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'Mohammed Was a Kind, Gentle and Beautiful Young Man'

Published: 27th February 2015 09:13 AM  |   Last Updated: 27th February 2015 09:13 AM   |  A+A-

The man named as Islamic State militant Jihadi John was a "beautiful young man" and "extremely kind, extremely gentle", the director of a Muslim charity said yesterday.

Asim Qureshi, the research director of the London-based advocacy group Cage said he met Kuwait-born Mohammed Emwazi in the summer of 2009.

Mr Qureshi promised to release a cache of emails between Cage and Emwazi, which he claimed would support his belief that "softly spoken" Emwazi was "the most humble young person that I knew".

He said they showed how the man now thought to be the vicious killer of US journalist James Foley had gone through "great difficulties in his personal life" that had led him to become a jihadist.

He said: "You might be surprised to know that the Mohammed that I knew was extremely kind, extremely gentle, extremely soft spoken, was the most humble young person that I knew."

Emwazi was "somebody who, despite going through great difficulties in his personal life ... he belittled that difficulty", Mr Qureshi said. He also told how Emwazi would turn up at Cage's north London offices with "posh baklava", adding: "This is the kind of person that we're talking about. So this is why when I'm asked is the person that you see in those videos the same as the person you remember, Mohammed Emwazi, it's difficult for me to say that yes, these two people are exactly the same.

Mr Qureshi admitted there were "striking similarities" between Mohammed Emwazi and Jihadi John, but said he could not be "100 per cent sure" they were the same man".

"There's one character that I remember, one person ... one young, kind person that I remember, and then I see that image and there doesn't seem to be a correlation between the two," he said.

Questions were raised last night over whether Cage, founded by the former Guantanamo bay detainee Moazzam Begg in 2005, should have done more to help UK authorities track Emwazi down.

Mr Qureshi said he had failed to make the connection until approached by reporters from the Washington Post last week, and dismissed suggestions he should have acted sooner as "silly".

Instead, Mr Qureshi said he did not see the similarities between the two men earlier and report his concerns to police because he had only seen pictures, rather than video of him. "I was not thinking in that stratosphere," he said.

Last night a video surfaced of Mr Qureshi supporting jihad at an anti-US rally in London. The campaigner was filmed urging protesters to "support the jihad of our brothers and sisters" in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Chechnya.

Cage describes itself as "an independent advocacy organisation working to empower communities impacted by the War on Terror". The Muslim group made headlines in March last year after it was revealed two British charities had donated large sums of money to fund its activities.

The Roddick Foundation, which distributes part of former Body Shop owner Anita Roddick's pounds 100?million fortune, gave four grants worth pounds 120,000. The Quaker-run Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, linked to major Labour and Lib Dem backer the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, paid pounds 305,000 to Cage over six years. It included a pounds 135,000 grant in 2011. The discovery prompted the charity to "review" its funding procedures, and an investigation into the group's funding was started by the Charities Commission.

Both the Roddick Foundation and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust ceased funding Cage in 2011. In 2012 Cage sponsored an event protesting the deportation to the US of Babar Ahmed, 40, at which Labour MP Sadiq Khan and the Greens' Caroline Lucas also spoke. Ahmed, a British computer engineer was found guilty of supporting Islamist terrorists and jailed for 12 and a half years in 2014.

The same event supported Talha Ahsan, 35, a British man who admitted related offences. He was sentenced to eight years in prison by a court in America after he was extradited alongside Ahsan.

In November 2010, the former London mayor Ken Livingstone joined Mr Begg at rally for Shaker Aamer. Mr Aamer was billed as the last British detainee at Guantanamo. He was alleged to have been an al-Qaeda operative and ally of Osama bin Laden, but has consistently denied the claims. Begg, Cage's founder, was freed from Guantanamo without charge in 2005 three years after he was arrested in Pakistan. He became a prominent campaigner against the excess of the "war on terror", and made visits to Syria in 2012.

However, the former Guardian columnist was arrested along with two men and a woman on suspicion of committing a Syria-related terrorism offence in February last year. Mr Begg, 46, from Birmingham, was formally charged with seven counts, while Cage's assets were frozen in June. Prosecutors alleged Mr Begg had provided terrorism training and was charged with being "concerned in a terrorist funding arrangement".

Mr Begg was released from Belmarsh prison in October last year after the Crown Prosecution Service dropped its case. The collapse of his trial was attributed to MI5 documents handed to authorities at the last minute detailing the agency's contacts with him.

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