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London mosque leader recalls bomb suspect

Abdul Haqq Baker  

LONDON, England (CNN) -- As the investigation into shoe bomb suspect Richard Reid moves forward, CNN has received information about him from the leader of the Brixton Mosque in South London that Reid once attended. Mosque chairman Abdul Haqq Baker said he saw Reid undergo a transformation during the time he knew him -- and that the changes were for the worse. CNN anchor Kyra Phillips interviewed Baker in London Wednesday via satellite from Atlanta, Georgia.

PHILLIPS: Well, joining us now from London to talk more about Richard Reid and the time he spent at a mosque there is Abdul Haqq Baker, the chairman of the Brixton Mosque. Abdul, thanks for sticking around to talk to us.

BAKER: That's OK.

PHILLIPS: Do you know why [Reid] was in prison in the first place?

BAKER: I think it was something related to petty crimes, but I couldn't confirm that because he didn't go into much detail when he came to us.

PHILLIPS: The fact that you did know that he did come from prison, did that concern you at all when he came to your mosque?

BAKER: Not really. We find that ex-convicts have been recommended to attend mosques because of our informal rehabilitation program, the fact that they can identify with us as being converts and show them how to assimilate back into the society.

PHILLIPS: Did he ever tell you why he was there? Did he get personal with you and give a bit of a testimony to why he was seeking you out?

CNN's Jim Boulden reports shoe bomb suspect Richard Reid attended the same London mosque as suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui (December 26)

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BAKER: He came because he said that we were teaching the pure form of Islam and that we should show him the straight and narrow sort of view of Islam and practice of Islam -- which is the orthodox Islam. He was happy that we weren't going to be feeding him rhetoric or erroneous beliefs.

PHILLIPS: So, did you find him as an intellectual, and did you see any differences between him and other students intellectually?

BAKER: I wouldn't say he was an intellectual as such. He was a keen learner. He was taking Arabic classes that we would have there, and he was like the regular South London street-wise individuals who would come and want to learn a little, but not extensively.

PHILLIPS: Did he ever talk about his family, maybe a wife or a girlfriend or children?

BAKER: No. He wasn't married and didn't refer to any children. We know that he stayed locally with an aunt who lived in the area. That's the sum total of what he told us regarding any family members.

PHILLIPS: Let's talk about this recruitment process. When he came back, he was very different and he was in military fatigues. You said he had completely changed. Did he just all of a sudden decide to leave? He disappeared for a little while and then came back?

BAKER: What happens often in London [is that] there are many talks around the area -- the wider London area. People leave mosques left, right and center. He may have met individuals on his journey to other mosques for congregational prayer, and they would entice him by saying [they would] teach him Arabic: "Do you want to hear about the problems of the West and why we need to stand up against these people?"

That would have tempted him, as it has done many individuals, away from a main center where they would have been learning maybe the more basic, mundane aspects of Islam -- which we say [are] essential. This is one of the things that happened with him.

PHILLIPS: How do [recruiters] manipulate what you are trying to teach? What is it about these recruiters that make them so effective? How do they convince people like Reid?

BAKER: What they do is say, "We share the same orthodox belief as those at Brixton Mosque and elsewhere. However, those at Brixton Mosque are somewhat passive with their view [of] jihad. They have got the understanding of jihad wrong."

In that area, they would then inculcate then with the more extreme view of jihad, extreme, erroneous and wrong belief, and because they can see they're impressionable and wanting to be active for Islam, this is how they win them over.

Eventually, they speak against people like our center, saying that they are government-funded, that they pop up some of the regimes in the Middle East and this is what they're there for. Then they grow to dislike us [and] our call in the [orthodox way of Islam] more intensively.

They went over just in that particular area, because there's more activeness -- jihad training, learning to fire guns, talking about the political situation in the world and how the Muslims are being effected by the so-called non-Muslim infidels of the West.

PHILLIPS: Do you remember something that maybe frightened you in a way, or made you really pay attention to him, a red flag that sticks out in your mind?

BAKER: I think toward the end his discussions were so much about why we had a different understanding -- from the divergence belief of jihad that he had and what was wrong. For example: killing of innocent civilians, terrorism as it was seen, and suicide bombing. [Those who diverge from the orthodox way of Islam question] what is wrong with the understanding that we are living in the West and this is a place of war -- which is not the correct understanding that mainstream Islam holds.

This is the sort of things that alerted us.

PHILLIPS: When you come across red flags like this, is there anything in your laws that says you should contact authorities? Or is it pretty much just up to you on what to do or how to handle someone like Reid?

BAKER: No. What we did, and we've being doing for a number of years now, is [that] we would warn the authorities of the centers and the people who would be making these erroneous and divergent calls. ... I've been in Brixton as chairman for eight years now, and we've been doing it as long ago as that -- notifying the authorities, the home office, and saying, Look, these are the individuals who are calling a number of unsuspected youth to this divergent path. And they've come from abroad, from other countries and are seeking asylum here.

We've done that on a regular basis, and we continue to do that. That's one of the duties of [we] as Muslims to do that.

PHILLIPS: Well, it's such a shame to see such a manipulation of your faith. But I have to tell you, we thank you very much for being with us and being so straightforward in talking with us about this. Abdul Haqq Baker, chairman of the Brixton Mosque.

BAKER: My pleasure.




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