As the two-year anniversary of Sept. 11 approaches, a very unusual ceremony is being planned in London. Critics say the event will celebrate the tragedy and the hijackers who killed thousands that day.
Wednesday, on the streets of London, there was a jarring poster, extolling the 9/11 hijackers as the “Magnificent 19.” It features a picture of each of the 19 hijackers, the smoking World Trade Center towers and Osama bin Laden. It’s all the work of a radical Islamic group known as Al-Muhajiroun.
In an interview with NBC News, the group’s spiritual leader, Sheik Omar Bakri, says the hijackers deserve to be honored.
“The word magnificent is to attract if you like really the attention of the people to those particular 19 Muslims who in our eyes we see as Muslims what really they are — they are more than magnificent,” Sheik Bakri said. “In our eyes, they are the people who sacrifice their own life and that’s the most valuable thing and they offer it. It must be for a good reason. It must be for divine reason.”
Al-Muhajiroun is hosting a conference in London next month commemorating the second anniversary of the attack, saying “many Muslims worldwide will be celebrating the comeuppance of the U.S.A.”
Bakri told NBC the actions of the hijackers were sanctioned by God: “If God did not permit that to happen, (it) would never happen.”
Al-Muhajiroun also has dedicated followers in the United States, including protestors in New York.
Senior U.S. officials tell NBC News the FBI is investigating the group in several U.S. cities, including New York, Washington, D.C., and Phoenix. Says one official, “Clearly, this group is a danger.”
Evan Kohlmann, who secretly monitored the group last year in London, says it espouses the same views as al Qaida. “The idea of Al-Muhajiroun is to overthrow the infidel regime by any means necessary and replace it with an Islamic one… and I stress by any means necessary,” Kohlman said.
There is no evidence that Al-Muhajiroun has ever planned a terrorist attack. It is not officially labeled a terror group. Law enforcement officials worry most that its angry rhetoric incites lone wolves to violence.
Says Bakri: “You start to bomb and kill and exploit the resources of the Muslims, you expect them to give you flower? No. ... You did bomb them, you did destroy their own homeland, you bomb Iraq, you bomb Afghanistan, you bomb Sudan — before 9/11! They said sorry, war casualties for all innocent people. So you expect them to send you ice cream and flowers? They’re going to find opportunity to retaliate back.”
One of Bakri’s students recently committed a suicide bombing in Israel, which Bakri does not condemn.