Embarrassed officials at the Luton Islamic Center defended their decision not to report Taimour Abdulwahab to police after his extremist views alienated worshipers.
That decision became important when Abdulwahab blew himself up on Saturday on a busy street in Stockholm, injuring two people and endangering many more — and, once again focusing unwanted attention on Luton, a nondescript town of 200,000 with a large Muslim population.
Abdulwahab, who died in the blast, did not attract much attention in Luton, but he did alarm mosque elders with fiery rhetoric about what he believed was a concerted attack on Islam led by the US.
Farasat Latif, the mosque secretary, said on Tuesday that officials would have told police about Abdulwahab if he had shown signs of violence or instability.
“It’s a judgment call,” Latif said. “You have to give them space to express their views. We don’t stop people coming to our mosques because they have beliefs that are unsavory.”
He said mosque officials have to gauge an individual’s level of anger before reporting him or her to authorities.
“If they think it’s OK to kill individual civilians, you have to call the police,” he said. “But he never showed violent tendencies — just harsh criticism of the Muslim heads of states, like in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, for being too pally pally with the United States while America is decimating Iraq.”
Mosque officials say they confronted Abdulwahab about his views, prompting him to storm out of the mosque in anger several years ago, but they did not notify authorities.
There have been several terrorism arrests in Luton in recent years and on July 7, 2005, four bombers gathered there before taking a train to London and blowing themselves up on the transit system.
Last year, Luton was the site of a small, but widely covered protest in which a handful of Islamists picketed a homecoming parade for British soldiers returning from Iraq.
It also has been targeted for demonstrations by the English Defense League, a far-right group that claims to oppose Islamic extremism, but is accused by opponents of being racist.
Abdulwahab, a 28-year-old Swede of Iraqi origin, lived in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood with his wife and three children.
“I might have seen him once or twice, but I didn’t know him,” said Rafique Ali, a 43-year-old former youth worker who lives one block away. “But things have changed here. There is a lot of anger and a lot of people with a chip on their shoulder.”
Inspire FM, the local station favored by the Muslim community, has been overwhelmed by callers worried that the latest attack in Sweden is further dividing Luton, where a number of interfaith community groups are trying to keep tensions under control.
“People have been working hard to build bridges and then one individual does this and it all goes down the drain,” said Faiz Nabi, a station manager. “A lot of people are ringing in to say he wasn’t part of our community and didn’t represent our views. Of all the places in the world, it had to be Luton.”