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Terrorism

FocusturnstoeastLondongymwithlinkstoterrorattacks
LocalsalertedpolicetoconcernsaboutIslamistactivityatnondescripttnesscentre

Thegymislinkedtoamanallegedtohavebeenaleadingoperativeintheextremistal-MuhajirounnetworkReuters

JUNE9,2017by:PeterCampbell,NaomiRovnick,CynthiaO'MurchuandTomBurgisinLondon

Nestled between a motor spares outlet and a shuttered shop front, the door would be easy to miss. Only a bright
blue poster over the entrance shows what lies behind: the Ummah Fitness Centre.
The upper-floor gym in Ilford, a residential area on the fringes of east London, serves as a nondescript symbol of
the predicament faced by the UKs security agencies as they investigate the latest terrorist attack in London and
seek to prevent further atrocities.
It was frequented byKhuram Butt, the Pakistan-born Londoner who, with his two accomplices, strapped on fake
suicide vests and used a van, then knives, to kill eight people on London Bridge and in nearby Borough Market on
Saturday night.
The gym is also linked to a man alleged to have been a leading operative in the extremist al-Muhajiroun network
who helped organise a Pakistani training camp that was visited by Mohammad Sidique Khan, the ringleader of the
7/7 terrorist attack on Londons transport system in 2005. Ilford Muslims reported concerns about Islamist
extremists at the gym to the UK authorities two years ago.
Such longstanding links to known or suspected terrorist sympathisers raise questions about why the gym was
permitted to stay open although it is possible that the security services that struggle to monitor some 500 active
plots may prefer a risk they can monitor to one that is forced underground.
In any case, the gym is a reminder that most Islamist activity, like that of any other political or religious
organising, is no more illegal than the martial arts sessions in which the centre specialises. The difficulty for the
Security Service, or MI5, and the police is to identify which members of these networks cross the line into violence.
Butt, for one, was known to the domestic intelligence service but was assessed to be less risky than many of the
other 3,000 terror suspects of which it is aware.
In the aftermath of Saturdays attack, police raided several addresses in the vicinity of the gym, but, according to
one employee, they have yet to set foot inside. On Thursday,CCTV footage emerged showing Butt and Rachid
Redouane and Youssef Zaghba, his fellow attackers, meeting outside the venue days before their attack. Their eight-
minute onslaught, in which a further 50 people were wounded, ended when police shot them dead.
TheUmmahFitnessCentreoccupiestheupperoorofabuildinginIlfordonthefringesofeastLondon
Butt was aknown member of al-Muhajiroun, founded by Omar Bakri Muhammad, the pro-jihadi Syrian cleric,
and tried to convert his neighbours and their children to his version of Islam. About a year and a half ago he
appeared to move his proselytising activities to the gym.
Before then, neighbours said, he would join a small group of men who met to pray and talk in a nearby park. Late
in 2015 these meetings stopped and Butt was seen coming and going from the block of flats where he lived with his
wife and two young children carrying a gym bag.
A sign posted on the door of the gym this week reads: While Mr Butt did occasionally train here at UFC gym we
do not know him well nor did we see anything of concern, we will of course help the police in any way we can.
In fact, Butt was so regular a user of the gym that many members believed he was employed there. He went
several times a week, sometimes even manning the front desk, and once told a nearby shopkeeper that he worked at
the gym as an instructor.

Footage,believedtobefromasurveillancecamera,showsnalmomentsoftheattackonBoroughMarketAP
Butt tended to turn up at the gym in the evenings, when it was busy after work, said Abdullah Mohammed, 18,
who began visiting the facility two months ago. He recounted how, the week before the attacks, Butt had been in a
discussion with a Christian from Romania who came along with his nephews for boxing training.
They were talking about Jesus, Mr Mohammed said. That was the only time he heard Butt talk about religion.
But Butt prayed regularly in the gym, where prayer mats are spread across the floor in a room next to another
crammed with workout machines.
Concerns about the Ummah Fitness Centre date back to long before Butt began to frequent it. The fact they
chose that name is immediately of concern, said a senior figure at one local mosque, who reported the gym to
police.Ummah a term for the Muslim faithful is sometimes used as a rallying call by those seeking to unite
against thekuffar, or unbelievers.
And another name associated with the gym, that of Sajeel Shahid, raises further questions.

Mr Shahid, a Manchester-born computer science graduate, reportedly served as a key operative for al-
Muhajiroun in Pakistan in the years after the 9/11 attacks in the US.
According to research by Hope not hate, the anti-extremist group, Mr Shahid set up al-Muhajirouns safe house
in Lahore and helped establish a training camp for jihadis. One of that camps alumni was Khan, who went on to
lead the 7/7 suicide bombers.
Mr Shahid is named as an emergency contact on the gyms lease, which was seen by the Financial Times. He
could not be reached for comment. On Thursday, a sign on the gyms locked door said it had closed until further
notice, adding, in response to press reports, that Mr Shahid neither worked at nor owned the gym. But Wahid
Askar, who works at the motor spares shop next door, identified Mr Shahid from his picture and said he regularly
comes and goes from the gym.
Asad Choudhary, who owns the block that houses the gym, said he was planning to convert the top two floors
into apartments. As a result, he has served the tenants with notice to quit the gym within five months. The tenants
were behind with the rent and he was preparing to send in bailiffs, he added.

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