Minutes after David Cameron joined the attack on Wednesday by claiming Khan was close to a south London cleric, Suliman Gani, who “supports IS [Islamic State]”, Team Zac circulated a dossier alleging Khan’s links with convicted terrorists, homophobes, antisemites and hate preachers. Khan’s side dismissed it as “desperate dog-whistling”.
Gani grew up in South Africa and studied Islam in Pakistan and Egypt. Until 2013, he was imam of Tooting Islamic Centre in Khan’s constituency. He opposes homosexuality and believes women should be subservient to men.
The Tories say Khan and Gani shared platforms at least nine times and that Gani appeared at an event in Bedford last November, on the night of the Paris terror attacks, where speakers called on British Muslims to struggle for an Islamic state.
On Wednesday, Gani called Cameron’s comments “defamation at the highest level” and Downing Street faced pressure to justify the prime minister’s claim that Gani had said he supported the terror group Islamic State rather than the formation of Islamic states, such as Saudi Arabia. A Downing Street spokesman said: “There is evidence of this individual making this remark,” but could not provide it.
Khan’s side points out that Goldsmith himself invited Gani – who the Tory candidate now describes as “one of the most repellent men in the country” – to a campaign event at the Tooting Islamic Centre. Jane Ellison, the Conservative MP for Battersea, shared platforms with Gani five times, Khan says.
Khan first shared a platform with Gani in August 2004 at an event organised by Stop Political Terror, a now defunct extremist group that once had Anwar al-Awlaki – the US-Yemeni preacher considered by the US to be a senior al-Qaida figure – to speak at an event at the East London mosque in 2003. At that point, Khan was running to become an MP.
“Sadiq engaged with [Gani] as a local MP would engage with any religious figure,” said Khan’s campaign spokesman. “They had a big falling out over Gani’s attitude to same-sex marriage. Sadiq was involved in having Gani removed from the local mosque because of his clearly radical views.”
Goldsmith has claimed that Khan spoke in 2003 alongside Yasser al-Siri, who had been sentenced to death in Egypt over a political assassination, and Sajeel Abu Ibrahim, a member of the now proscribed extremist organisation al-Muhajiroun who trained the 7/7 bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan.
Siri was indicted in the US for assisting Omar Abdel Rahman, who was behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing but was not extradited. In September 2002, he was at Abu Hamza’s Finsbury Park mosque celebrating the first anniversary of 9/11.
Khan’s spokesman said he had never shared a platform with Siri but spoke in a separate session during a two-day conference about Guantánamo Bay and that, at the time, he was a partner in the human rights law firm Christian Khan and chaired Liberty, the human rights campaign group.
Goldsmith pointed out that Khan’s clients included the Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan. Khan represented him in attempts to have a ban on him entering the UK overturned. Khan believes it is ludicrous to cite this as evidence of him “providing cover” to extremists. In criminal courts, defence barristers are never accused of giving cover to their clients, his aides point out.
Goldsmith said Khan “chose to defend” Zacarias Moussaoui, one of the terrorists involved in the 9/11 attacks. Khan said he never represented him and his firm had consulted on his defence.
Goldsmith said last week that it was “just weird” that in 2004 Khan spoke up for Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian Islamic scholar associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Khan at the time was chairman of the legal affairs committee of the Muslim Council of Britain. David Winnick, a member of the home affairs select committee, asked him then why Britain would want someone like Qaradawi, who had said: “Oh God, deal with your enemies, the enemies of Islam. Oh God, deal with the usurpers and oppressors and tyrannical Jews. Oh God, deal with the plotters and rancorous crusaders.”
Khan replied: “I cannot comment on the specific quote you have given but there is a consensus among Islamic scholars that Mr al-Qaradawi is not the extremist that he is painted as being by selective quotations from his remarks.”
Qaradawi has said he believes in Qur’anic texts calling for the killing of Jews, and has endorsed suicide bombings, according to the US-based Investigative Project on Terrorism.
Khan’s spokesman said in response: “He was not speaking as Sadiq Khan, he was acting as a lawyer for MCB reflecting his clients’ views in a quasi-legal setting.”
Finally, Goldsmith has accused Khan of attending a rally in 2006 in Trafalgar Square against the publication of cartoons of the prophet Mohammad, where Dr Azzam Tamimi, a radical cleric, threatened “fire throughout the world” if cartoonists did not stop. Khan said later: “Speakers can get carried away but they are just flowery words.”
Goldsmith’s team cite Tamimi as saying that after Israel is destroyed and replaced with an Islamic state, Jews should “sail on the sea in ships back to where they came or drown in it”.
“That is obviously an extremist statement,” Khan spokesman said. “Sadiq wouldn’t have been aware of who Tamimi was at the time.”
He said the rally was actually an anti-extremism protest to counter a demonstration being staged at the same time by Anjem Choudray, a spokesman for the banned organisation Islam4UK.
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