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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 18 August 2018

The ISIL plotter who groomed a children’s army

Umar Haque held secret terrorism classes at a school and mosque in preparation for a string of attacks in London

Umar Ahmed Haque. Metropolitan Police / Reuters
Umar Ahmed Haque. Metropolitan Police / Reuters

A school administrator was convicted on Friday of trying recruit a 300-strong children’s army to carry out terrorist attacks on the UK parliament, embassies and dozens of high-profile targets in London.

Umar Haque, 25, showed beheading videos during Islamic studies classes he ran at a mosque and a £3,000-a-year private school and persuaded children as young as 11 to take part in role-playing exercises simulating murderous attacks on police officers.

“We are a death squad sent by Allah and his messengers to avenge my brothers’ blood,” he told an accomplice during a conversation secretly recorded by police.

A jury at London’s Old Bailey court convicted Haque on Friday of planning terror attacks with two accomplices after authorities failed to spot that the untrained teacher was secretly grooming pupils.

After the verdict, Haque was dragged from the dock by officers as he ranted: “You will clearly see Islamic State establish itself in the Arabian Peninsula and that droughts will affect Europe and America. You will remember my warning."

The court heard that Haque showed ISIL propaganda video to groups of youngsters at an Islamic private school in east London without senior staff knowing what was going on. Nevertheless, the Lantern School of Knowledge for 100 boys aged 11-16 was rated ‘outstanding’ by independent inspectors at the height of his activity in late 2015.

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A report cited school visits to parliament and the law courts as good examples of promoting students’ understanding of democracy and the rule of law. Police believe Haque intended to target those places.

Two years later, and after police exposed the activities of Haque, inspectors revised their opinion last month from outstanding to “requires improvement”.

After the verdict, the deputy head of the inspectorate, Matthew Coffey said: “It is of deep regret that this individual was able to work within the independent school system and expose his warped ideology to children.”

Police revealed that 35 youngsters are currently undergoing long-time supervision by authorities because of the attempted indoctrination by Haque at the school and mosque where he worked.

At the mosque in Barking, east London, Haque focused on children aged 12 to 14 during Islamic studies classes in a large tent. He showed them videos and organised physical training for the pupils, including mock fighting and races to prepare them for an attack by ISIL.

He arranged ‘martyr’s’ vs ‘police’ training exercises and showed them how to sever necks with their knives, the court was told.

“Umar has been teaching us how to fight, do push-ups, given strength and within six years he was planning to do a big attack on London,” one pupil told police. “He wants a group of 300 men. He's training us now so by the time I'm in Year 10 (aged 14-15) we will be physically strong enough to fight.”

Haque told them that they would suffer after death, go to hell and their homes would burn down if they told of what was happening. Police believe that he had access to 250 children and tried to radicalise nearly half of them, telling them they needed to prepare for martyrdom.

“He abused his position at those venues, tried and did radicalise vulnerable children from the ages of 11 to 14,” said Dean Haydon, the head of the anti-terrorist unit at the Metropolitan Police.

He said the boys were “paralysed with fear” and nobody raised the alarm. “We almost had a wall of silence,” said the officer.

Reports at the weekend suggested that the government was set to crack down on out-of-hours tuition centres because of fears of radicalisation. “More needs to be done to ensure that these weak spots are addressed if we are going to avoid a generation of children being warped by this gruesome ideology,” saidEmma Webb, a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society thinktank.

The grooming only came to light after Haque’s passport was revoked after he attempted to board a flight to Istanbul, with the apparent aim of joining ISIL. An examination of his mobile phone showed his interest in Syria and beheading.

Frustrated by his failure to fight overseas, he turned his attention to targets in the UK, the Old Bailey heard.

He declared himself to be an ISIL supporter in court, but claimed he never had any intention of carrying out attacks he detailed in notebooks found at his home. The notebooks identified 30 targets including police, embassies and shopping venues.

Haque, born to Bangladeshi parents in east London, became radicalised after watching videos by Anwar Al Awlaki, the American propagandist for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula who was killed in a US drone strike in 2011.

He was caught on secret police probes admiring an attack in March last year when a British extremist mowed down and killed four pedestrians before stabbing a policeman to death guarding the gates of parliament. He suggested that non-believers should be “annihilated off this earth”.

On another occasion he was heard chanting in his car: “We gonna kill so many… they gonna regret ever getting in to the war with Islamic State”.

Police said they arrested Haque and his three co-accused earlier than they would normally have done because of the threat to children at the school.

Abuthaher Mamun, 19, Muhammad Abid, 27, like Haque from east London, were convicted of helping him with the plot.

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