February 10, 2009
UK Muslim tells court he fabricated Islamist past
LONDON (Reuters) – A British-born Pakistani man who said he had links to al Qaeda and had sent young men for terrorism training in Pakistan has told a court that he was lying about his past.
Hassan Butt, 28, told Manchester Crown Court he had fed stories to the media and that his portrayal of himself as a terrorist planner who later renounced violence in order to fight Islamist extremism was a fabrication.
He made the confession in December during the trial of a former friend, Habib Ahmed, who was subsequently convicted of belonging to al Qaeda. Restrictions on the reporting of the case have only now been lifted following the conclusion of another trial involving Butt’s wife.
“At no point have I ever been training, have I ever been a jihadi,” Butt told the court, according to a transcript of the proceedings.
Questioning Butt about his past, prosecutor Andrew Edis asked: “So, you were a professional liar then?”
Butt replied: “I would make money, yes.” He had, he said, told stories that “the media wanted to hear.”
The confession will come as a surprise to many as Butt was for years regarded as a leading Islamist who had subsequently turned himself into a proponent for “de-radicalizing” young men in order to combat extremism.
He has been widely profiled in newspapers, magazines and in television documentaries, and even met members of the government to discuss his plans for combating radicalism.
In a Reuters interview in April last year, Butt said he had spent a decade inside Islamist factions, during which time he said he had sent recruits to Pakistan. He said he began questioning his beliefs after the July 2005 attacks by suicide bombers on London in which 52 people were killed.
“I financed terrorism, I recruited people to go to terrorist training camps, I myself have been to terrorist training camps,” he said in the interview. “I was involved in the whole world of radical Islam from the age of 16 onwards.”
Reuters does not pay for interviews.
Butt has been arrested five times by counter-terrorism officers, but was released each time without charge.
A spokeswoman for Greater Manchester police said Monday there were no charges against Butt and he was a free man. He did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.
It is not clear why Butt would have fabricated so much of his past, and even gone to the lengths of stabbing himself in the arm to make it look like he had been attacked by Islamists for speaking out against extremism.
Shiv Malik, a journalist who has profiled Butt and who wrote a book called “Leaving Al Qaeda: Inside The Life And Mind of A British Jihadist” based on interviews with him, said he planned to carry on his research.
Malik is now writing a book about Butt’s life and trying to piece together what was true and what was false.
“All this had to come from somewhere, so there’s definitely a story there,” he told Reuters. “I particularly want to look at Butt’s involvement with Britain’s security services.”
Asked if he would be interviewing Butt, he replied: “I think I’ve had all the interviews with him that I want to have.”