An Egyptian preacher identified by Tony Blair’s research institute as a key British-based promoter of Islamist extremism received UK government backing to remove his name from a UN sanctions list, court documents show.
Hani Al Sibai – who the former prime minister sought to have thrown out of Britain in 1998 because of his links to Al Qaeda – was named by Blair’s Institute for Global Change as one of six key ideologues responsible for shaping the extreme ideology that has persuaded hundreds of British to fight in Syria and Iraq.
He is one of the lesser known of the six who include Anjem Choudary, a hate preacher and thorn in the side of British authorities currently in prison for supporting ISIL, and Abu Qatada, a radical cleric deported to Jordan.
The report, based on open source research, claimed that he had links with 13 jihadists. They included Mohammed Emwazi, the Briton known as Jihadi John who featured in ISIL videos showing the beheading of hostages in Syria, and Seifeddine Rezgui who shot and killed 38 tourists on a beach in Tunisia in 2015.
The mother of El Shafee Elsheikh, another of the four-strong group of ISIL-supporting Britons known as the "Beatles" who guarded western hostages in Syria, was reported as claiming that he had been influenced by Mr Al Sibai.
Mr Al Sibai has lived in Britain since 1994 where he sought asylum claiming that he had been tortured by Egyptian security forces because of his work as a lawyer with the Muslim Brotherhood.
He was arrested in 1998 – the year after Mr Blair came to power – and the authorities sought his deportation for his alleged involvement in a planned attack on the US embassy in Tirana, Albania, according to court documents.
A court refused him bail because of his membership of Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) – a group headed by Osama bin Laden’s deputy Ayman Al Zawahiri and later merged with Al Qaeda – and his claim for asylum was refused.
But he was allowed to remain in Britain because the government failed to secure an undertaking from Egypt that he would not be tortured or mistreated if he was returned.
He has remained in west London since then and was convicted in his absence in Egypt of terrorist offences including “criminal collusion with intent to commit acts of premeditated killing” and sentenced to life in prison.
An Interpol notice based on the Egyptian conviction said that he had travelled on false documents, received military training, and belonged to cells carrying out terrorist operations. In addition, he has “provided material support to Al Qaeda and has conspired to commit terrorist acts,” according to the Interpol notice.
[ Tony Blair research institute names six individuals who shaped entire British jihadist movement ]
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The Blair institute report described him as an associate of Adel Abdel Bary who was arrested for alleged involvement in the Al Qaeda bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and was extradited to the US in 2012. Mr Abdel Bary was jailed for 25 years for conspiring to kill Americans in the 1998 bombings which left 224 people dead. His son traveled to Syria in 2013 to join ISIL.
Mr Al Sibai was put on a UN sanctions list in 2005 based on his convictions in Egypt but the UK has sought to take him off the list since 2009 following a security services review, according to court documents. Mr Blair had by then left power with the Labour government subsequently led by his former close colleague Gordon Brown.
While the review concluded that his ideas continued to be extreme on his website, he did not “seem to involve himself in visibly directing of supporting extremists’ activities”, the review found. “Since 2009 the UK has been attempting unsuccessfully to have the claimant de-listed,” according to court documents from 2012. He remains on EU and US Treasury sanctions lists.
The preacher has denied involvement in terrorism or of radicalising Emwazi. His lawyers did not respond to calls for comment but told the Sunday Telegraph this week that he had no knowledge of the two Britons who went to Syria.
“Mr Al Sibai has for some considerable time been on record through repeated public statements, as condemning Islamic State and their actions,” the law firm Birnberg Peirce told the newspaper. “He asks we repeat his condemnation of the killing of innocent people wherever this occurs in the world.”