Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

A cagefighter's success fighting terror

By Nic Robertson and Paul Cruickshank, CNN
July 20, 2012 -- Updated 1418 GMT (2218 HKT)
Usman Raja, pictured in his cage-fighting days now works deradicalizing Muslim extremists released from prison.
Usman Raja, pictured in his cage-fighting days now works deradicalizing Muslim extremists released from prison.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Usman Raja deradicalizes released prisoners in the shadow of London's Olympic stadium
  • The area is sometimes called Londonistan as the radicals' message often finds a receptive home
  • Many convicted of terror plots in the years after 9/11 are now free

Watch more about Olympic Security on "Connect the World" on Friday at 8p.m. GMT, and watch the inspiring "Caging Terror" documentary Saturday at 9.30a.m., 7p.m. and 6.30p.m. GMT and Sunday at 2.30p.m. GMT.

London (CNN) -- Veteran cagefighter Usman Raja has so far worked to deradicalize 10 convicted terrorists after they completed their prison terms in the UK.

His work combines teaching Mixed Martial Arts skills and a humanistic and tolerant interpretation of Islam that traces its roots back to the Prophet Mohammed.

His success has been noted by British officials who are trying to work out if it can be replicated on a larger scale.

Read how Raja's controversial technique works, is changing lives, and getting noticed.

Here are some of his cases:

Cagefighter tackles freed terrorists
Abu Bakr Mansha was jailed for a plot to kill a British Army corporal.
Abu Bakr Mansha was jailed for a plot to kill a British Army corporal.
Yassin Nassari was the first convicted terrorist that cagefighter Usman Raja successfully deradicalized.
Yassin Nassari was the first convicted terrorist that cagefighter Usman Raja successfully deradicalized.

Abu Bakr Mansha, a British-Pakistani, who is now 28, was in 2005 convicted of terrorism in what prosecutors alleged was a thwarted plot he embarked on that year to track down and kill or severely harm a British soldier who had returned from Iraq. He had pleaded not guilty to a charge of possessing information likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.

Mansha was released in 2009 under strict conditions but recalled to prison several months later because he was assessed as still dangerous. After he was again released in March 2011, he entrusted himself to Raja, under whose mentorship he appears to have shed his radical views.

Mansha's police mug shot was used in British newspaper stories warning of a threat from released terrorist convicts to the Olympic Games. He says he now wants to stop other young Muslims from repeating his mistakes. "I learned the hard way," he told CNN.

Raja said his first terrorist case was Yassin Nassari, now 33, a British-Syrian resident of London, who was arrested by police after he landed in Luton airport in 2006 after a trip overseas. Police say they found instructions on how to make a viable rocket on his hard-drive, and at his home violent videos of terrorist attacks and beheadings. The following year Nassari was found guilty of possessing information likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.

According to Raja, when he was released in 2008, Nassari was very reluctant to work with Muslim community groups enlisted by probation services to rehabilitate offenders. But Nassari heard about Raja through friends who had trained with him in mixed martial arts and agreed to meet him. In the early summer of 2009 they met in a probation office in London and from there Nassari wanted to work with Raja.

He said Nassari was interested in getting mixed martial arts training, and the instruction he gave him in cage fighting allowed him to build up a mentoring relationship.

The two had wide-ranging discussions about Islam, during which time Raja was able to impress upon Nassari his humanistic approach to the religion. "What I think he recognized was our sincerity - that we were doing this for the infinite good," Raja told CNN. The former convict is now working at a charity providing a support structure for Muslims convicted of criminal offenses after their release from prison, according to Raja.

Andrew Rowe

Raja described how another one of his early success stories was Andrew Rowe, a radicalized British-Jamaican convert who was 34 when convicted in 2005 of terrorism offenses after instructions on how to fire mortars, a coded list of methods of attack, possible targets, and traces of explosive were found on his possessions.

Rowe had travelled to several Jihadist fronts, including Bosnia, Chechnya, Pakistan and Afghanistan and was described as "a global terrorist [who] has been trained and knows how to use extreme violence," by a senior British counter-terrorism official.

Raja says Rowe began training on mixed martial arts whilst in prison. On his release Raja provided him with further martial arts instruction, which helped him forge a mentoring relationship. Raja said Rowe was already looking to improve his religious understanding, making him open to Raja's message.

Other Cases

Raja has also worked with two men convicted of terrorism offenses in relation to the failed July 21, 2005 bombing attack on London, a man convicted of a terrorist arson attack, as well as several other former terrorist convicts. He is set to take on several more released terrorist convicts in the coming months.

CNN's Ken Shiffman contributed to this report

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 13, 2012 -- Updated 1353 GMT (2153 HKT)
The moment that Team GB's Mo Farah won the 10,000 meters was a wonderful collision of electricity.
August 13, 2012 -- Updated 1534 GMT (2334 HKT)
His blistering pace and larger-than-life antics made him the king of the track in London, and bolstered his claims to be a "living legend."
August 14, 2012 -- Updated 0944 GMT (1744 HKT)
Disappointment for Nigeria's Muizat Ajoke Odumosu, who came last in the 400m hurdles final, London 2012 Olympics.
The Olympics are generally won and lost long before the opening ceremony cauldron is touched by fire.
August 12, 2012 -- Updated 0738 GMT (1538 HKT)
Fans of the home side, Team GB, wave Union Jack flags during the Olympic Games
CNN's Richard Quest believes the London Games will be regarded as having brought the Olympics concept home.
August 11, 2012 -- Updated 1633 GMT (0033 HKT)
Strategist Alastair Campbell says he never imagined London 2012 would be quite the triumph it turned out to be.
August 14, 2012 -- Updated 2057 GMT (0457 HKT)
Award-winning director Danny Boyle celebrates the best of British music in London 2012's Olympic Closing Ceremony.
January 31, 2013 -- Updated 1452 GMT (2252 HKT)
From Usain Bolt's record-setting achievements to an unexpected Ugandan gold, London 2012 has provided a wide array of highlights.
August 13, 2012 -- Updated 0305 GMT (1105 HKT)
CNN's Amanda Davies recaps the London 2012 Olympics from the opening ceremony on July 27 to the finale on day 16.
August 12, 2012 -- Updated 1702 GMT (0102 HKT)
Mo Farah and Usain Bolt celebrate their success at the London 2012 Olympic Games by copying each other's
It's been just over two weeks since the Queen parachuted into London's Olympic Stadium, her apricot dress flapping in the breeze.
August 15, 2012 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
When the world's top marathon runners bid to win Olympic gold, they would do well to draw inspiration from one of the greatest athletes in the history of track and field.
August 11, 2012 -- Updated 1633 GMT (0033 HKT)
Team GB supporters with their faces painted in Union Jack designs at the Olympic Stadium in London.
Alastair Campbell always thought London 2012 would be a success, but never imagined it would be quite the triumph it has turned out to be.
August 10, 2012 -- Updated 1021 GMT (1821 HKT)
Adrien Niyonshuti is unlikely to win an Olympic medal, and he will do well to even finish his event, but his story is surely one of the most inspirational.
August 10, 2012 -- Updated 1605 GMT (0005 HKT)
The colors of the Olympic Rings at the Olympic Park in Stratford, east London, August 2012.
Olympic fever has cheered up London and made it a more welcoming place, but will optimism be one of the legacies of the Games?
August 10, 2012 -- Updated 1825 GMT (0225 HKT)
Wojdan Shaherkani's Olympic debut was short, but sweet -- the Saudi judoka said competing at the Games was
London 2012 is the first Olympics to feature women in every national team, with Jacques Rogge hailing a "major boost for gender equality."
August 10, 2012 -- Updated 0040 GMT (0840 HKT)
An impoverished South Korean gymnast has not only struck Olympic gold, but also reaped a $444,000 donation in a veritable rags to riches tale.
August 9, 2012 -- Updated 0046 GMT (0846 HKT)
Britain's hero Jessica Ennis is set to cash in after winning heptathlon gold, but the poster girl of the 2012 Olympics says fame is not her motivation.
August 8, 2012 -- Updated 0746 GMT (1546 HKT)
China is rallying around fallen hurdler Liu Xiang after he failed to make it past the first-round heat for a second consecutive Olympics.
August 3, 2012 -- Updated 1930 GMT (0330 HKT)
The first woman to win Olympic gold almost died in a plane crash, but remarkably returned to run again for the U.S. in 1936.
August 7, 2012 -- Updated 1504 GMT (2304 HKT)
Don Paige could not bear to watch the race he knew he could win. The 1980 Moscow Olympics were the death of a dream for many athletes.
August 4, 2012 -- Updated 1421 GMT (2221 HKT)
Ricardo Blas Jr
While Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt grab the headlines, little-known athletes from around the world keep alive the original spirit of the Olympics.
Athletes spend years eating the right foods ... and then must resist the free fast food in the Olympic village. How do they do it?
ADVERTISEMENT