Airlines on Wednesday refused to allow radical Jamaican preacher Sheikh Abdullah al-Faisal aboard their aircraft, frustrating efforts of the Kenyan Government to deport him.
At the same time, mystery deepened over who invited him to Kenya, with Muslim leaders denying knowledge of his visit.
Mr al-Faisal was held at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi for most of the day on Wednesday, as the government looked for an alternative way to take him home.
On Wednesday night the government was still looking for a plane to carry Mr al-Faisal and was hopeful that one would be found.
Mr al-Faisal, born Trevor William Forrest, was convicted in Britain on terrorism-related charges in 2003 and deported on release in 2007. On arrival in Jamaica, the Islamic Council of Jamaica banned him from preaching in its mosques, a local paper reported on Wednesday.
“Instructions had been given that he was not allowed to give any speech or have any official position or activities within any of the Muslim communities that come under the stewardship of the Islamic Council,” head of the Council, Mustafa Muhammad, told the Observer. The UK court jailed him for seven years for preaching that Muslims ought to kill Americans, Hindus and Jews.
Mr al-Faisal, was arrested on New Year’s Eve after entering Kenya from Tanzania through the Lunga Lunga border crossing at the Coast. Authorities said they had arrested him because of breaching the terms of his tourist visa, which did not allow him to preach. The Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims chairman, Prof Abdulghafur El-bussaidy, said he knew little about Mr al-Faisal’s visit.
“It is possible that he was invited by another organisation, but I didn’t know of his visit,” he said. “You could ask nominated MP Sheikh Mohammed Dor for more.” Sheikh Dor defended the fiery preacher, but he too denied knowledge of how he came to Kenya.
“He is an honest man who came into the country legally… he has not done anything wrong,” he told the Nation by phone. Sheikh Dor, the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya (CIPK) secretary-general, also dismissed reports that Mr al -Faisal had called for the killing of non-Muslims.
“I have CDs of his preaching … from what I have seen and heard, you will love him. He only talks about the rights of Muslims but has not in any way called for the killing of anyone. Those are rumours being propagated by the western world.”
He said the Jamaican had visited eight African countries and preached in more than 300 mosques and wondered why the Kenyan authorities arrested him. Mr al-Faisal had preached in South Africa, Nigeria, Angola, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania amongst others, according to Sheikh Dor. “Why is it that it is only in Kenya that he has been arrested, based on malicious information from the West?”
Supkem secretary general Aden Wachu could not be reached but the director general, Dr Latif Shaaban, said he had no idea about the whole saga and referred the Nation to Supkem’s director of religious affairs, Sheikh Mohammed Shebwana. Sheikh Shebwana said he too was unaware of the controversial cleric’s visit. He said he had been out of office for the holidays.
He, in turn, referred the Nation to Mr Yusuf Muraba who works at Supkem’s secretariat, but Mr Muraba said only the chairman, Prof Abdulghafur El-Bussaidy, and Mr Wachu, the secretary general, could comment about the issue. When the Nation got back to Sheikh Shebwana, he was taken aback: “Si yeye anaketi ofisini, kama barua ilitumwa, si anajua, mbona hakukwambia?” (Yusuf knows what happens in the office, if an invitation was sent, he would know).
A Muslim rights group on Wednesday accused the government of plans to fly Mr al-Faisal to Mogadishu, Somalia. “We are aware of these plans but we, however, will not allow this to happen. If he has to be taken anywhere, it will be his home country – Jamaica,” said Muslim Human Rights Forum chairman, Al Amin Kimathi by phone.
He said his organisation had instructed lawyers to go to court to secure Mr al-Faisal’s release. “It is his constitutional right to communicate with us. That is what we are demanding … he must be freed,” added Mr Kimathi. Immigration minister Otieno Kajwang, who has already signed an order to deport the cleric, could not be reached by phone.
The cleric, who entered Kenya through the Lunga Lunga border post, was flown to Nairobi for interrogation by the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit. Mr Kajwang’ said had Mr al-Faisal used an airport or one of the major border posts where the Immigration controls are linked by computer, his name would have shown up on the watch list and he would not have been allowed entry.
During his 2003 trial, British authorities accused Mr al-Faisal of inciting racial hatred. In his sermons, Sheikh al-Faisal was reportedly propagating the killing of non-Muslims. In return for becoming martyrs, he promised them the reward of a place in paradise. “I don’t think all these allegations against Sheikh al-Faisal are true. He was in Mombasa with us, preached in a number of mosques for at least five days but we did not hear any extremist word,” said Mr Kimathi.
“If whatever he is alleged to have said is criminal in Britain, it does not mean that the same applies to Kenya. The government also took recordings of his sermons, I doubt if they will find anything controversial in them,” he added.
But according to former British Home Secretary John Reid, Mr al-Faisal’s teachings heavily influenced one of the July 7 London suicide bombers, Germaine Lindsay. Lindsay, also known as Abdullah Shaheed Jamal, was one of four suspected terrorists who detonated bombs on three trains on the London underground and one bus in Central London killing 52 people (including themselves) and injuring more than 700 others.
Reports indicate that despite acknowledging that he knew Lindsay, he insisted that he had not ‘radicalised’ the bomber but had advised him ‘to go to Saudi Arabia to study.’ Mr Richard Reid, who like Sheikh al-Faisal is of Jamaican descent, is also said to have visited mosques where he preached. He tried to bring down a plane with a bomb in his shoes and was jailed for life. The full extent of Mr al-Faisal’s extremist religious teachings emerged during his four-week trial at the Old Bailey.
Taped recordings of his lectures were sold at specialist bookshops. It was these tapes that formed the basis of the prosecution’s case against al-Faisal, who lived in Stratford, East London. Throughout the trial he denied he had intended to incite people to violence. Instead he argued his talks came from the Koran and if he was on trial so was the holy text.
Sheikh al-Faisal told the court he had held al-Qaeda boss Osama Bin Laden in “great respect” but that he had “lost the path” since September 11.