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Archive for May, 2013

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Two years ago, I reported on how motormouth and self-styled “Muslim cleric” Anjem Choudary had joined forces with his elder brother, businessman Yazdani, to open a new headquarters in Whitechapel.

The article here revealed that Yazdani, whose day job was (and remains) running an IT company called Best Training Solutions in Whitechapel Road, had bought the lease on a three-storey building in nearby New Road. He had created a printing and graphic design shop called Master Printers at street level and allowed Anjem to open the Centre for Islamic Services in the basement.

In early 2011, Yazdani’s application to Tower Hamlets council to convert the upper floors of the building to an Islamic teaching space was rejected, but Anjem and his followers continued to meet in the basement and work in the printing shop. (They also advertised their services in East End Life until I alerted the council.)

In November 2011, Home Secretary Theresa May proscribed Anjem’s controversial groups, Muslims Against Crusades and Islam4UK, deeming they were simply the previously banned Al Muhajiroun under another name. On the day this ban was made, the building at 32 New Road was raided by police.

After that, I didn’t pay much attention to Anjem’s activities in Tower Hamlets, but when it emerged that Michael Adebolajo, one of the alleged killers of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich last Wednesday, had once been one of Anjem’s devotees, I looked again at what he was up to.

Over the past year, while driving west down Mile End Road, I’d noticed a distinctive looking new sweet shop had opened in what used to be the Hayfield pub. It was called Yummy Yummy and its windows displayed traditional jars full of traditional sweets such as lemon bonbons and aniseed balls. It looked a great idea, but I did wonder how it could make money.

So imagine my surprise when I went to revisit Yazdani’s property in New Road last week. Master Printers had been closed down (it had relocated to Shadwell following the police raid before being wound up last year). And in its place was….another Yummy Yummy shop.

Checks at Companies House show they are owned and run by Yazdani Choudary. I was told he is about to open another store in Bethnal Green very soon. Its website explains his aim is to provide halal sweets: Yazdani had realised that many of the sweets he’d loved as a kid actually contained pork or beef animal bone. So a great idea. Especially when he’s also hiring out pick n’mix stalls and chocolate-making machines for £750 and £350 for three hours at a time.

A man working in the Mile End Road store on Saturday was a lovely, gentle soul: I’d say he was in his 50s and from the way he dressed and appearance, I guessed he was a white convert to Islam.

I’m not sure he had anything to do with the leaflets on his counter. They were also in the New Road store, where the workers were described by another visitor as looking like “hard core Salafis”.  The leaflets were from a group called Women4Shariah, which is heavily linked to Anjem. And it is having a conference next month at that well known venue for extremism, the Water Lily in Mile End Road, at which the theme will be “Time for Revolution.”

This is the leaflet.

CIMG1381

CIMG1382

Women4Shariah has a Facebook page as well. It’s here. Judging by the comments, they’re not particularly sympathetic about Drummer Rigby’s death.

I wrote a piece about all this for today’s Sunday Express, which I’ve also copied below.

This is the New Road shop:

Yummy Yummy

 

Anjem told me he’s a frequent visitor there because he goes to visit his brother and because he has lots of friends.

There are a number of questions about all this, none of which Anjem would answer. Is it appropriate to use a sweet shop to distribute these kind of leaflets? To what extent (if any) does Anjem, who apparently uses job seekers’ allowance to underwrite his preaching activities, or his followers benefit from this venture? And would you buy your kids sweets from there? (The bonbons are really quite good.)

And lastly, why doesn’t he just leave Tower Hamlets?

The Sunday Express article was published under the following headline today:

Choudary and the chocolate factory

RADICAL Muslim cleric Anjem Choudary is using a chain of children’s sweet shops owned by his wealthy brother as a vehicle for bringing about his dream

Leaflets encouraging parents to adopt Shariah Law are being distributed at innocent looking stores called Yummy Yummy, which were established and are overseen by Anjem’s elder brother, Yazdani.

The shops sell lemon bonbons, kola cubes, aniseed balls and tasty apple laces, while also offering leaflets to parents and children that state it is time for an “Islamic Revolution”.

Two Victorian-style shops have already opened in east London, while a third is planned within weeks.

One of the shops in New Road, Whitechapel, is on the same site raided by police 18 months ago following a Sunday Express investigation which identified it as the headquarters of Anjem’s prayer and preaching circuit.

Leaflets lying on the stores’ counters yesterday included a batch from a group called “Women4Shariah”, an outfit linked to Anjem Choudary.

The leaflets, which contain disturbing images of women and children suffering and grieving, are advertising a conference next month that will assert it is “Time for Revolution”.

Video broadcasts at the conference will include speakers from Pakistan, Indonesia and Syria, the literature says.

Other Choudary-linked organisations such as Muslim Prisoners and Islamic Revolution are also advertised prominently on the shop’s leaflets.

A Women4Shariah Facebook page is also highlighted on which taunts are made about the slaying of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich on Wednesday.

Less than 24 hours after his murder, a statement on the page was added, saying: “Muslims should not play the victim and be cornered by the media or feel obliged to condemn or distance themselves from something they not responsible for.

“The real terrorist is the British (sic) and its foreign policy – they should be apologising to the British people.

“The British took the war to Muslim lands – Iraq, Afghanistan and Mali – so if British ppl feel the repercussions then the leaders are to blame.”

A publicity video on YouTube for the conference shows graphic photographs of dead children with a commentary stating: “Your Muslims are being massacred.  “Bombed, murdered, raped, tortured. Your Ummah is calling you.”

When asked yesterday whether promoting Islamist leaflets in a children’s shop was appropriate, one worker pointed to a pile of NHS advice cards and said: “There’s a lot of leaflets here.”

Pressed on the fact it was a children’s shop, he said: “This is a sweet shop. Can I ask you to leave.”

Records at Companies House show the stores were established by Yazdani Choudary, a 50-year-old businessmen who, in contrast to benefits claimant Anjem, lives in a detached house worth an estimated £750,000 in Purley, Surrey.

When Anjem was asked yesterday whether Yazdani ever attends his notorious rallies in central London, he said: “Not really.”

There is no suggestion that either Yazdani or Anjem have been involved in any criminal activity.

The investigation by the Sunday Express in 2011 centred on the links between him and his brother’s expensive Islamist activities.

We revealed that Yazdani was, and remains, a director of an IT company that had received almost £1million of Government Learn Direct contracts.

Although a subsequent inquiry by the Business Department found no evidence of any misallocation of funds to Anjem’s activities, Coalition cuts mean the company no longer enjoys Government deals.

We also revealed two years ago that Yazdani had hired a convicted terrorist fundraiser and Anjem devotee Shah Jalal Hussain to help his other graphic design business activities at the property he had bought in New Road.

At that property, he had created a printing shop at street level and space in the basement for Anjem’s teaching operation, the Centre for Islamic Services.

The building was raided by police in November, 2011, when Home Secretary Theresa May banned Anjem’s notorious Muslims Against Crusades organisation.

The Yummy Yummy store now operates from the site of the printing shop.

Yazdani could not be contacted for comment yesterday, but Yummy Yummy’s website states: “When we were growing up, we would eat all kinds of sweets…without realising they were not suitable for a Muslim halal diet.

“We have become more aware of pork/beef gelatine and other animal products in the sweets we eat.”

In an article for today’s Sunday Express, Home Affairs Committee Keith Vaz said banning organisations like Muslims Against Crusades and its predecessor Al Muhajiroun, of which one of Wednesday’s murder suspects was a member, was “not enough” because they simply reform under new “front” names.

Anjem and his followers were once considered the “clowns of jihadism”.

Terror experts say changes in the way Al Qaeda operates has made Choudary’s followers more useful, particularly for the kind of lone wolf attacks that sickened Britain on Wednesday.

Intelligence analysts say they radicalise themselves, for example by reading Al Qaeda’s online magazine Inspire.

The Sunday Express has seen its latest terrifying edition, which encourages readers to use simple methods such as pouring oil on the bends of narrow roads to kill motorists.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair is also singled out as a welcome assassination target, claiming his security protection has been lowered since being out of office.

One intelligence source predicted the Drummer Rigby’s suspected killers, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, would become heroes and poster-boys in the next edition of Inspire.

George Readings, of corporate intelligence company Stirling Assynt, said: “The killing of a British soldier will be widely praised in the jihadist community.

“The perpetrators’ efforts to secure as much publicity as possible will mean that it is likely to feature in Al-Qaeda propaganda and the continued success of these tactics will fuel further attacksAnjem Choudary said he did not want to comment on the Women4Shariah leaflets in his brother’s shops.

Meanwhile, he said he had “no idea” that suspect Adebolajo had apparently been approached by MI5 six months ago.

The claim was made by another of his followers Abu Nusaybah on Friday night.

Asked whether he himself had ever been approached by MI5, Mr Choudary said: “Not to work for them, no.”

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The answer is: I don’t know. And although Tower Hamlets council recovered the arrears by deducting the cash from the member’s annual allowance, it is now citing data protection laws  to keep the name secret.

But someone knows who it is and I’m hoping you, my dear readers, can help. Comments naming people will not be approved unless there is copper-bottomed proof, but you can always email me with tips or leads.

Yet again, the Tories deserve credit for unearthing this little gem. Here’s their Freedom of Information request, and the council’s response:

Under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act, I am requesting the following formation:

• Whether any currently serving councillor has received a court summons from the local authority for non-payment of council tax?

• If so, which councillor and what was the result of the action against them?

Can you please include in the response any relevant answers to previous requests and please may I be sent receipt of this request complete with a reference number.

I can confirm that one currently serving councillor received a court summons for non-payment of council tax in the financial year 2012/13

An attachment to allowances was issued to recover the arrears.

The exemption under Section 40 (2) of the Freedom of Information Act applies to the Personal Data of a third party; this information is exempt if its disclosure would contravene any of the data protection principles in the Data Protection Act 1998. This serves as a Refusal Notice in respect of the individual’s name.

Tory leader Peter Golds assures me the culprit is not one of their seven councillors, so that leaves 44 from this list to choose from.
It might well be that the non-payment was some bureaucratic oversight: perhaps the councillor had moved home (out of the borough even…?) and the warning letters weren’t delivered. But if there is no reasonable explanation, then I think most taxpayers would have little sympathy for the member remaining in office.
Which brings us to the question of leadership. Peter Golds has asked his members for assurances, so I’m sure the other group leaders and their deputies will do likewise.
We’re all very much looking forward to the replies to that question from: Mayor Lutfur Rahman (who is not a councillor, remember) and his deputy Cllr Ohid Ahmed; Labour’s mayoral candidate John Biggs and his deputies, the new group leader Cllr Sirajul Islam and Cllr Rachael Saunders; Cllr Stephanie Eaton of the Lib Dems (she doesn’t have a deputy); and Respect’s Cllr Fozol Miah and the genuinely delightful Cllr Harun Miah.

In any case, once the council is legally obliged to open its 2012/13 accounts for public inspection later this year, I’m certain we’ll at least then identify the new Councillor X.

[By way of further explanation, I drafted this post on Monday afternoon but then decided to email every non-Tory councillor (the Conservatives had already denied any culpability) to ask whether they would like to come forward before publication. Only three replied: Shahed Ali, Stephanie Eaton and Anwar Khan, all of whom ruled themselves out….tonight, I hear one member has resigned the Labour whip. Whether it’s connected to this or not, I don’t know.]

UPDATE

Councillor X is Omer Ahmed, who was the civic mayor in 2009/10, and who I understand has had some financial difficulties of late. Labour has decided to stand by him.

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Remember the dastardly death threat against Mayor Lutfur Rahman that, er, wasn’t quite that?

Hugh Muir of the Guardian ran the story here and here.

On March 24, during what former Labour party manager Rob Marchant described as a “bored Saturday afternoon”, he had a Twitter conversation with a couple of friends. The topic of Tower Hamlets came up, then the question of whether Lutfur would ever be readmitted to the Labour fold.

Rob tweeted that were that to happen: “Makes mental note to keep revolver well oiled.” Then: “I will load the revolver and we can all take turns.”

Now, in theory it is possible to infer that Rob does have a revolver, and that it would be used not for an actual game of Russian Roulette but rather for a genuine act of murder–but such a theory could only be held by sado-masochistic fantasists, the illiterate, the humour-free, or the plain trouble-making.

The only reasonable inference was that the remarks were a joke about shooting themselves, ie “if Lutfur is let back in, we may as well all pack up”. Rob later explained it all here.

Obvious, right?

No. Lutfur, a qualified solicitor, saw the remarks as a genuine, imminent threat against his life. So he reported them to the police.

And incredibly, the police, who clearly had no burglaries to solve that day, actually launched an investigation.

Here’s what borough commander Chief Superintendent Dave Stringer said:

I am satisfied an appropriate police investigative response has been put in place and the matter will be subject to regular review … We do not discuss the details of an ongoing investigation.

And unsurprisingly, following some exceptionally tenacious detective work, the police later concluded there had been no crime.

The Observer journalist Nick Cohen criticised Lutfur for acting like a bully and for wasting police time, to which the Mayor had this response

Unsurprisingly, as a prominent Muslim figure, I frequently receive abuse and threats — mainly from racist extremists of the EDL-ilk. That and the sheer violence of Marchant’s language in discussing me (‘I will load the revolver and we can all take turns … [makes mental note to keep revolver well cleaned and oiled]’) should explain why I acted when the tweets were drawn to my attention.

Now, all this is old news of course, but I was intrigued as to who might have encouraged the Mayor to go to the police.

His paid media adviser Mark Seddon, the respected investigative journalist, broke the story to the world via Twitter on March 26 at 7.52pm, thus:

Extraordinary. Rob Marchant, former Labour Party Manager, reported to police for tweeting death threats to Mayor Lutfur Rahman.

That tweet seems to have since been deleted from Mark’s timeline.

So I submitted an FoI request asking for all emails concerning the Rob Marchant tweet sent between Lutfur and any of his advisers or council officers.

The council says it doesn’t have any.

But it does have the email sent to the borough commander reporting the suspected crime. Here it is (the council has redacted the name of the sender):

From:

Sent: 26 March 2013 16:03

To: xxxxxxx@met.police.uk’

Cc:

Subject: Death threats to Mayor Lutfur Rahman on Twitter

Importance: High

Sensitivity: Confidential

Dear Chief Superintendent xxxxx,

I have just been alerted to the attached threats made on Twitter on Mayor Rahman’s life by ‘Rob Marchant @rob_marchant’ and am reporting it as a crime.

I’m sure you will agree the serious nature of these threats and urge you to investigate as a matter of urgency.

We would be happy to assist the police with any enquiries as part of the investigation.

Kind regards,

Executive Mayor’s Office

t: 020 7364

“I’m sure you will agree the serious nature of these threats and urge you to investigate as a matter of urgency.”

As Mark Seddon quite rightly says….Extraordinary.

What strikes me from all this and other recent events is that there seems to be a tactic among Lutfur & Co to resort to the Standards Board, libel threats and the police in attempts to silence or discredit their critics.

And it’s also a little disturbing that Chief Supt Dave Stringer seemed so eager to please the Mayor that he ordered an investigation instead of just ringing him for a friendly chat to say, “Are you sure about this, pal?” I wonder how many silly (and clearly targeted) death threats are simply brushed off every day by the front desk at Bethnal Green police station.

Clearly, the borough commander is in a [small p] political situation (and he will surely think less of the mayor for being used like this), but Andrew Gilligan worried here about the relationship between the Met and the Tower Hamlet town hall. This episode gives more weight to that theory.

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Hole.
Digging.
Stop.

Rearrange those words and you get Tower Hamlets Council.

After being embarrassed by our ruling councillors’ use of taxis, the council is now using the Freedom of Information Act to prevent further full disclosures.

But as it’s Tower Hamlets, they’ve even managed to cock up the cover up.

A few weeks ago, the Tories submitted a request for details of all cab journeys booked by Mayor Lutfur Rahman, his councillors and his advisers between July 2012 and January just gone.

The final response was sent to Tory leader Peter Golds last week. It said:

The cab firm used for the bookings below was Com.Cabs. The journeys taken from July 2012 to 31st January 2013 are set out below.

Information provided in this response excludes a number of journeys (13) which are currently under dispute with the taxi firm.

The address details on a number of journeys are also provided by postcode only due to concerns regarding Health and Safety, and Section 38 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 is applied.

This email acts as a refusal notice under the FOI Act in respect of this data.

Ah, that old Health and Safety chestnut.

Firstly, anyone familiar with the FoI Act will spot how inept this reply is. Section 38 is a qualified exemption and can only be used once it has been subject to a “public interest test” that weighs the pros and cons of disclosure/redaction. No details of this test have been provided, so it will be interesting to see how they justify the redactions.

Anyway, let’s look at the final reply.

Yet again, Cllr Rabina Khan, the cabinet member for regeneration who is paid £23,000 a year for her council duties and who complained loudly about being exposed last time round in March, is the most prolific cab user; many of them are between E1 and E14.

But what on earth are those addresses deemed so sensitive they jeopardise the health and safety of our precious councillors?

Er, well, “E14” in most of the cases is the town hall in Mulberry Place.

I’m not sure whose health and safety the council is trying to protect by keeping their presence at the HQ, but it surely can’t be theirs. Maybe the regime is now so toxic that the council’s overworked FoI department is worried about people knowing they work in the same building.

But how do we know “E14” is Mulberry Place?

Well, just a few days before it published that redacted information, officers uploaded the original, uncensored data onto the council’s own website.

Here are the details, so compare and contrast (I’ve redacted the precise location of councillors’ homes):

Those marked with my asterisk on the right of the pages are the ones in dispute. They include an alleged £32 trip by Cllr Rania Khan (the culture spokeswoman) from Mulberry Place to Victoria Park for the Olympics Opening Ceremony celebrations on July 27. So much for the council’s exhortations to avoid the roads during that time…

Another dispute concerns a £64 fare allegedly booked by Rabina Khan on September 21 from her house in Whitechapel to the Albert Jacob House council office one mile away in Roman Road. It included 30 minutes of waiting time. No wonder it’s being disputed.

However, one good piece of good news: no taxis at all were booked in December and January. Which just happened to coincide with the beginning of questions about their use….which just goes to show that scrutiny and transparency does work.

Cllr Peter Golds has complained to council boss Stephen Halsey about all this. He wants to know why the information was redacted so heavily…and whether there was any political interference.

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A couple of weeks ago I made a formal complaint to the council about my job as a reporter being hindered by the frequent use of Bengali in the council chamber.

The press are there to report these proceedings to the people who pay for them, the taxpayers and voters in the wider world. But when some councillors switch from English into a foreign language (usually to barrack each other), it’s not only rude to the viewing public and against all rules of government conduct, it also renders those parts of the proceedings secret and inaccessible to all but a few. How on earth, for example, are full and accurate minutes meant to be recorded when not everything is understood?

I’m amazed that councillors have not been warned before about this by the likes of Isabella Freeman and the head of democratic services, John Williams. So the reply to my complaint will be interesting.

As it happens, someone else has complained, albeit for slightly different reasons.

At the full council meeting on April 17, we had one of those regular periodic bouts of uproar and outrage. Labour’s Abdal Ullah was on his feet making a point about something not terribly noteworthy when all of a sudden a word was hurled his way that made him lose his characteristic cool.

He alleged that Lutfur’s close friend, Cllr Ghulam Robbani, called him “Shurer batcha“, which means a “Son of a Pig”.

I’m told this is highly derogatory for Bengalis and Muslims at the best of times, given that pigs are haraam in Islam. But Abdal had not long returned from an Umrah to Mecca–as had Robbani, Mayor Lutfur Rahman and several others sitting nearby.

Robbani shook his head at the accusation but I’m told that Lutfurite councillor Maium Miah said he heard it, as did Ohid Ahmed and the Speaker, Rajib Ahmed. Even Lutfur sympathised with Abdal, I understand.

This row, and Abdal’s demand for an apology, was a significant moment in the meeting, but I doubt it will be ever officially recorded. Had the shouting match taken place in English, it would have been serious news, coupled with a complaint to the Standards bodies.

The following week, Abdal wrote to Robbani to say his “offensive outburst” had been “entirely unbecoming”, and that he had insulted his late father. He demanded a public apology both to him and his family by Friday, May 3.

He heard nothing.

I suspect he’ll be lodging his compliant with the Standards Committee within days.

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