Downing Street is to order a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and a network of Islamist groups accused of fuelling extremism in Britain and across the Arab world.
David Cameron launched an inquiry into the Brotherhood earlier this year, prompted by concerns it was stoking an Islamist ideology that had encouraged British jihadists to fight in Syria and Iraq.
Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, who is an adviser to the review, is reported to have described it as “at heart a terrorist organisation”. The Brotherhood insists it is non-violent and seeks to impose Islamic rule only through democratic change. It has condemned Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isil) and al-Qaeda.
A senior source close to the inquiry said its report – compiled but not yet published – had identified “an incredibly complex web” of up to 60 organisations in Britain, including charities, think tanks and even television channels, with links to the Muslim Brotherhood, which will all now come under scrutiny.
The inquiry, aided by the security services, has also investigated its network abroad. One expert said that the Brotherhood was now operating from three major bases – London, Istanbul and Doha, the capital of Qatar.
Dr Lorenzo Vidino, who is understood to have worked on the Cabinet Office report, presided over by Sir John Jenkins, Britain’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said: “It is clear that the Brotherhood has many dark spots, ranging from its ambiguous relationship with violence to its questionable impact on social cohesion in Britain.”
The Government crackdown will stop short of outlawing the Muslim Brotherhood but action is expected to include:
• Investigations into charities that are effectively “fronts” for the Brotherhood;
• Inquiries into funding of the organisation and links to jihadi groups abroad;
• Banning clerics linked to the group from countries such as Qatar and Turkey from coming to Britain for rallies and conferences.
The source said: “We cannot ban the organisation, but that was never the intention of the review. We can go after single individuals, not for terrorist-related activity, but through the Al Capone method of law-enforcement. We cannot get them for terrorism but I bet you they don’t pay their taxes.
“One of the big things is piling pressure on the charitable missions. Until now it has been very hard to monitor all the groups linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.”
It is understood the Government will also use powers already available to Theresa May, the Home Secretary, to bar radicals linked to the Brotherhood. Visiting clerics from Turkey and Qatar are of special interest.
A Cabinet Office source said of the review: “The Home Secretary has the power to exclude a non-British citizen from the UK where she considers that the individual’s presence in the UK would not be conducive to the public good. The Home Secretary will use these powers when justified and based on all available evidence.
“Given the concerns now being expressed about the group and its alleged links to extremism and violence, it’s absolutely right and prudent that we have a more thorough understanding of the group and its impact on both on our national security and on our interest in stability and prosperity in the Middle East.”
Dr Vidino, an academic who has written a book about the Muslim Brotherhood in the West, has identified a number of groups linked to the organisation, including the Muslim Association of Britain and the Cordoba Foundation, both of which had their bank accounts closed down by HSBC in the summer. Mr Cameron, while in opposition, accused the Cordoba Foundation, run by Anas Altikriti, of being a front for the Muslim Brotherhood.
A number of individuals – including Mr Altikriti and other supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood in the UK, as well as their families – also had their HSBC accounts shut down. The bank said it was “applying a programme of strategic assessments to all of its businesses” after a £1.2 billion fine in 2012 over poor money-laundering controls, but offered no further explanation for its actions.
The origin of funding of the Brotherhood-linked groups in the UK will come under scrutiny in the Cabinet Office report. Qatar has been the Brotherhood’s major funder, bankrolling the party in Egypt, where it gained power in democratic elections before a bloody military coup.
Qatar has also bankrolled Hamas, as well as the Brotherhood in Libya, where it has been accused of joining forces with jihadist militias intent on overthrowing the secular, elected government in Tripoli. Qatar has also funded high- profile events in Britain, apparently linked to the Brotherhood.
A spokesman for the Muslim Association of Britain, which has about 1,000 members, said it had co-operated with the government review. It said it was a separate entity but added: “MAB wishes to reiterate that we share the main principles with the Muslim Brotherhood, including its commitment to uphold democracy, freedom of the individual, social justice and the creation of a civil society.
“MAB confirms that we believe the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood is neither extreme nor has it ever endorsed the use of violence. MAB rejects calls for the organisation to be proscribed.”
Mr Altikriti accused Mr Cameron of making false claims about the Cordoba Foundation under the protection of parliamentary privilege. He said his foundation was an independent think tank, and that HSBC had offered no explanation for why his bank account had been shut down.
Mr Altikriti was given security clearance as recently as February to meet President Barack Obama in the White House as part of an Iraqi delegation.
Toby Cadman, his lawyer, said the review was flawed from the beginning. He said there was a perception of bias because as ambassador to Saudi Arabia, which has outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood and which has fallen out with Qatar over the Islamist organisation, Sir John was not the right choice to oversee it.
Mr Cadman said Sir Richard Dearlove’s statement that the Muslim Brotherhood was “at heart a terrorist organisation” gave a clear implication of preconceived ideas. “There is absolutely no suggestion that Sir Richard would act improperly, but the appearance of impropriety is what matters,” he said.
Sir John’s review was completed in July but has not yet been published. It has been claimed that it was delayed because it stopped short of recommending the Brotherhood be outlawed.
The Government denies this but the failure to proscribe it is said to have angered Saudi Arabia.
See also “Lorenzo Vidino: For too long, London has been a hub for the Muslim Brotherhood”, Sunday Telegraph, 19 October 2014
Update: See “Home Office-hired academic denies reports of seeing Muslim Brotherhood review”, Middle East Eye, 22 October 2014