By Fiona Hamilton
An Islamic State extremist found guilty of grooming an “army of children” to carry out terrorist attacks was able to infiltrate the schools system despite having no qualifications.
Umar Ahmed Haque, 25, attempted to radicalise 110 children aged 11 to 14 as he planned a terrorist attack on targets including Big Ben and Tower Bridge in central London.
Haque taught evening classes at the Ripple Road mosque in Barking, east London, where he secretly groomed boys through terrorism role-play and by showing them beheading videos.
The Charity Commission last night announced an investigation into the mosque where worshippers have included Khuram Butt, 27, the ringleader of the London Bridge terrorist attack.
The commission will also investigate the trust which runs a fee-paying Islamic school in Leyton, east London, where Haque taught religious classes and physical education and admitted showing Isis propaganda to his class.
The case raises questions for Ofsted after it rated the Lantern of Knowledge school as “outstanding” during Haque’s time working there.
Scotland Yard said that Haque had access to about 250 children at the mosque, Lantern of Knowledge and at another school in east London where he was an administrator. Thirty-five boys are still receiving support after being exposed to extremist and violent material.
Haque told boys at the mosque that he was a member of Isis and was gathering a large number of fighters to take part in an attack. He carried out role-playing exercises where the boys took the part of police and terrorists in mock attacks, and showed them videos of dead bodies and fighting in Syria.
Commander Dean Haydon, head of counterterrorism at the Metropolitan Police, said: “His plan was to create an army of children to assist in multiple terrorist attacks across London.”
Haque was found guilty yesterday of preparing terrorist acts and was dragged from the dock yelling support for Isis. Abuthaher Mamum, 19, a fellow teacher at the mosque who helped to raise money for an attack by gambling on the stock exchange, was also found guilty of preparing terrorist acts.
Muhammad Abid, 27, faces jail for failing to inform police while Nadeem Patel, 26, was cleared of plotting with Haque but had previously admitted possessing a gun. Patel was jailed for 16 months and the others will be sentenced at a later date.
Haque was employed at Lantern of Knowledge between July 2015 and January 2016. He told the Old Bailey that he showed his class an Isis video from YouTube to give them a “holistic understanding” of Isis. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on whether he showed it for a terrorist purpose.
Ofsted inspectors rated the school outstanding in November 2015 but concerns were raised during two later emergency inspections. A full inspection in January concluded that it required improvement. Matthew Coffey, of Ofsted, said: “It is of deep regret that [Haque] was able to work within the independent school system and expose his warped ideology to children.”
The school trust said that Haque was employed in line with Department for Education safeguarding guidance and there were “no indications or signs” of extremist activity. The Essex Islamic Academy, which runs the mosque, said it utterly condemned Haque’s activities.
Behind the story
Umar Haque told children at an east London mosque to pretend to be suicide bombers, killing police officers, so that they were ready to join him in a terrorist attack on Westminster (Fiona Hamilton writes).
A 12-year-old boy gave a video statement explaining that Haque, his teacher at the mosque in Barking, had sworn the class to secrecy. The child said to a detective: “Umar told us he was part of Islamic State and Islamic State was going to launch a big attack in London, to follow his lead and fight the police.”
The boy said that at first the class was taught standard Islamic lessons but by December 2016 Haque had moved on to physical training and then to Isis videos and fighting. The boys were told that within six years they would be prepared for an “actual attack”, he said.
In taped evidence played to the Old Bailey an 11-year-old boy said that he felt like killing the Queen after being indoctrinated with Isis videos by Haque.
Dean Haydon, the head of Scotland Yard’s counterterrorism command, said that the children were ordered not to tell anybody else, “creating a wall of silence”.