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Wednesday, 20 October 2010
Tower Hamlets extremist vote poses Ed Miliband's first big election test [by Andrew Gilligan]
A man with close links to Islamic fundamentalism and the backing of prominent racists could this week be elected as the executive mayor of a council, with almost total control over its £1 billion budget.
Lutfur Rahman was sacked by the Labour Party last month as its candidate for mayor of Tower Hamlets amid deep concerns about his links with a Muslim supremacist group, the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE), and a number of powerful local businessmen.
Mr Rahman also signed up entire families of "sham" paper Labour members - some of whom do not even support the party - to win nomination as Labour's candidate.
Mr Rahman is now running as an independent and his supporters say he is "hopeful" of victory....
In secret filming earlier this year, Abu Talha, an IFE activist, told an undercover reporter for The Sunday Telegraph and Channel 4's Dispatches: "The mayor is going to have a lot more control. That's why we need to get someone, one of our brothers, in there. Which we will do."...
According to one of its own leaflets, the IFE - based at the hardline East London Mosque in Tower Hamlets - wants to change the "very infrastructure of society, its institutions, its culture, its political order and its creed ... from ignorance to Islam."...
Six serving and former Labour councillors told us they had been threatened by a senior IFE official that the group would mobilise its supporters against them if they did not choose Mr Rahman as their leader.
Mr Rahman confirmed that the IFE official had helped run his leadership campaign, though he denied that any threats were made to councillors on his behalf....
During Mr Rahman's two years as council leader, Tower Hamlets channelled millions of pounds of public money to front organisations run by the IFE.
The borough's public libraries stocked large quantities of extremist literature, including taped sermons by the spiritual leader of the 9/11 hijackers, Anwar al-Awlaki. An anti-gay preacher was hosted in the council chamber.
Lutfur Ali, a man with close links to the IFE, was appointed as the council's assistant chief executive, despite headhunters saying he was unqualified for the job.
Mr Ali was also removed after this newspaper's investigation, but he was present at Mr Rahman's campaign launch and is expected to return to the Town Hall should Mr Rahman be elected.
During the campaign, Mr Rahman's supporters have targeted the Bangladeshi community electorate with a blitz of tens of thousands of leaflets falsely claiming that their Labour rival, Mr Abbas, is a "racist", a "wife-beater", and a bankrupt.
One leaflet delivered door-to-door on Friday falsely claimed that Mr Abbas had "obnoxiously" insulted the imam of Mecca, "initiated a physical attack" against his political opponents and was guilty of "racist TV slurs".
"It is a hugely well-financed operation and is making a real impact in the Bangladeshi community," said one Labour councillor. "In a low-turnout election, it could make the difference between victory and defeat."
Mr Rahman, who insists he is paying for his entire campaign out of his own pocket, says he is the victim of "racism" and "unfairness" by the Labour Party.
"I won the vote of the membership. The imposition of Cllr Abbas in my place is an insult to the democratic process," he said.
Mr Rahman said that if elected he would "work to bring together our diverse communities". However, one of his leading supporters, Wais Islam, a former Tower Hamlets councillor, recently posted anti-Semitic insults about a local journalist on his Facebook page, though he later apologised for them.
Another prominent Tower Hamlets racist, Abul Hussain - expelled from George Galloway's Respect party for making anti-Semitic remarks - has organised campaign meetings on Mr Rahman's behalf....