former alumni – including the so-called “shoe bomber” Richard Reid – are now in American custody.
Gradually Boukhari was drawn into these more radical circles, although he insists it was not through Finsbury Park. His new friends showed him propaganda videos of how Muslims around the world were being oppressed. Images of Palestinians being beaten by the Israeli soldiers had a profound effect on him: “To see Palestinians suffering like this, without reason, is hard,” he said. “Israel is doing what it likes and no one is trying to stop them. For me, Israel and America are both the same.” He also watched videos of the suffering of Muslims at the hands of the Russians in Chechyna. “They’ve killed thousands of people and it hurts me to see them getting slaughtered like this.”
Predictably, the oppression wasn’t the only thing that radicalized him. It was also the radicals’ use of the religion the Chicago Tribune says “preaches tolerance, non-violence and respect for human life”:
Boukhari was now radicalised, fired with the word of the Holy Koran and the obligation to help his Muslim brothers fight the oppression. And he couldn’t do that in London. “To help our brothers you have to train and the only country where you could do that was Afghanistan. I wanted to go to Chechyna to fight.”