LONDON - British PM David Cameron has ordered an investigation into the Muslim Brotherhood over concerns that the group is planning radical activities from a base in London, his Downing Street office said Tuesday.
The intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6 have been tasked to gather information on the “philosophy and activities” of the group after several leaders fled to London following the toppling of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi last year.
The probe would include an assessment of claims that the Islamist group was behind a suicide bus bombing that killed three South Korean tourists in Egypt’s south Sinai in February and several other attacks, The Times newspaper reported. The probe could reportedly lead to a ban on the Muslim Brotherhood in Britain, which is already outlawed in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
“The Muslim Brotherhood has risen in prominence in recent years but our understanding of the organisation - its philosophy and values - has not kept pace with this,” a Downing Street spokesman said in a statement to AFP.
“Given the concerns now being expressed about the group and its alleged links to violent extremism, it’s absolutely right and prudent that we get a better handle of what the Brotherhood stands for, how they intend to achieve their aims and what that means for Britain.”
The review is being led by Britain’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, John Jenkins.
Egypt’s foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty welcomed the investigation, saying in a statement that he “hoped the matter will be addressed with the necessary seriousness and attention”.
The Muslim Brotherhood did not immediately respond to a request for comment by AFP. But a spokesman was quoted by The Times as saying it was a “religious obligation for any Muslim Brotherhood member” to cooperate with the review and to respect British laws.
The Brotherhood was founded in Egypt in 1928 and despite years of repression it remains the largest Islamic movement in the Middle East, having particularly returned to prominence during the Arab Spring.
Morsi, who belongs to the Brotherhood, became Egypt’s first elected civilian president following the toppling of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, but he was ousted by the army last July after a single year in power. He is now facing three separate trials.
Egypt’s military-installed government in December declared the Brotherhood a “terrorist organisation”. Saudi Arabia followed suit last month.
In Egypt more than 1,400 people have been killed in street clashes and thousands imprisoned, including the Brotherhood’s top leadership. A judge triggered a global outcry last month for sentencing 529 supporters of Morsi to death for rioting.
Egyptian authorities have blamed the Brotherhood for a series of terror attacks, but a separate, Al-Qaeda-inspired group called Ansar Beit al-Maqdis claimed responsibility for the Sinai bus attack that the British are reportedly examining the Brotherhood’s links to.
The British government acted following reports that Brotherhood leaders had met in London last year to decide their response to the Egypt crisis, The Times said.
They gathered in a flat above an Islamic charity office in the drab northwest London suburb of Cricklewood, the report said.
The Times quoted officials as saying it was “possible but unlikely” that the investigation would lead to a ban, with some in the Foreign Office reportedly believing it would only serve to radicalise and drive members underground.
London Mayor Boris Johnson said British counter-terrorism officers were monitoring radicalised individuals numbering “in the low thousands” but refused to give details about the Muslim Brotherhood investigation.
“I’m afraid I can’t give you any details about that investigation and nor would you expect me to,” he told LBC radio.
London has long played host to political exiles of all stripes from around the world.
They include several Al-Qaeda members, Pakistani politicians such as current prime minister Nawaz Sharif, slain former premier Benazir Bhutto and ex-president Pervez Musharraf, plus several Russian oligarchs.