Inquiry into ‘death to Israel’ chants at Islamic centre

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By Ed ThomasSpecial correspondent

14 February 2024

Image caption,

The chants were heard at an event at the Kanoon Towhid Islamic Centre in west London

The Charity Commission has opened a statutory inquiry after footage of “death to Israel” chants at an Islamic centre was revealed by the BBC.

The charity regulator said it was investigating “serious concerns over the misuse of charity premises”.

Trustees of the Al-Tawheed (TUCF) Charitable Trust told the Commission they were not in office at the time.

The commission said antisemitic chants were heard at the event.

In January, the BBC verified videos obtained by Kasra Aarabi, director of IRGC research at the US-based campaign group United Against Nuclear Iran, from inside the Kanoon Towhid Islamic centre in west London, commemorating Iran’s top military commander Gen Qasem Soleimani. He had been killed in a US air strike in 2020.

Chants of “death to Israel” were heard at the event, but it is not known who was saying them.

The Charity Commission said the Al-Tawheed (TUCF) Charitable Trust, which owns the Kanoon Towhid Islamic centre, described the event at its premises in January 2020 as a “religious remembrance programme” for Soleimani, organised by a third party and not the charity itself.

At the time of his death, Soleimani held a senior position in Iran’s military, serving as commander of both the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Qods Force.

One of the most powerful paramilitary organisations in the Middle East, the IRGC controls the Iranian government’s foreign covert operations and supports militant groups such as Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Houthis in Yemen.

Soleimani was also subject to sanctions imposed by the UK Government. The IRGC is still subject to these sanctions.

In a statement the regulator said: “Through reviewing video footage provided to the regulator, the Charity Commission is aware that speakers praised Soleimani and could hear anti-Semitic chants being made during the event.”

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption,

Iran’s top general Qasem Soleimani was killed in a US air strike in 2020

The commission added that it “has significant concerns about these matters and will be examining what controls the charity has in place for events and external speakers”.

The BBC investigation also verified two videos, obtained by Mr Aarabi of the US-based campaign group United Against Nuclear Iran, showing online talks by active and retired members of the IRGC in September 2020 and January 2021, which the regulator is separately examining.

One described an apocalyptic war on Jews. The footage also falsely claimed the Holocaust was “a lie and a fake”.

The IRGC has previously been linked to kidnap and assassination plots in the UK. Counter-terror police confirmed in February last year that 15 such plots had come out of Iran since 2020, and the BBC has since been told there has been at least one more.

The online events were promoted in advance by the Islamic Students Associations of Britain (ISA) and its affiliates, which use the Kanoon Towhid centre as a meeting place but told the BBC it had no role in organising and was not present at the January 2020 event to commemorate Gen Soleimani.

Unlike the UK’s main Muslim student groups, the ISA was founded to promote the philosophy of the leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini.

After the BBC reports, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak came under pressure from MPs in the House of Commons to proscribe the IRGC. Mr Sunak said it was an absolute priority to protect the UK against foreign interference.

The Charity Commission says it has now exercised its protective powers to prohibit the trustees from allowing the charity’s premises to be used by the third party that organised the 2020 event to remember Soleimani. The Charity Commission has not named this third party.

The inquiry will examine the management and administration of the charity by its trustees, the oversight and control by the charity’s trustees of the use of the charity’s properties by third parties and the charity’s relationships with partners.

The commission says it is also using its powers to compel the trustees to answer questions and provide documents.

The Islamic Students Associations of Britain previously told the BBC it is an independent group led by student volunteers with no affiliations to any government.

The association said it respects people from all backgrounds, faiths and communities and “does not support or endorse anyone that does not share these values”. It added that “all its activities are clearly lawful”.

In a statement to the BBC the Al-Tawheed Charitable Trust acknowledged the gravity of the allegations raised and said it was dedicated to working with the Charity Commission. It also said it did not maintain any formal or informal affiliations with the Union Islamic Students Association of Europe (UISAE).

It added due to the investigation it could not comment further but was resolute in upholding the charity’s values and reassuring the public.

In a new statement to the BBC in relation to the online talks, the Islamic Students Associations of Britain said the speakers were not IRGC members and one had been misrepresented. In relation to the other, it said ISA members had raised criticisms with the speaker at the time and the committee had refused a request for a further event with him.

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