October 21 2001 TERRORISM
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Too liberal: the Taliban enjoys considerable vocal support in Pakistan, but Takfir fundamentalists believe Osama Bin Laden has sold out
Photograph: Aamir Quresh

NEW EXTREMISM: If you think Bin Laden is extreme - these men want to kill him because he's soft


Nicholas Hellen

IF YOU thought Osama Bin Laden's brand of Islamic fundamentalism was as extreme as it gets, think again. A rival group of Muslim terrorists exists which regards him as an infidel who has sold out.

Bin Laden's declaration of war against the West has failed to impress Takfir wal-Hijra, an ultra-hardcore group that has won a reputation for unbridled savagery in Egypt and Sudan.

Hamza: even he's shocked
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Its fundamentalism is so extreme that members have embarked on killing sprees in mosques against fellow Muslims in the belief that a pure Islamic state can be built only if the corrupt elements of the last one are wiped out.

In this they see Bin Laden and his followers as pragmatists who are "excessively liberal". To drive the point home, four of its members pulled up in a pick-up truck outside his house in Sudan in 1995, spraying it with bullets in an effort to kill him.

Ironically, militant Muslims in Britain who have been happy to endorse Bin Laden's attacks on western society are indignant at the prospect of the Takfir threatening them.

"They are nothing but a bunch of extremists," said Abu Hamza, the claw-handed radical preacher at Finsbury Park mosque in north London, who outraged public opinion in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center by describing them as an act of "self-defence".

Hamza, who has encouraged young Muslims to take up a jihad against the West, is concerned about the Takfir's irrational aggression.

"They kill Muslims," he said last week. "These people create nothing and destroy everything. It is not right to be as harsh as they are. These people want to be judges and executioners."

Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, who runs Al-Muhajiroun, an organisation devoted to creating an international Muslim superstate, to include Britain, was equally upset about Takfir last week.

"They are fanatics," said the man whose organisation, based in a Tottenham industrial estate, has denied endorsing attacks on Tony Blair after the bombing of Afghanistan started. "They cannot be compared to Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, who have many eminent scholars behind them."

Takfir was founded by Shukri Mustafa, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, who was imprisoned in the mid-1960s and joined the radical disciples of Qutb while in prison. He built the Takfir - the full title of which means "repentance and isolation" - on his release in 1971.

Mustafa was executed after he kidnapped and murdered an Egyptian government minister in 1978. In the early 1980s President Hosni Mubarak attempted to crush his terrorist group by arresting 350 suspected members, but many escaped into the deserts of north Africa.

During its 30-year existence, the Takfir has repeatedly attacked fellow Muslims as part of a drive to cleanse the Islamic world in preparation for building a new and pure Islamic state. Last December, one of its adherents shot 23 worshippers in a mosque of the pacifist Ansar al-Sunna sect, near the Sudanese capital of Khartoum.

Takfir fanatics have carried out two other attacks on Ansar's mosques since 1996, apparently because they disagree with its peaceful approach.

According to the Takfir's twisted logic, the failure of existing Muslim regimes to impose full sharia - Islamic law - means they and their citizens are rebelling against God's sovereignty. While scholars accept an individual's right to interpret the Koran, leaving the ultimate judgment to God, Takfir denounces all but those who copy the behaviour of the prophet Muhammad as infidels and promises to kill them.

Takfir has attempted to justify its violence by claiming it is necessary to demolish Islam before reconstructing it in a purer form.

Its hostility to Bin Laden first erupted in Sudan in the mid-1990s. Bin Laden settled there in 1991 after fighting the Russians in Afghanistan. He spent five years in the country building businesses and his Al-Qaeda terrorist organisation before being expelled in 1996.

A year before he left he was attacked at his home in Khartoum by four Takfir members who drove up in a Toyota Hilux pick-up at about 4pm brandishing Kalashnikovs. They were on their way home, having killed 12 Muslims at a local mosque.

Eyewitnesses say they opened fire on the house and another occupied by Bin Laden's fighters, but his guards were alert and fought back. Four of them died, as did three of the four Takfir members. The fourth was captured by the Sudanese police and hanged.

"After that action, Bin Laden closed the road," said Amar Osman, a local man who witnessed the attack. "Trenches were dug at either end of the street, closing it to all vehicles - and after midnight even pedestrians were stopped, questioned and searched.

"A partial barricade also went up on the side street that entered the block opposite Bin Laden's house, reducing access to a single lane. You could get in but not out."

Six years on, the feud may now be resumed because the Takfir are said to be "angered" at Bin Laden's leadership of a "compromised jihad". One senior Sudanese government source, familiar with the previous attempt to kill Bin Laden in Khartoum, said last week: "They regard him as a sellout. While he concentrates his attention on freeing Saudi Arabia of American bases, the Takfir think that everything in contemporary Muslim society is corrupt and should be destroyed."

A Whitehall source with close knowledge of the Takfir said: "They do not regard the Taliban as representative of Islam. They do not take kindly to religion being hijacked for political purposes."

Additional reporting: Soheb Panja

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