Some observations on the stabber of Stephen Timms

Roshonara Choudhry, Islam, Iraq and terrorism.

Vikram Dodd, the Guardian's crime correspondent, has published extracts from the police interview with Roshonara Choudhry, the British Muslim student convicted this week of attempting to stab to death the former Labour minister Stephen Timms MP.

Conducted on 14 May 2010, about four hours after her arrest for stabbing Timms, in Forest Gate police station, the interview makes for a fascinating, if disturbing and depressing, read – and I've reprinted it below in full.

Some brief observations:

1) Choudhry is not the sharpest tool in the box. She comes across as a bit simple, a bit slow, unquestioning and someone who was easily brainwashable (is that even a word?). She is, for example, ignorant of the specific Quranic verses that she claims inspired her horrific and cowardly attack on Timms – "the main chapters about it are chapter . . . chapter eight and chapter nine, I think," she says, pathetically. In fact, there are no verses in the Quran which justify such brutal, vigilante attacks on innocent civilians. Suicide bombings for example, are un-Islamic.

2) Those who claim that our mosques are breeding grounds for terrorists and extremists should note the two names Choudhry cites as her influencers: Anwar al-Awlaki and Abdullah Azzam. She discovered both on the internet (on YouTube!), not at her local Islamic centre. Both, I hasten to add, lack the credentials and qualifications of mainstream Islamic scholarship; al-Awlaki has a PhD in human resource development (!) from George Washington University. Why on earth did she think such a person had the "Islamic" or moral authority to instruct her to carry out a murder, one of the greatest sins in Islam? Interestingly, most Islamist ideologues have tended to be non-scholars – Sayyid Qutb was a teacher; Abul-A'la Maududi was a journalist. Osama Bin Laden himself, of course, is an engineer and his deputy Ayman al Zawahiri is a medical doctor.

3) She was clearly brainwashed by radicals on the internet BUT I'm intrigued by those who continue to claim that Iraq, and other foreign-policy issues, are NOT drivers of radicalisation. Really? Read the transcript below. She is obsessed with Iraq, for example: "When I realised that I have an obligation to defend the people of Iraq and to fight on their side, that's when it changed my mind and also just like the death tolls and the civilian, like casualties and the pictures from the prisons." So, should we ignore this? Pretend it had nothing to do with her crime? And let me be clear, before the online trolls try to misrepresent me: I believe her actions did NOTHING to help the people of Iraq and were disgusting and reprehensible. They cannot be morally justified. But it is absurd to pretend that Islamist radicals would be able to brainwash young, impressionable Muslims – even simpletons like Choudhry! – without the help of real-world and undeniable grievances like Iraq, Palestine, Kashmir, etc, which cause so much anger, resentment and disillusionment.

4) One of the police officers interviewing her is called "Syed Hussain", a Muslim name. See, we're not all crazy, anti-western terrorists. Some of us are coppers . . . !

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From the Guardian:

This interview was conducted four hours after Choudhry's arrest for stabbing Stephen Timms. Choudhry was interviewed by Simon Dobinson, a detective sergeant from Newham Police, with Detective Constable Syed Hussain. Choudhry says she was studying English and communications at King's College London, but dropped out on 27 April 2010, in her third year.

Simon Dobinson So what made you drop out of that?

Choudhry 'Cos . . . because King's College is involved in things where they work against Muslims.

Q OK. What sort of things?

A Last year, or the year before, they gave an award to Shimon Peres [Israeli politician] and they also have a department for tackling radicalisation . . . So I just didn't wanna go there any more . . . 'cos it would be against my religion.

Q OK, and when did you sort of make that decision?

A About a month ago.

Q OK. It seems quite a long time to be there and almost to the end of that course, you know, the end and just to let it go. Is there any . . . did you have any problems understanding the course?

A I was the top student.

Q Was you? OK and what did they say when you pulled out?

A They didn't want me to pull out.

Choudhry says after leaving her course, she worked at a tuition centre called KnowledgeBox teaching maths, English and science. She says she won't be working there any more.

Q Why's that then?

A Because of what I just did today.

Q Well, tell me about that then. Tell me what happened today.

A I stabbed Stephen Timms.

Q You stabbed Stephen Timms.

A Yep.

Choudhry gives details of the attack, as heard in her trial. She says she made an appointment to see him at his constituency surgery.

Q Why did you make that appointment?

A So I can do what I did.

Q So tell me what thought process you went through before you made that phone call?

A I thought that it's not right that he voted for the declaration of war in Iraq.

Q When did you start thinking about that?

A Over the last few months.

Q What's led you to start thinking about that?

A I've been learning more about Islam.

Q Where have you been learning that?

A Internet.

Q What websites you been looking at?

A I've been listening to lectures by Anwar al-Awlaki.

Q Anwar?

A Al-Awlaki.

Q Who's he?

A He's an Islamic scholar. He lives in Yemen.

Q And where have you been listening to these lectures?

A I downloaded it off of the internet . . . Explaining stories from the Quran and explaining about jihad.

Q And has that contributed to your decision to leave King's?

A Yes.

Q And where was the link there then?

A I thought that I should have loyalty to my Muslim brothers and sisters in Palestine and so I should leave King's and that would show my loyalty to them.

Q Who have you been watching these lectures with?

A I listen to them on my own.

Q So when did you decide: "From what I've learnt, I'm now gonna go and stab Stephen Timms?"

A A couple of weeks ago. It's three weeks ago, four weeks ago.

Q So it's quite recent?

A Yep.

Q Before you finished college? After?

A Before.

Q And that was 27 April, if I remember rightly, was it?

A Yep.

Dobinson How do you feel now about what you've done today?

Choudhry I feel like I did what I'd planned to do.

Q OK, do you want to tell me more? Tell me what you're thinking now? Tell me what your thoughts about what you've done today are.

A I feel like I've ruined the rest of my life. I feel like it's worth it because millions of Iraqis are suffering and I should do what I can to help them and not just be inactive and do nothing while they suffer.

DC Hussain Sorry, just before we finish, I've just a couple of questions that I've got to ask you. When did this interest of yours for Islam develop?

A I've always been quite religious and I started to listen to Anwar al-Awlaki lectures last year and then I started to get really into it and I listened to everything that . . . like all of his recorded lectures that he made and that would have been like since November. I've been listening to him since November.

Hussain How did you get introduced to Anwar al-Awlaki?

A He's quite famous and I've started to listen to his stuff.

Hussain How did you come across him?

A On the internet.

Hussain Was that from your own research or did someone recommend him?

A From my own research, but everybody listens to him and likes him anyway.

Q Do you go to a regular mosque?

A No . . . I just pray at home.

Q Who do you discuss your Islam with?

A In general I just talk about it to my brothers and sisters but I don't mention everything to them.

Q If you've got a question that you want to ask or you want answered, who do you ask?

A I don't ask anyone, I just listen to his lectures. There's no one to ask.

Hussain I just want to go over a little bit how your thought has gone from getting to religion to all of a sudden wanting some form of vengeance.

A Because as Muslims we're all brothers and sisters and we should all look out for each other and we shouldn't sit back and do nothing while others suffer. We shouldn't allow the people who oppress us to get away with it and to think that they can do whatever they want to us and we're just gonna lie down and take it.

Q Where did you learn that from?

A From listening to his lectures.

Q And that's caused you to do what you've done today?

A Yeah.

Q OK. Just a couple of other things. You bought the knives, you say, two to three weeks ago . . . Where did you keep 'em?

A Underneath the bed in a shoebox.

Q How did you feel about what you was about to do?

A I was a bit nervous about what I was gonna do but I felt like it had to be done and it's the right thing to do.

Q Having done it, how do you feel now?

A I feel like I did my best to fulfil my duty to the other Muslims.

Dobinson . . . What did you think was gonna happen once you'd carried out your intentions?

Choudhry I thought that I would either get arrested or maybe I would like get killed or something.

Q How would you get killed?

A Like, if the police came and they had guns.

Q [Inaudible] take me through your thought process about that then?

A Oh no, I was just thinking about the possibilities and I thought it's either getting arrested or being killed. But either way I knew I wasn't coming back home again.

Q What, what did you think about getting killed then?

A I wanted to die.

Q Why?

A I wanted to be a martyr.

Q Why's that then?

A 'Cos, erm, that's the best way to die.

Q Who told you that?

A It's an Islamic teaching.

Q Where did you learn that?

A It's . . . it's in the Quran and I learnt it from listening to lectures as well.

Q OK, what lectures are that?

A By Anwar al-Awlaki.

Q Al-Awlaki?

A Yeah.

Q OK, well, how did you find out about him?

A On the internet . . . if you go on YouTube there's a lot of his videos there and if you do a search they just come up . . . I wasn't searching for him, I just came across him . . . I used to watch videos that people used to put up about like how they became Muslim.

Q OK, why did you watch those videos?

A 'Cos I thought . . . their life stories were interesting . . . And as you watch videos that like a whole other list of related videos comes up and I was just looking through those and I came across it.

Q Anwar al-Awlaki?

A Yeah.

Q OK. So who put you, who guided down this path to, to look for, you know, the videos of people and how they become Muslim?

A No one, I just found them really interesting . . . I became interested in Anwar al-Awlaki's lectures because he explains things really comprehensively and in an interesting way so I thought I could learn a lot from him and I was also surprised at how little I knew about my religion so that motivated me to learn more . . .

Q What happened in November then?

A I downloaded the full set of Anwar al-Awlaki's lectures.

Q Yeah, what do you reckon the full set of his lectures are?

A More than a hundred hours.

Q And have you watched all those lectures?

A Yeah.

Q When did you finish watching them?

A The first week of May.

Q How often were you going on to the internet . . .

A First I was listening to like two a day, but then for a while I stopped because I had coursework to do and then I started back up again because I thought I need to finish listening to these.

Q Yeah. Apart from the lectures, what else were you looking at online?

A I was looking at YouTube videos about the resistance in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Q What other sites, remember any particular internet sites you looked at?

A When I was doing research about MPs, I looked at one called theyworkforyou.co.uk [theyworkforyou.com] and I think another one was called publicwhips [the publicwhip.org.uk].

Q Yeah, anything else?

A There's a website called revolutionmuslim.

Q OK. Forgive me, I find it, I just find it a little bit strange that you're doing all this on your own and not speaking to anyone else about or . . .

A Because nobody would understand. And anyway I didn't wanna tell anyone because I know that if anybody else knew, they'd get in trouble 'cos then they would be like implicated in whatever I do, so I kept it a secret.

Q OK. When did the Iraq war start?

A 2003.

Q So how old would you have been then, 14? . . . Did you have any strong view feelings at that time when the war started?

A No, I was just against in general like everyone else, but not strong feelings.

Q And what changed . . . what made you get those strong feelings that you've obviously got now?

A When I realised that I have an obligation to defend the people of Iraq and to fight on their side, that's when it changed my mind. And also just like the death tolls and the civilian, like casualties and the pictures from the prisons.

Q OK, can you pinpoint the time when that changed or was it a gradual . . . was there one particular incident?

A Like, erm, after like listening to the lectures, I realised by obligation but I didn't wanna like fight myself and just thought other people should fight, like men, but then I found out that even women are supposed to fight as well so I thought I should join in.

Q Where did you find that out from?

A A YouTube video by Sheikh Abdullah Azzam.

Q And what was he saying?

A He was saying that when a Muslim land is attacked it becomes obligatory on every man, woman and child and even slave to go out and fight and defend the land and the Muslims and if they can't handle like the forces they are facing, then it becomes obligatory on the people who live in . . . closest to that country and if those people refuse to fulfil their duty then it, then it becomes to the next closest people and the next closest until it goes all the way round the whole world and it's obligatory on everyone to defend that land.

Q OK, and when did you watch that YouTube video?

A That probably would have been a couple of weeks ago, like some point in April.

Q Was that before you bought the knives or after you bought the knives?

A That would have been before, I think . . .

Q . . . how soon after watching that video did you decide to put things into action? Or to make plans?

A It would probably would have been like a few days or something.

Choudhry says she was planning to leave the UK and live in Bangladesh. But she changed her mind.

Q Why didn't you go?

A 'Cos I thought if this is more important then I shouldn't just be running away.

Q You say "this is more important". What is more important?

A Fighting.

Q You at some stage since then decided that "I'm gonna kill Stephen Timms, the local MP"?

A Yeah.

Q OK, so explain to me again why, why him? Lots of people voted for the war in Iraq, lots of MPs.

A Yeah, erm, it's because . . . well, even the doctor asked me that: so like are you . . . were you gonna kill everyone? And I told him that I'm just one person and I did what I could.

Q I was asking you why Stephen Timms was picked on . . . Why did you pick an MP to carry out this attack?

A Because he was directly involved with the declaration of war, so he'd directly committed a crime.

Q How did you know that?

A Because years ago back, maybe 2007 or 2006, I went on a school trip to Westminster and to meet him and we sat . . . there was a group of us, like maybe about ten, and we sat with him for . . . like an hour maybe and spoke to him and one of my friends there she . . . we, we were all just asking general questions about what's it like to be an MP and what kind of work do you do and what are you doing at the moment, just general things like that. But there was this one girl there and almost the whole time we were there, she was having a go at him for . . . because he voted for the war in Iraq. She was questioning him about that.

Q OK, and what did you think about that at the time?

A At the time I was thinking that she should be quiet and that she's embarrassing herself and I didn't say anything to support her, I just sat there feeling embarrassed.

Q Embarrassed, what, for her or yourself or what, anyone else?

A I guess I respected her for having the guts to just say all these things to his face but like I wasn't brave enough to say anything, I just sat quietly.

Q Did you want to say something to him then?

A Not really.

Q So, have you carried out any research to . . . about Stephen Timms.

A Yeah, on . . . I looked up, I found, I googled him, I found out he had a website, I found a page about him on theyworkforyou.com . . . if you follow that link it shows information about how he voted on different things related to the Iraq war and the build-up towards it. I found out that . . . he very strongly agreed with the invasion of Iraq and they said very strongly because they worked out all his votes for everything related to that and it came up to something like 99.9 per cent support or something like that.

Q How does that make you feel?

A That made me feel angry because the whole Iraq war is just based on lies and he just voted strongly for everything as though he had no mercy. As though he felt no doubts that what he was doing was right, even though it was such an arrogant thing to do and I just felt like if he could treat the Iraqi people so mercilessly, then why should I show him any mercy?

Q What, what makes you think that it's your place to go and stab him?

A Because I'm a Muslim and all Muslims are brothers and sisters. So if he attacked them, then he's likely to attack me too.

Q So where in the Quran does it say that you should go and kill someone?

A Erm, the main chapters about it are chapter . . . chapter eight and chapter nine, I think.

Q What does that say, can you remember?

A Erm, it says to . . . it says to fight until there is no more oppression in the land. Because it's better to fight than to be persecuted.

Q What do you think about what you've done to Stephen Timms and all that?

A I think I've fulfilled my obligation, my Islamic duty to stand up for the people of lraq and to punish someone who wanted to make war with them.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

Photo: Getty Images/AFP
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Is Yvette Cooper surging?

The bookmakers and Westminster are in a flurry. Is Yvette Cooper going to win after all? I'm not convinced. 

Is Yvette Cooper surging? The bookmakers have cut her odds, making her the second favourite after Jeremy Corbyn, and Westminster – and Labour more generally – is abuzz with chatter that it will be her, not Corbyn, who becomes leader on September 12. Are they right? A couple of thoughts:

I wouldn’t trust the bookmakers’ odds as far as I could throw them

When Jeremy Corbyn first entered the race his odds were at 100 to 1. When he secured the endorsement of Unite, Britain’s trade union, his odds were tied with Liz Kendall, who nobody – not even her closest allies – now believes will win the Labour leadership. When I first tipped the Islington North MP for the top job, his odds were still at 3 to 1.

Remember bookmakers aren’t trying to predict the future, they’re trying to turn a profit. (As are experienced betters – when Cooper’s odds were long, it was good sense to chuck some money on there, just to secure a win-win scenario. I wouldn’t be surprised if Burnham’s odds improve a bit as some people hedge for a surprise win for the shadow health secretary, too.)

I still don’t think that there is a plausible path to victory for Yvette Cooper

There is a lively debate playing out – much of it in on The Staggers – about which one of Cooper or Burnham is best-placed to stop Corbyn. Team Cooper say that their data shows that their candidate is the one to stop Corbyn. Team Burnham, unsurprisingly, say the reverse. But Team Kendall, the mayoral campaigns, and the Corbyn team also believe that it is Burnham, not Cooper, who can stop Corbyn.

They think that the shadow health secretary is a “bad bank”: full of second preferences for Corbyn. One senior Blairite, who loathes Burnham with a passion, told me that “only Andy can stop Corbyn, it’s as simple as that”.

I haven’t seen a complete breakdown of every CLP nomination – but I have seen around 40, and they support that argument. Luke Akehurst, a cheerleader for Cooper, published figures that support the “bad bank” theory as well.   Both YouGov polls show a larger pool of Corbyn second preferences among Burnham’s votes than Cooper’s.

But it doesn’t matter, because Andy Burnham can’t make the final round anyway

The “bad bank” row, while souring relations between Burnhamettes and Cooperinos even further, is interesting but academic.  Either Jeremy Corbyn will win outright or he will face Cooper in the final round. If Liz Kendall is eliminated, her second preferences will go to Cooper by an overwhelming margin.

Yes, large numbers of Kendall-supporting MPs are throwing their weight behind Burnham. But Kendall’s supporters are overwhelmingly giving their second preferences to Cooper regardless. My estimate, from both looking at CLP nominations and speaking to party members, is that around 80 to 90 per cent of Kendall’s second preferences will go to Cooper. Burnham’s gaffes – his “when it’s time” remark about Labour having a woman leader, that he appears to have a clapometer instead of a moral compass – have discredited him in him the eyes of many. While Burnham has shrunk, Cooper has grown. And for others, who can’t distinguish between Burnham and Cooper, they’d prefer to have “a crap woman rather than another crap man” in the words of one.

This holds even for Kendall backers who believe that Burnham is a bad bank. A repeated refrain from her supporters is that they simply couldn’t bring themselves to give Burnham their 2nd preference over Cooper. One senior insider, who has been telling his friends that they have to opt for Burnham over Cooper, told me that “faced with my own paper, I can’t vote for that man”.

Interventions from past leaders fall on deaf ears

A lot has happened to change the Labour party in recent years, but one often neglected aspect is this: the Labour right has lost two elections on the bounce. Yes, Ed Miliband may have rejected most of New Labour’s legacy and approach, but he was still a protégé of Gordon Brown and included figures like Rachel Reeves, Ed Balls and Jim Murphy in his shadow cabinet.  Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham were senior figures during both defeats. And the same MPs who are now warning that Corbyn will doom the Labour Party to defeat were, just months ago, saying that Miliband was destined for Downing Street and only five years ago were saying that Gordon Brown was going to stay there.

Labour members don’t trust the press

A sizeable number of Labour party activists believe that the media is against them and will always have it in for them. They are not listening to articles about Jeremy Corbyn’s past associations or reading analyses of why Labour lost. Those big, gamechanging moments in the last month? Didn’t change anything.

100,000 people didn’t join the Labour party on deadline day to vote against Jeremy Corbyn

On the last day of registration, so many people tried to register to vote in the Labour leadership election that they broke the website. They weren’t doing so on the off-chance that the day after, Yvette Cooper would deliver the speech of her life. Yes, some of those sign-ups were duplicates, and 3,000 of them have been “purged”.  That still leaves an overwhelmingly large number of sign-ups who are going to go for Corbyn.

It doesn’t look as if anyone is turning off Corbyn

Yes, Sky News’ self-selecting poll is not representative of anything other than enthusiasm. But, equally, if Yvette Cooper is really going to beat Jeremy Corbyn, surely, surely, she wouldn’t be in third place behind Liz Kendall according to Sky’s post-debate poll. Surely she wouldn’t have been the winner according to just 6.1 per cent of viewers against Corbyn’s 80.7 per cent. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.