Hassan Butt

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Hassan Butt is an outspoken former member of the Islamist group Al-Muhajiroun, who claims to have been part of a 'British Jihadi Network'. Attempts to portray him as a fantasist may be designed to allay suspicions of a relationship with the security services.

Hassan Butt, the young British Pakistani who was a spokesman for the extremist group al-Muhajiroun, and active in recruiting people to fight against the coalition forces in Afghanistan, embodies this journey from frustration and rootlessness to radical Islam. The world he describes before he was first approached, aged 17, by members of the Islamist group, Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), was a disordered one. When I interviewed him last year, he described HT as showing him an Islam that could bring order to his life. Accepting Islam meant the creation of a social equilibrium that had been absent before. Islam was playing the role it had in 7th-century Arabia of bringing law and structure to decaying communities.
Butt parted ways with al-Muhajiroun (itself a breakaway from HT) and its founder Omar Sheikh Bakri because they supported the Islamic idea of a "covenant of security," by which Muslims in Britain are forbidden from any type of military action in Britain. Butt believed that military action against Britain would be unwise for the practical reason that it would jeopardise the protection "Londonistan" was offering radical Muslims, but he could not tolerate the position that such action was un-Islamic.[1]

In 2001, Butt told journalists he had recruited fighters for Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan.

Scotland Yard detectives were tipped off about the failed university undergraduate after he tried to sell his story to the Mirror for £100,000.
But having suggested that they accompany journalists when they set up a secret meeting with him in Trafalgar Square, officers claimed they would be unable to arrest him. Butt was British, they said, and therefore not covered by the Government's new emergency laws.[2]

Shortly after 7/7, Butt claimed to have met one of the bombers before renouncing the extremist cause.

I left the BJN in February 2006, but if I were still fighting for their cause, I'd be laughing once again. Mohammad Sidique Khan, the leader of the 7 July bombings, and I were both part of the BJN - I met him on two occasions - and though many British extremists are angered by the deaths of fellow Muslim across the world, what drove me and many of my peers to plot acts of extreme terror within Britain, our own homeland and abroad, was a sense that we were fighting for the creation of a revolutionary state that would eventually bring Islamic justice to the world.[3]

Islamic activist Faisal Haque suggested that Butt may have been working for the Security Service.[4]

Journalist Shiv Malik planned to release a book with Butt, called Leaving Al-Qaeda in early 2008. On 19 March 2008 Greater Manchester Police ordered Malik to hand over his notes, a move which was criticised by Nick Cohen.[5] In response, Malik reportedly argued that police could interview Butt, his main source, themselves.[6]

Butt was arrested on 9 May 2008 at Manchester Airport, where he was about to board a plane to Lahore in Pakistan.[7] On his release 12 days later, Greater Manchester Police took the unusual step of releasing extracts from interviews in which he admitted making up many details of his radical past.[8]

On 26 June a judicial review ordered that Shiv Malik must hand over all material related to Hassan Butt. The decision was welcomed by the head of the Greater Manchester Police Counter-terrorism Unit, Detective Chief Superintendent Tony Porter.[9] Malik complied with the order which reportedly relates to a terrorism trial due in September 2008.[10]

Private Eye reported shortly afterwards that Butt had returned to Pakistan, and questioned suggestions that he was a 'Walter Mitty' figure.

Butt features in evidence and intelligence material presented in terrorist cases here and in the US, suggesting it isn't all made up. Indeed, several of his associates have been under surveillance by MI5 and MI6, which makes his ability to flee to Pakistan under the noses of the police all the more extraordinary - even if it does remove the immediate difficulty of what to do about him![11]


  1. A British Jihadist, by Aatish Taseer, Prospect Magazine, August 2005.
  2. Briton's boast of recruiting for bin Laden may lead to charges, By Richard Alleyne and Nigel Bunyan, telegraph.co.uk, 18 December 2001.
  3. My plea to fellow Muslims: you must renounce terror, by Hassan Butt, The Observer, 1 July 2007.
  4. If he funded terrorism, why has Hassan Butt not been arrested?, by Faisal Haque, The 'Islamist', 23 May 2007.
  5. security Scandal of the persecuted peacemakers, Nick Cohen, The Observer, 23 March 2008.
  6. Missing Jihadist: Yeah but no Butt, Private Eye, 27-June 10 July 2008, p27.
  7. Anti-terror police arrest Muslim author and former al-Qaida recruiter as he boards flight to Pakistan, Daily Mail, 10 May 2008.
  8. Hassan Butt freed amid 'scam' claims, by Simon Israel, Channel 4 News, 21 May 2008.
  9. Judges rebuke terror book author, BBC News, 26 June 2008.
  10. Shiv Malik: Notebook handover signals end of fight, Dominic Ponsford, 2 July 2008.
  11. Missing Jihadist: Yeah but no Butt, Private Eye, 27-June 10 July 2008, p27.