University defends indicted academic

The British academic accused by the US of being the UK leader of the Palestinian terror group Islamic Jihad was today described as a “highly respected and valuable” academic.

Egyptian born Bashir Musa Mohammed Nafi, 50, who lives in Oxfordshire, was one of eight men named in an indictment announced by US attorney general John Ashcroft yesterday.

The US authorities want to extradite Mr Nafi because of his alleged involvement in Islamic Jihad, which is held responsible by Israeli authorities for killing more than 100 people. The Home Office said that no formal request had been made by the US authorities.

Mr Nafi was this morning reported as saying the allegations were “absurd” and “fabricated”.

Mr Nafi is a part-time lecturer at Birkbeck college, part of the University of London, where he teaches on the postgraduate diploma course in Islamic studies and for the certificate/diploma programme. The two courses are run jointly by Birkbeck’s faculty of continuing education and the independent Muslim College – where he teaches full-time.

Dr Gwen Griffith-Dickson, director of Islamic studies at Birkbeck, said: “Mr Nafi is a highly respected, valuable member of the academic team. He is a specialist in the Islamic history of ideas, covering a broad range of thinkers from all traditions in Islam. His work on Palestinian issues is part of a much wider scholarly research on the issues of state and society in Islam.”

Defending her colleague against accusations of fundamentalism, she added: “Mr Nafi has always taken an analytical and scholarly approach to the study of Islam. He has also sought, with energy and commitment, to encourage critical thinking about religious issues and academic balance in his students, and thus to encourage social responsibility.”

Guardian, 21 February 2003