I've no reason to think that British universities' Islamic Societies are in general anything other than a welcome resource for Muslim students and those interested in Islam to meet, study and socialise together, performing exactly the same function as the unversities' many Christian, Jewish and Buddhist societies. With the regrettable difference that many Student Islamic Societies spend a great deal of energy promoting boycott motions against Israel and sometimes campaigning against Jewish societies on the grounds that they are zionist.
During my daughter and son-in-law's time in Cambridge however, I know that the university Jewish Society and the Islamic Society had successful dialogue meetings, and both groups are linked to continuing multifaith projects in Cambridge.
But there is some disturbing evidence that Islamist terrorists have succeeded in getting themselves voted into powerful positions in a small number of university Islamic Societies.
And the latest news about the Detroit Bomber having been President of the UCL Islamic Society during 2006-2007 raises questions about whether the extent to which would-be Islamist terrorists and supporters of Islamist terrorist organizations may have used those societies to spread their message and recruit followers.
It was after all in August 2006 that Waheed Zaman, the then President of the nearby London Metropolitan University's Islamic Society was arrested. He is closely linked to the convicted would be transatlantic plane bombers, all involved with the Al-Qaeda-linked Tablighi Jamaat extremist Islamist group.
Zaman, part of whose "martyrdom" video shown above was released by the police to the jury during one of the two trials he's so far been through on charges related to the aborted "soft drink" bombing conspiracy. So far, he's been found not guilty on the most serious charges of conspiring to cause an aircraft explosion, but in September 2009, the jury failed to reach a verdict on the charge of "conspiracy to murder involving liquid bombs". It's not yet clear whether he will face a further trial.
The line of defence offered by Waheed and the other suspects whose martyrdom videos were shown at the trial was that it was all "just" a make-believe designed to be released as a publicity stunt to bring home to the British public their view of how disastrous British foreign policy was.
The trial verdicts, convicting just three of the eight men on trial on the lesser charge of conspiracy to murder, but acquitting them of conspiring to target aircraft, caused astonishment and dismay amongst the counter-terror authorities and civil servants who knew the vast weight of decisive evidence against them. Having recently been on jury service myself, I'm well aware of how reluctant many jurors are to convict anyone of anything, no matter how strong the evidence, unless they are presented with an action replay. That's because they tend to over-interpret the requirement that a guilty verdict must be based on certainty beyond reasonable doubt. They tend to assume that must mean certainty beyond all possible doubt.
So what's the evidence for any links between Zaman and Detroit Bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab? Both have been linked to the East London Mosque. But Abdulmutallab is known to have visited it on just three occasions. It would be interesting to know which those were.
Much more significant is the certainty that as Presidents of their own universities' Islamic Society, they would inevitably regularly have been involved with meetings and networking through the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) and its London regional group in particular. Despite its overall establishment-style self-projection, FOSIS has a track record of supporting the recognition of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which campaigns for the replacement of democracies with a Caliphate to be established worldwide, including in the UK, and it is also closely associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, whose Gaza offshoot is the Hamas terrorist group. The wider university links between Waheed Zaman's group and other Islamist-dominated Student Islamic Societies are documented here.
The UCL Islamic Society seems to have had particularly strong involvement in FOSIS. Two of FOSIS' current national executive members, the Head of Finance and the Head of Media, are current or former UCL Islamic Society activists whose period of involvement overlaps with that of Abdulmutallab, including the time when he was President.
None of this establishes a clear direct relationship between Zaman and Abdulmuttallab beyond the fact that they are almost certain to have been fellow participants in national Student Islamic Society meetings and to have had links with the East London Mosque. After all, Abdulmutallab was a keen Arsenal supporter, but that's no reason to suppose that he was using Arsenal matches to promote Islamist extremism. It's clear however that both men are linked to Al Qaeda. Indeed, Abdulmuttalab and his failed plane bombing attempt has been claimed by an Al Qaeda website as its own operation. And there are reports that Al Qaeda has been moving its main centre from the Afghan-Pakistan borders and Iraq to Yemen.
I hope that both the British and US anti-terror authorities are involved in jointly investigating these student Islamist extremist networks more thoroughly. Unfortunately, one can't assume any such thing. Just a couple of days ago, the UK's Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, was reassuring about the fact that Abdulmuttallab was on a UK watch list for terror, had been refused re-entry to Britain, and, he was confident, the US authorities would have been informed of this. However, it turns out that they weren't.
Fraser Nelson posted a few days ago on how draconian current UK libel laws stand in the way of investigating and publishing information about Islamist extremist supporters and their activities. There was for example a New York Times block on a link to UK ISPs to an article which spelled out the links between the soft-drinks transatlantic bombers and the additional suspects like Zaman. So far, I've seen almost no press investigation of Abdulmuttallab's time as President of UCL's Islamic Society. And that's a matter for concern.