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Wednesday, 13 April 2011
Two students 'linked to extremists' are elected as college union leaders
Tom Harper, Paddy Cooper and Laura Mackenzie
Radicalisation fears: The new vice-president of Westminster University student union Jamal Achchi (right) his running mate, the new president Tarik Mahri
A leading London university student union has elected two senior officials with links to an extremist Islamist organisation.
Westminster University union has elected the pair despite a strict ban on radical groups by the National Union of Students.
Arabic student Jamal Achchi, 26 - voted vice-president this month - has circulated documents published by Hizb ut Tahrir, a group that Prime Minister David Cameronsaid should be banned as it "seeks to poison young minds against our country". Mr Achchi used Scribd, a social networking site, to post Hizb ut Tahrir memos calling on Muslims to overthrow democracy and establish the Khilafah, a worldwide Islamic theocracy run by mullahs.
In his union election manifesto, he wrote: "I have been a politically active student throughout the duration of my studies... I am a fighter, and NEVER back down!"
He ran on a ticket with Tarik Mahri, 23, voted president in the election on April 1. Just under 13 per cent of 23,000 students voted. Concerns have also been raised about Mr Mahri's ideological beliefs. He is a member of the "Global Ideas" society which was banned by the university last year for inviting senior Hizb ut Tahrir member Jamal Harwood to address students.
Mr Mahri has posted anti-capitalist messages with the hashtag #bringbackkhilafah on his Twitter page. He also posted on Facebook a rap he wrote titled "Khilafah's Coming Back" which refers to "the Kufr", a derogatory term for non-Muslims.
Both men will take up their posts at the end of June.
The National Union of Students has a strict ban on Hizb ut Tahrir amid fears it radicalises vulnerable young minds. When NUS president Aaron Porter discovered Mr Mahri and Mr Achchi had won the election, he contacted Westminster student president Robin Law to air his concerns.
Hizb ut Tahrir used to be led by firebrand cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed, 52, who was thrown out of the UK five years ago, and has since been charged with fundraising for al Qaeda in Lebanon.
Tony Blair pledged to ban the group after the July 7 London bombings but it still exists today.
An ex-member of Hizb ut Tahrir, Shiraz Maher, said today: "Hizb ut Tahrir despises democracy and believes Shariah law must be imposed over the whole world, by force if necessary. I think unless we challenge this we are sleepwalking into a very dangerous future."
Aaron Porter said: "Our rules state individuals or members of organisations or groups identified as holding racist or fascist views are not allowed to stand for election or go to, speak at or take part in conferences, meetings or any other events."
He said the issues surrounding the Westminster University vote "will be considered formally next month by the relevant committee".
Steve Barfield, 48, an English literature lecturer at Westminster, said: "How can they represent women or gay and lesbian students who are already struggling against sexism and homophobia, if this seems to be their political agenda?" Mr Mahri won with 1,084 votes. His closest rival got 742. Mr Achchi won with 1,132 votes, a majority of 112.
James Brandon of Quilliam Foundation, a counterterrorism think tank, said: "It is particularly shocking as universities are known to be breeding grounds for terrorism."
A University of Westminster spokesman said: "If our students have concerns that the actions of fellow students step beyond acceptable behaviour or statutory regulations, then we have appropriate mechanisms in place to deal with these concerns."