TIMESONLINE… A senior figure in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a hardline Islamist group that the Government keeps “under continuous review” and the Conservatives want to ban, is teaching and preaching at a top university.
The Times has learnt that Reza Pankhurst, who was imprisoned in Egypt for membership of the group, is a teacher at the London School of Economics and regularly preaches to students at Friday prayers.
The group is supposedly barred from organising and speaking on campuses under the National Union of Students’ policy of “no platform” for racist or fascist views. The presence of one of its prominent members as a university teacher raises new concerns about Islamist radicalisation on campus.
A new review of campus extremism began last month after it was discovered that the alleged Detroit airline bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was a former president of the Islamic Society at University College London.
The Times understands that at least two London university lecturers are either supporters or members of Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Mr Pankhurst is a postgraduate student in the LSE’s government department and teaches classes for the course “States, Nations and Empires”.
On Fridays he is one of the regular speakers at prayers organised by the students’ union Islamic Society in the college gym.
A society member told The Times: “He preaches every other week and is constantly bringing the subject around to politics, talking about Afghanistan and the need to establish the Caliphate [Islamic state].
“Only last week he was talking about the Detroit bomber and saying the guy was not radicalised in London and it was all to do with foreign policy.
“Last year he recommended we should attend a conference which I later discovered was organised by Hizb ut-Tahrir, but he never mentions the party by name.”
In 2002 Mr Pankhurst was one of three British Hizb ut-Tahrir members arrested in Egypt for attempting to promote the movement. They were held for four years and tortured before being released in 2006.
He remained active in the movement after his return and, according to well-informed sources, is still a senior figure. Last month a meeting at Queen Mary College, London, at which Mr Pankhurst and Jamal Harwood, another member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, were due to speak, was cancelled after student protests about the speakers’ views.
The Times made repeated attempts to contact the group and Mr Pankhurst yesterday but without success.
The group states on its website that its “political aim is the re-establishment of the Islamic Caliphate as an independent state”. It says that it rejects forcing change “by means of violence and terror”.
Hizb ut-Tahrir is banned in Germany for anti-semitic activity but, despite Tony Blair announcing plans to proscribe it in 2005, it remains legal in Britain.
In a speech last month Chris Grayling, the Shadow Home Secretary, said that the Conservative Party would ban the group if elected to Government. Mr Grayling said: “Within the UK it takes extreme care about how it words its propaganda … But anyone who doubts its true character should take a look at the website for its sister organisation in Bangladesh, which talks about evil American plans to subjugate Muslims and about mobilising armed forces to eliminate the Jewish entity. We cannot allow such views free rein in our society.”
The LSE confirmed that Mr Pankhurst was a research student and a graduate teaching assistant.
A spokesman said: “No concerns about his conduct have been raised with the school and we are not aware that he is a member of any proscribed organisation or has broken any laws or LSE regulations.”
The students’ union said that Mr Pankhurst was a member of its Islamic Society. Aled Dilwyn Fisher, general secretary of the union, said: “As far as we are aware, Mr Pankhurst is not currently a member of an illegal extremist group.”
A spokesman for the anti-extremism think-tank, the Quilliam Foundation, said: “Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organisation which has a long track record of promoting intolerance, has not abandoned its efforts to infiltrate British universities in order to spread its destructive, confrontational message.
“Its infiltration of internationally renowned universities such as the LSE make a mockery of universities’ claims to be tackling extremism on campus.”
A Home Office spokesman said “Hizb ut-Tahrir is kept under continuous review. As and when new material comes to light it is considered and the organisation reassessed as part of that process.”