Osman - Britains Greatest Terrorist Threat

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Britain was still reeling from an al Qaeda suicide bomb attack that killed 52 people in the worst terrorist atrocity the country has ever seen. Exactly two weeks on, an identical attack had been launched on identical targets: At that point, passengers on those trains and the bus had no way of knowing that they owed their lives to a breakdown in communication between the terror gang and their master.

When Khan and his gang ran into problems preparing their weapons of mass murder, they received a helping hand from Rashied Raouf, al Qaeda's key operational co-ordinator for both plots.

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Raouf was the link man in Pakistan between British volunteers and al Qaeda and was a key player in several plots against his home country. He then married the sister-in-law of Maulana Masood Azhar, the head and founder of Jaish Mohammed, a Pakistani jihadi group, and quickly rose through al Qaeda's ranks. This was sort of their goal. Raouf was later implicated in the plot to blow up airliners using liquid explosives targeting 1, passengers by a cell of followers from High Wycombe and London.

However, his after-action report could, perhaps, now explain the lower-tech approaches to terror followed in the Mumbai massacres and lately with the brutal murders of 38 tourists in Tunisia. Cagefight program attracts UK officials The task of managing the re-integration into society of these young men has proved beyond the capabilities of most Muslim community groups. But one east Londoner, proud to be both British and Muslim, has felt religiously compelled to take on the fight.

Raja, the year-old grandson of a Pakistani immigrant is not tall but he is built like an ox, with a close shaven head, short beard, and otherwise pure muscle. On his thumb he wears a ring with a curving metal spike, a legal form of self-protection, which he says is extra insurance if extremists try to physically confront him. Raja is one of the UK's most renowned cage-fighting coaches, having fought in arenas across the UK during the early gritty years of the now fast growing sport, also known as mixed-martial arts MMA.

He is also a man of deep ideas, including harnessing Islamic teaching to defeat the ideology of the terrorists. Three years ago, Raja began taking under his wing some of the most dangerous offenders being released from the highest security wings of the British prison system; men convicted of carrying out terrorism on behalf of al Qaeda in murder, assassinations, bombing, and arson plots. Last year pictures of several of the men appeared in full page splashes in British newspapers warning of the threat posed by released terrorists to the Olympics.


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A 'humiliating' security failure. The release of dozens of convicted terrorists was reflective of lower sentences under British law for a range of terrorist offenses, compared to the United States and some other countries. Usman Raja in his cage-fighting days when he rose to become one of the UK's most renowned fighters.

Clarke told CNN that it was not unusual for terrorism suspects to be charged with more minor offenses than their plots merited, because British intelligence services were hesitant about intelligence emerging in court which could be useful to al Qaeda. Raja tried a novel approach with some of the most challenging freed convicted terrorists; he coached them cage-fighting skills. Raja says it proved a remarkably effective way of breaking them out of their pro al Qaeda mentality and opening up their minds to his counter-extremist message.

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It has almost literally involved knocking sense into them in the fighting gym. Convicted terrorist calmed by cagefighting. When the released convicts meet Raja to train in gyms in and around the capital, including one in east London within sight of the Olympic park, they are very much on his territory. Sparring in the cage, he says, has a way of focusing the mind. He says he has used cage-fighting sessions in about one-third of his intervention cases. As well as working with released convicted terrorists he has worked with dozens of young Muslims radicalized in jail.

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The MMA gym, he says, has been a big draw for the previously jailed terrorists, for whom physical training was both an outlet and a form of protection in prison. And he says his coaching naturally allows him to develop a mentoring relationship. Once he has their attention, he impresses on them that true Islam is spiritual, tolerant and humanistic, and not the narrow-minded, divisive message of hate peddled by self-serving radical preachers. Previously that identity was being validated.

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I say to them let's question that validity," Raja said. That identity, Raja says, is the result of a "deviant Jihadist subculture" that has been accepted by too many young British Muslims which justifies all manner of criminal activity, including terrorism, out of hostility to the British state.

Read Raja's path to anti-terror inspiration. British officials say Raja's approach is working. The former cagefighter has worked with 10 of the dozens of convicted terrorists released from prison and says that his approach has been successful so far in every single case. The Probation Service's Central Extremism Unit, the lead UK government agency dealing with released terrorist convicts, now regularly channels cases towards Raja. The young men are not required to meet him, but are encouraged to do so.

7 July 2005 London bombings

Other terrorist convicts up for release, having heard about his work, reach out to him directly. Several of those Raja is working with are still considered potentially dangerous. Yassin Nassari was the first convicted terrorist that cagefighter Usman Raja successfully deradicalized. But Raja knows how to connect.

Like several of them, he is also from the tough neighborhoods of east London, once subscribed to fundamentalist views himself, and says he came close to fighting Jihad in Bosnia in the s. Raja says they are impressed by his martial arts pedigree and sense he sincerely wants to help them. What adds to his credibility is that he has not been beholden financially to the British government.

Almost all his work is self-financed under the auspices of the Unity Initiative, an organization which he runs with his wife and a small band of helpers.

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Funds have been so scarce he says he finances the work from his cage-fighting coaching and his wife's student loans. When he and his wife Khadija founded Unity in August they created a systematic approach for working with radicalized Muslims, which they based on the teachings of Raja's guru Sheikh Aleey Qadir , a Malaysian cleric resident in east London from a school of Islamic learning that says it traces its lineage of learning directly to the Prophet Mohammed. The cleric's backing has provided crucial religious legitimacy to their efforts and Qadir has played a hands-on role supporting Unity, including counseling several of the released men.

What we are doing here is a 1,year-old methodology," Raja told CNN.