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Why a call to jihad ‘by the sword’ at Brighton mosque is cause for concern for Britain

A former Brighton Mosque administrator has been convicted of encouraging terrorism. Abubaker Deghayes, a British Libyan, had called for jihad “by the sword” during a speech he delivered on the grounds of the mosque on Nov. 1, 2020. About 50 people attended, including children, young adults and a fellow trustee.

The Charity Commission, a statutory body that oversees the quality and compliance with standards of charitable organizations, took the extraordinary step of removing all trustees. This not only highlighted the gravity of the situation but also showed the lack of confidence it had in Brighton Mosque’s administrators to ensure that such an episode will not happen again.

As a result, Andrew Wilkinson, of the law firm Shakespeare Martineau, will now take over the administration of the mosque as interim manager. One of the duties assigned to Wilkinson is to appoint new trustees.

What are charitable trustees and how are they appointed?

Charity trustees are an integral part of the effective functioning of any organization that has been granted charitable status. When properly selected and properly trained, trustees can help direct and support leadership to carry out their duties in accordance with the vision, mission and values ​​of the organization.

However, when charities have a weakness in their board of trustees, it can lead to the organization becoming embroiled in issues that could potentially remove their charitable status. The nomination of trustees for charities follows a typical four-stage process: 1) identifying a need for a trustee, 2) finding potential trustees, 3) vetting potential trustees, and 4) making the appointment .

This typical sequence of events helps the board of trustees to ensure that when someone is recruited, a traceable process is put in place. This has two advantages: the first is that when board boards have succeeded in appointing a person who adds value to the organization, if necessary, the process can be replicated to produce similar results. The second benefit of this process is that if it is found that a charity has appointed a trustee who is exceeding their legal and organizational boundaries, there is a mechanism to determine whether there was a weakness in the process.

This enables charitable organizations to re-evaluate and strengthen their processes so that similar incidents do not occur in the future. In the case of the Brighton Mosque, where all trustees were removed, the process failed.

To understand how this happened, it is relevant to know who Abubaker Deghayes is.

Abubaker Deghayes’ Terror Links

Abubaker Deghayes fled Libya to the United Kingdom in 1986 after being granted political asylum by the British government. During this period, the West Berlin discotheque was bombed. Three people were killed, two on the spot and one in hospital. More than 200 people were injured, including 79 Americans.

Then-US President Ronald Reagan blamed Libya and declared a “war on international terrorism”. The United States conducted Operation El Dorado Canyon, which involved coordinated airstrikes against the Gaddafi regime. Libya was known to be involved in state-sponsored terrorism, but the charges were dropped in 2006 by former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Abubaker Deghayes comes from a family with alleged ties to terrorism or has been accused of being terrorists himself. His brother Omar Deghayes was arrested in Pakistan in 2002. The US government detained Omar for being an enemy combatant and held him in Guantanamo Bay for five years. He was then released in 2007 without charges being filed against him.

Abubaker’s extremist rhetoric is well documented, and his apparent hatred of Western leaders seems quite apparent. For example, he seems to agree that it was morally okay for the former Prime Minister of Great Britain, Tony Blair, to be assassinated.

In addition, when three of Abubaker’s sons traveled to Syria in 2014 to join the al-Nusra Front in the al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front to fight against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, he seemed complimentary of them. to have been. Two of his sons were killed during the civil war in Syria – Jaffar, 17, and Abdullah, 18. But Deghayes considered them martyrs, and that the violent enterprise they engaged in was a just cause. The third son, Amer, 20, appears to be still living in Syria.

During that period, the then British Prime Minister, David Cameron, proposed a travel ban on persons who wanted to go abroad to fight for terrorist organizations and then return to the UK. But despite this, Abubaker tried to travel to Syria to bring back Amer, his last surviving son.

Organizational failure

What seems obvious to Abubaker Deghayes is that he should never have been appointed administrator of the Brighton Mosque. A serious error occurred in the typical four-step process where checking potential trustees and making the appointment turned out to be not strict.

The Charity Commission recommends organizations conduct a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) – this gives the organization crucial information regarding criminal activity or other reasons why an individual should not be appointed. However, what a DBS check does not do is monitor an individual’s activities, which could amount to support for terrorism.

This is evidenced by the fact that Abubaker was able to make statements in support of his sons in the fight against the Assad regime. Moreover, while he wanted to travel to Syria to bring Amer back, this also would not have been picked up by a DBS check.

Therefore, the responsibility for overseeing a charitable trustee’s activities rests with the organization itself, but such mechanisms did not appear to be in place. While it is true that the statements Abubaker made in the run-up to his arrest may not have met the threshold for arrest for the act of terrorism, the statements were fundamentally contrary to the objectives of the Brighton Mosque – that is, a place of prayer and teach the younger generations the language of the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet.

His appointment and subsequent role as trustee, with these statements in the public sphere, provide ample evidence of how the charity ignored them, or lacked robust mechanisms to deal with them. Also worrying is the fact that Abubaker wanted to travel to Syria while a travel ban was in place.

The next steps

Andrew Wilkinson, of the law firm Shakespeare Martineau, will take over the management of Brighton Mosque. As part of his role, he must ensure that the appropriate trustees are selected, vetted and appointed in a timely manner.

What seems clear is the fact that Abubaker Deghayes was able to continue to serve as a trustee despite his history of extremist views. Why no action has been taken to identify and remove him from the board will be an important question not only, but also what can be done to ensure this does not happen again.

An important aspect in the selection and appointment of new trustees will be the need to properly train them in administrative duties such as annual DBS checks, social media monitoring and a commitment to UK values ​​such as the rule of law and freedom of speech.

Wilkinson will be responsible for ensuring that these terms and conditions are made clear at the time of hiring as part of a personal specification and that these values ​​and organizational policies are mandated for any prospective administrator as a requirement for the position. While it is entirely possible to play the system and apply covert compliance when accepting these terms, it is difficult to contradict or oppose them if the organization itself is working according to them.

(Wasiq Wasiq is a writer and commentator based in London. Opinions expressed are personal)

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