A dangerous extremist who attempted to build an army of child jihadists by radicalising pupils has been convicted of a range of terrorist offences. Umar Haque, 25, taught an Islamic studies class despite the fact he had no teaching qualifications and was employed as an administrator. He was allowed to supervise classes of 11- to 14-year-olds on his own, during which he re-enacted attacks on police officers and showed students videos of beheadings.
Police fear Haque attempted to radicalise at least 110 children, some of whom he was in contact with at the Ripple Road mosque in Barking, east London. Thirty-five of those children are receiving long-term support. Haque also worked at the £3,000-a-year Lantern of Knowledge Islamic school, where he was again allowed access alone to children under the pretence of teaching Islamic Studies when he was in fact employed as an administrator.
Jurors were told he attempted to radicalise children at the school but were unable to agree on a count of disseminating a terrorist document which related to his time at the school. Haque was convicted by a jury at the Old Bailey on Friday of a range of offences, including plotting terrorist attacks and collecting information useful for terrorism. He had previously admitted four charges of collecting information useful for terrorism, and one count of disseminating a terrorist document, in relation to his attempts to radicalise children at the mosque. He was acquitted of conspiring to possess firearms.
Two other men, Abuthaher Mamun, 19, and Muhammad Abid, 27, were convicted for their roles in helping him. A fourth defendant, Nadeem Patel, 26, who had previously pleaded guilty to possessing a handgun, was acquitted of plotting with Haque. After he was found guilty, Haque shouted “I want to say something”, but was dragged out of the dock by officers. The judge, Mr Justice Haddon-Cave, said he would be sentenced later.
The schools watchdog, Ofsted, is facing questions over how it was able to rate the Lantern of Knowledge school as “outstanding” after an inspection held at a time when Haque was allegedly preaching hate to the children. In response to the conviction it said that Haque’s activities were a matter of deep regret and said it was “hampered by limitations on our powers” to inspect out-of-school settings. “His plan was to build an army of children,” said commander Dean Haydon, the head of counter-terrorism at Scotland Yard. “He had shown them graphic terrorist videos of barbarity beheading videos and serious injuries mostly in terrorist attacks overseas.
“He had instructed children not to say anything in relation to not telling their teachers or their parents. We had a wall of silence. “He tried to prepare the children for martyrdom by making them role-play terrorist attacks in London. Part of that re-enactment including attacking police officers.” Haque was employed at Lantern of Knowledge from September 2015 to September 2016 as an administrator but also carried out duties as a classroom assistant. He allegedly used his laptop in the school to project on to a whiteboard images of guns, knives, beheadings and passports being burned, the court heard.
In late 2016 and early 2017, Haque was involved in the running of evening classes in a madrasa, based in a large marquee attached to the mosque in Ripple Road. He told the boys aged about 12 to 14 he had established contact with Isis and showed them a series of videos projected on to the wall inside the marquee, ensuring the doors were closed. The horrifying images included blood, wounds, and people falling from buildings. In one film, the exhumation of a boy was shown. Haque told the children the child’s body had deteriorated because he had been beaten after death when he was unable to answer questions put to him by angels.
In the madrasa, Haque had the children doing push-ups, races and grappling in order to train them. There were sessions of role-playing during which the children would be divided into the police and attackers. There were demonstrations of how to sever a head. After the Westminster Bridge attack by Khalid Masood last March, Haque used the atrocity as inspiration for the role-playing.
He said he intended to teach the children to drive as they got older so he could carry out multiple attacks across London. He forced them take an oath not to tell their parents, friends or teachers. He aimed to recruit 300 jihadists, it is claimed. The 35 children in long-term support were “paralysed in fear” by Haque, Haydon said. “He threatened them if they were to talk. It doesn’t appear that any of those children raised the alarm.” Six children gave evidence in court. The trial was shown video of a police interview with a child, who said: “He is teaching us terrorism, like how to fight.”
The boy said: “He has been training us, kind of. Apparently fighting is good. If you fight for the sake of Allah, on judgment day when you get judged for your good deeds and bad deeds, fighting is good.” In November 2015, Ofsted inspectors visited the Lantern of Knowledge school, two months after Haque started working there. In their report, they said: “The strong sense of community, harmony and respect within the school reflects the school ethos and aims of leaders and governors to develop well-rounded citizens. “The spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils is outstanding. They have an excellent understanding of the world around them and make a positive contribution to their community.”
In April 2016, Haque was stopped at Heathrow airport as he attempted to board a flight to Istanbul a well-trodden route to Syria for aspiring Isis recruits. As a result of the stop and searches conducted of his phone, in May 2016 he had his passport revoked and police started investigating him. In May, he and three others were arrested and charged with attack planning. Further charges related to attempting to radicalise children were filed a few months later. Haque had a long-term plan to launch terrorist attacks on a wide range of possible targets including the Queen’s Guard, parliament and media organisations.
Last June, Ofsted made an emergency inspection at the Lantern of Knowledge school in response to concerns about safeguarding children. On this occasion, the inspectors found it had not met regulatory requirements. After an announced inspection in December, Ofsted dramatically reduced all the ratings from “outstanding” to “requires improvement”. The report said: “Leaders do not ensure that training about risk assessments and procedures to support pupils’ welfare are applied consistently enough during some routine activities.” The Charity Commission is investigating the Ripple Road mosque. Ofsted’s chief operating officer, Matthew Coffey, said it was a matter of “deep regret” that Haque was able to work with children.
“Ofsted is committed to protecting children from harm, including radicalisation,” he added. “However, our ability to do so is hampered by limitations on our powers. We have no ability to inspect out-of-school settings, such as madrassas, and we believe greater powers in this area could help keep children safe in the future. “We know the government is keen to address these matters and welcome their commitment to closer working.”