The Charity Commission's head of investigations and enforcement has condemned the abuse of the charity Muslim Aid by terrorist plotters who used bogus collections to fund their criminal activities.
Ashik Ali, Irfan Khalid and Irfan Naseer were convicted in Woolwich Crown Court yesterday of 12 counts of committing acts in preparation for terrorist attacks, which they funded by fraudulently presenting themselves as charity fundraisers. The men used high visibility vests and collection buckets bearing Muslim Aid's name to raise more than £14,000 of which only £1,500 reached the charity.
The plotters planned to set off up to eight explosive devices in crowded areas. Specialist counter terrorism prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service, Karen Jones, said the men "had dangerous aspirations and whilst the precise targets remained unclear, the potential for damage and the loss of life from their plot should not be underestimated". Two of the men had travelled to Pakistan for expert training and preparation and assisted four others from Birmingham in doing the same.
At an earlier hearing a genuine Muslim Aid volunteer, 26-year-old Rahin Ahmed had pleaded guilty to assisting the plots. Ahmed registered as a Muslim Aid volunteer in 2009. In Ramadan 2011 he was asked to fundraise for specific dates in which permits were obtained, advised a spokeswoman for Muslim Aid. He was later blacklisted after police informed the charity of his criminal activity. Ahmed deposited £14,000 worth of collections in his personal account before it was transfered into a 'Forex' capital markets trading company in a failed attempt to boost funds, which instead lost £9,000. Muslim Aid received just £1,500.
Commission alerted in 2011
The Charity Commission was alerted to the situation when Muslim Aid submitted a serious incident report in September 2011. This was at the time six men including Ahmed were arrested under terrorism charges.
Michelle Russell, head of investigations and enforcement said that the Commission engaged with the charity on the issue before being advised that the charity would review its policies relating to volunteer fundraisers which left the Commission "satisfied that the charity's trustees had put a suitable plan in place". The Commission remains in contact with Muslim Aid "on all relevant issues," Russell advised.
Commenting on yesterday's convictions Russell said:
"It is abhorrent that these people abused the name and reputation of the registered charity, Muslim Aid, in this way and tricked the public who gave money to these men thinking it would go to the charity and be used to help people in need.
"Unfortunately charities can fall victim to fraudulent individuals which is why it is critical that trustees put in place necessary safeguards within their means to protect their charity."
Muslim Aid says its volunteer policy "adheres fully to legal requirements".
"We always obtain prior permission of the relevant authorities for street and door-to-door collections, and ensure that charity funds are used for their intended purpose. We would like to reassure the public that we have taken steps to improve the security of our street collections and branded property. We encourage our donors to check the credentials of collectors when they are approached for donations," said a spokesperson for the charity.
The plotters also posed as fundraisers for another charity, Madrasah-e-Ashraful Uloom, which received just £900.
A spokesman for the Muslim Charities Forum, the umbrella body for Islamic charities, said: "We welcome the conviction as well and commend the work of West Midlands Police in the way it dealt with this case – working closely with local communities and Muslim Aid. We encourage all community leaders and centres to work with registered and bona fide charities.
"All of our member charities are always vigilant when conducting fundraising activities and comply with guidelines set by the Charity Commission."
A jury of six men and six women unanimously found Ali, Khalid and Naseer guilty of committing acts in preparation for terrorist attacks. The judge Mr Justice Henriques told the men to expect life sentences with substantial minimum terms. Sentencing will take place at Woolwich Crown Court at a later date not yet set. The men were described by the prosecution as "central figures" in a wider case including 11 men in total. Six, including Ahmed, pleaded guilty at an earlier, while three who have plead not guilty await trial expected later this year.