A radical Muslim cleric who was convicted of inciting racial hatred in Britain and influenced one of the London 7/7 bombers has been arrested in Jamaica on charges of recruiting would-be terrorists for ISIL.
Sheikh Abdullah El Faisal was detained in the capital Kingston and taken to his house, where police executed a search warrant, and is expected to be extradited to New York where he faces five charges.
He was arrested after a year-long sting carried out by an undercover New York police officer who communicated with him by text, email and video chat.
Cyrus Vance, Manhattan district attorney, described El Faisal as a “charismatic leader” whose rhetoric was cited by convicted or suspected extremists in New York, London and elsewhere.
“As charged in today’s indictment, the defendant also served as the fulcrum of a recruitment effort that encouraged individuals to carry out acts of terrorism in the name of the Islamic State and connected them with other radical supporters who were willing — or already in the process — of doing the same in countries around the world,” he said on Friday as he announced the arrest.
Faisal, 53, was born Trevor William Forrest in Jamaica and converted to Islam at the age of 16.
He arrived in the UK in 1992. There he established himself as a lay preacher at Brixton Mosque, where the crowds would sometimes number as many as 500 people.
He first came to the attention of British police when tapes of his sermons were discovered in the car of a suspected rapist in late 2001.
Searches of his rented home in London and specialist Islamic bookshops found recordings in he which he encouraged Muslims to “learn to fly planes, drive tanks … load your guns and to use missiles”.
His words took on added significance in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
His sermons advocated war with Jews and Hindus and said the use of chemical weapons was justified to exterminate unbelievers.
In 2003 he was convicted of soliciting murder and causing racial hate.
Jurors at his trial were shown video in which he told young listeners that the Quran justified attacking "kaffirs", or unbelievers.
Police later discovered that among his followers was Jermaine Lindsay, one of the London 7/7 bombers, who detonated his explosives on a Tube train near King’s Cross, killing 25 people.
He was deported to Jamaica after serving four years of his sentence.
Jesse Morton, a former extremist, said he was in touch with Faisal within days of his return. He said he installed Faisal as the spiritual leader of his Revolution Muslim network, using the charismatic preacher’s teachings to inspire American Muslims to join the extremist movement.
“Faisal has connections all throughout Syria, all throughout Iraq, Yemen, he knows everybody throughout the jihadi movement and everybody knows him,” said Mr Morton, who after serving four years in prison now uses his experience to prevent the spread of extremist ideology.
He said Faisal Shahzad, the failed Times Square bomber, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the underwear bomber, were both fans.
“He’s probably responsible for radicalising thousands,” said Mr Morton.
But the result of Faisal’s arrest may be a more decentralised system of recruitment, making it more difficult for counter-terrorist officers to gather intelligence about extremists, he added.
“Now we’ll see proteges and entrepreneurs taking on a more clandestine role,” he said. “Sometimes it’s not always good taking down charismatic preachers.”
American authorities say they have long been concerned about Faisal’s activities in Jamaica and prosecutors allege he has publicly supported ISIL since 2014.
In their criminal complaint, they allege that Faisal sent ISIL propaganda to an undercover investigator.
“After their initial exchanges, the defendant offered to help the undercover officer leave the US and travel to the Middle East to support foreign fighters abroad. Faisal also offered to connect this individual with contacts, cautioning the undercover officer to be circumspect about explicit references to the plan, employ coded language, and use an encrypted chat tool while communicating with Faisal and his associates,” they say.
He even offered to arrange a marriage with someone in ISIL to help the officer’s travel arrangements.
James O’Neill, New York Police commissioner said: “Sheikh Faisal has used his influence and direction to groom and inspire terrorists who have bombed trains, attempted to blow up airliners, and attack Americans here and abroad.
“His arrest for his efforts to recruit people for ISIS, a terrorist group that has plotted attacks against New York City, should bring an abrupt end to his global outreach in support of terror groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS.”