- Sparkbrook in Birmingham has become synonymous with Islamic extremism
- One in ten of all UK's convicted Islamic terrorists have come from the area
- Sparkbrook is more than 70 per cent Muslim
- Labour-controlled Birmingham City council accused of turning a blind eye
Few people will have heard of Moinal Abedin. But he has a uniquely chilling CV. Abedin is widely acknowledged to be Britain’s first Al Qaeda- inspired terrorist.
In 2002, he was jailed for 20 years for turning a terrace house in Birmingham’s Sparkbrook district into a bomb-making factory.
Among the deadly haul was an industrial quantity of the chemical required for the high explosive HMTD, which was used in the July 7 attacks on London’s Tube and bus network in 2005.
Birmingham links: Abdelatif Gaini (far left), Humza Ali (third left), Mohammed Ali Ahmed (third right) and Gabriel Rasmus (far right) at a ‘bonding’ session at a paintballing centre in Solihull
The security services were convinced that Abedin, who had attended a terrorist training camp on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, was plotting to kill large numbers of people.
He was 25 at the time, married with two children, and working as a waiter, then a used-car salesman.
Moinal Abedin is 42 now and, according to someone who knows him, he has just completed his sentence and is back on the streets of Birmingham where his ‘career’ began.
During his time inside, Sparkbrook has become synonymous with Islamic extremism; one in ten of all Britain’s convicted Islamic terrorists, we now know, have come from Sparkbrook (population 30,000) and four adjoining council wards.
In total, these highly concentrated Muslim enclaves, occupying a few square miles of the city, have produced 26 of the country’s 269 known jihadis convicted in Britain of terror offences.
The disturbing statistic is contained in the most comprehensive study of terror convictions in the UK.
The 1,000-page report, published earlier this month by security think-tank The Henry Jackson Society, challenges the prevailing liberal view that neighbourhoods such as Sparkbrook are symbols of thriving multiculturalism.
In truth, a parallel society exists in Sparkbrook. In the street where Moinal Abedin was once a familiar face, comprising 150 or so homes, we could find only one remaining white British household.
Most Muslims who live in what are effectively segregated communities do not turn out like Abedin. But it seems they are significantly more likely to if they live in Sparkbrook.
This is perhaps the key finding to emerge from the study.
The difference between Muslim communities in Birmingham and Leicester highlights this. Leicester, with a significant but more widely dispersed Muslim population, has bred only two convicted terrorists over the past two decades compared with the 26 from in and around Sparkbrook, which is more than 70 per cent Muslim.
But the sweeping social and demographic changes in the heart of Birmingham down the years are only part of the story.
The Labour-controlled administration on Birmingham City council, Europe’s largest local authority, has been consistently accused of turning a blind eye to extremism.
The council itself admitted in the aftermath of the Trojan Horse Scandal — when militant Muslims attempted to infiltrate state schools to impose an Islamic agenda — that it had shied away from the problem out of a ‘fear of being accused of racism’.
Others, including a former head forced out of her school by hardliners, are convinced there was another reason for the council’s inaction: that most Muslims and ethnic minorities in general tend to vote Labour.
Dotted around Ladypool Road are 22 mosques, dominated by the twin minarets of Birmingham Central Mosque (pictured, stock image)
This culture of acquiescence — and in some cases blatant pandering — has been exacerbated by many leading Muslim councillors. Only a couple of weeks ago, Waseem Zaffar, the council’s cabinet member for ‘transparency, openness and equality’, was forced to resign after pressurising a Catholic school to let a four-year-old girl wear an Islamic veil in class.
The school, which caters for Catholics and non-Catholics alike, had a uniform policy that banned headwear. He had not revealed publicly that the girl was a relative of his although Birmingham City Council say that he had informed it and the school of the family link. Councillor Zaffar, 35, said the policy breached the Equalities Act.
Mr Zaffar quit following the intervention of the Government’s integration tsar Dame Louise Casey, who wrote to the leader of the council condemning Mr Zaffar and questioning whether ‘sufficient lessons have been learnt’ from the Trojan Horse scandal, which culminated in an inquiry in 2014.
Some people, outside Birmingham, might question why Mr Zaffar was promoted to the cabinet in the first place, given his controversial past. He described Israel as a ‘terrorist state’ at a pro-Palestine demonstration, for example, yet still plays a hugely prominent role in local Labour politics.
He is the campaign chief for Labour’s candidate to become the first elected West Midlands metropolitan mayor in May, representing Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton.
Meanwhile, veteran Muslim councillor called Muhammad Afzal withdrew from the running to become Lord Mayor of Birmingham last year following a series of controversies.
He lost support after branding David Cameron an Islamophobe and making inflammatory comments to a Muslim women’s group, when he claimed ‘domestic violence was happening mainly in the Christian community because they get drunk’.
His Labour colleagues at City Hall include a string of other hardline Muslim politicians. Among them, the councillor who once organised an election rally where the mainly Muslim men and women in the audience sat separately, on opposite sides of the hall; and another who was accused by a prospective female councillor of telling her she was ‘too white and Jewish’ to be selected.
A university analysis identified Sparkbrook (pictured, stock image) as one of two areas outside London with more than 30 per cent of people not born in the UK
This kind of political leadership has, it seems, done little to deter the spread of Islamic militancy in Birmingham — especially in Sparkbrook.
A university analysis identified Sparkbrook as one of two areas outside London with more than 30 per cent of people not born in the UK. A significant number of Sparkbrook inhabitants do not speak English.
Visit the area and you’ll inevitably pass along Ladypool Road, the neighbourhood’s bustling main artery, at the centre of the Balti Triangle, so named because of the number of curry houses that line the pavement.
The shops are largely Islamic, too. There’s Only Hijab, the Islam Superstore and Kafe Karachi, to name a few. Dotted around Ladypool Road are 22 mosques, dominated by the twin minarets of Birmingham Central Mosque.
Only a generation ago, the back-to-back terraces around Ladypool Road were populated by a very different community.
The residents were made up of indigenous locals and families from Ireland, attracted by cheap housing and employment.
In the Sixties, the first migrants from the Indian sub-continent arrived and so began a process of irreversible change that culminated in mass, uncontrolled immigration under New Labour.
No one has witnessed the transformation of Sparkbrook more closely than businessman Steve Mills, who opened his garage in 1988.
Parviz Khan was claiming £1,696 a month in benefits while plotting to kidnap and behead a British soldier for Al Qaeda
Back then, in the unit next door, was a business supplying beer to local pubs. There was also a family butchers’ shop. Across the road, a factory which made the famous Avery weighing scales. One by one, they began to disappear. The old Avery factory is now an Islamic community centre.
‘I think I’m the last [non-Muslim] business left,’ said father-of two Mr Mills, 54. ‘I don’t think I know of any others.’
Meanwhile, in nearby Fallows Road, Kevin Jones, a painter and decorator, represents the last vestiges of the old working class. He has lived in the street for the past 30 years.
‘Someone once asked me why I was still here. I told him I’d always been here. My wife has always been here. We brought up our four children in this house. Why should I move?’
He remembers, like it was yesterday, the time 17 years ago when he was working in a house further up the road. Suddenly, the police were everywhere. Mr Jones watched from a window as they stormed a property directly opposite. Later, a young Muslim man was arrested at the scene. The man was the infamous bomb-maker Moinal Abedin.
‘It was very scary,’ said Mr Jones, 53, who says he gets on well with all his Muslim neighbours.
Many Muslims living here today can trace their origins to the divided state of Kashmir, which has been the centre of an endless territorial dispute between Pakistan and India.
The Kashmir connection is significant. Throughout the Nineties, Kashmiri militants, fighting for an independent Kashmir, travelled to Birmingham openly to raise funds for the cause and inspire young local Muslims to join the fight.
Many of the 26 jihadists revealed to have come from Sparkbrook — and the four neighbouring council wards featured in the Henry Jackson Society report — used Kashmiri militant groups as ‘stepping stones’ to join Al Qaeda. One of them was Irfan Khalid. His mother was brought up in Britain, but his father was from Kashmir and came to this country in 1984 to get married.
Khalid, the eldest of four children, lived mostly with his maternal grandparents on a Seventies estate at Timbers Way, Sparkbrook, where last week a young woman in a burka answered the door. She said she was a close relative of Khalid’s but politely declined to speak about him.
Khalid, now 35, was jailed for 18 years in 2013. He was a member of an Al Qaeda cell that plotted bomb attacks on a scale larger than the July 7 bombings that ‘could kill 2,000 people’. Khalid, who made a number of trips to Kashmir when he was growing up, filmed suicide videos with a co-conspirator, to be released on their deaths.
But they were already on the radar of MI5 and their conversations were being recorded.
At the Timbers Way maisonette, police later found a tape with a lecture by a radical cleric called ‘Judgement Day’.
Pinned to another front door in nearby Washwood Heath (one of the other wards identified in the report) is a ‘prayer for entering the home’ written in Arabic.
This is the last known address of Parviz Khan. Married with four children, he was claiming £1,696 a month in benefits while plotting to kidnap and behead a British soldier for Al Qaeda. He was arrested before identifying a target. In 2008, he was jailed for life. His family is from Mirpur, in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
Birmingham men Abdelatif Gaini, Humza Ali, Mohammed Ali Ahmed and Gabriel Rasmus, who all attended a paintballing bonding session in Solihull, in what appeared to be a training session for Jihad, all came under surveillance.
Humza Ali was later convicted of terrorism offences, Rasmus was jailed after being arrested en route to Syria, Ali Ahmed was convicted for handing money over to a man linked to the Brussels bombing, and Gaini is thought to be fighting for Isis in the Middle East.
Back in Ladypool Road, in the heart of the Balti Triangle, there is a restaurant at one end of the street with a function room upstairs. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, a call to arms was issued to young Muslims during a gathering at these premises, which have now changed hands.
One of the speakers that night was young firebrand calling himself Zahir.
Respected Midlands-based journalist Amardeep Bassey was allowed into the meeting. He said Zahir’s real name was in fact Umran Javed.
Javed, from Derby, was jailed for six years in 2007 after he called for American and Danish people to be murdered at a protest in London against cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed.
No one who heard him speak that night all those years ago would have been surprised at such a turn of events.
‘I was born in this country,’ he said. ‘I went to nursery, infant, and secondary school, college and then university in this country. But am I British? Absolutely not.
‘I am a Muslim first and foremost. We will never be accepted by the Kufr [‘unbeliever’] so we should never pander to their whims or support their actions like some so-called Muslims have been doing.
‘If they continue to do so, it is our duty to persuade them not to. But if they do not listen, they are Kufr too and so it is our duty to fight and even kill them.’
Could there be a more chilling insight into the mindset of an Islamic terrorist or a greater betrayal of everything this country has done for him and his family?
Like Moinal Abedin, Britain’s first Al Qaeda-inspired terrorist, Umran Javed is now also back on the streets of Birmingham.
Additional reporting: Mark Branagan
- An earlier version of this article for mobile phone readers erroneously included an image of the Sparkbrook Islamic Centre. We have been asked to clarify that the Centre has no association with terrorist acts such as that perpetrated by Khalid Masood in Westminster on 22 March 2017. The centre says that it has a proud history of promoting cooperation, understanding and tolerance between religious and ethnic groups and has been at the forefront of efforts to educate through moderation and peaceful coexistence.