‘It is my obligation to work for Sharia every single day’
Irishman who died carrying out Isis suicide attack appeared in Holy Wars documentary
A confrontation Khalid Kelly had in a Pakistani barbershop in 2007 appears to have been key to his decision to align himself fully with violent extremism and may have pushed him further along a path which ultimately led to him blowing himself up in Iraq.
It started as a fairly low key argument as Kelly waited for a hair cut. It ended with him fleeing back to his hotel fearing for his freedom after he was vocal in his criticism of Pakistan’s government.
The moment is captured in Stephen Marshall’s incisive documentary Holy Wars which was released in 2010. For more than three years the Canadian filmmaker shadowed two religious fundamentalists - Kelly and Aaron Taylor, a Christian missionary from the US who tries to proselytise in Muslim-majority countries.
At the beginning of the documentary Kelly, a former nurse who converted to Islam while serving a jail sentence for illicitly distilling and selling alcohol in Saudi Arabia, is working in a medical centre in London.
He talks to the filmmaker about his conversion and invites him into his home. There are scenes of Kelly playing with his child and leafing through copies of newspapers published the day after 9/11.
There are also scenes of him proselytising on the streets of London, calling out to passers-by and asking if they would like to know why Jesus was a Muslim and how Christianity was “the greatest lie”.
He promises anyone who will listen that Sharia law is coming to London soon and berates a Muslim woman for not covering her hair.
Few people pay attention to what he has to say but he believes himself sufficiently persecuted on the street to tell the camera that he feels “the same way as Jesus and Muhammad must have felt”.
The documentary then records Kelly travelling to the Lebanese city of Tripoli where he meets Sheikh Omar Bakri, one of the most high-profile Islamists who had been based in London until he fled after the 7/7 attacks there.
Bakri is in the process of setting up a Sharia school in Tripoli and it becomes clear very quickly that Kelly is in awe of the enterprise. “Everyone wants Islam, everyone wants the Sharia to be implemented,” he tells Marshall.
“Every Muslim has to want it and if we don’t even try to establish Sharia law in Muslim countries and then in non-Muslim countries we will be held to account for it. It is my obligation to work for it every single day,” he says.
He then asks the Sheikh whether he should return to the UK or remain in a Muslim country. The response is unambiguous. “The Muslim community there needs you Khalid,” Bakri says. “Stay in the UK, continue your study in Islam there with the brothers and keep visiting Muslim lands.”
However, less than a year later and fearing arrest like many of his fellow Islamists in London, Kelly relocates to Pakistan where the confrontation in the barbershop takes place.
Khalid is filmed going to get his beard trimmed. While he is waiting his turn he tries to convince a fellow customer of the merits of Sharia and condemns the Pakistani authorities. A customer is angered and calls the police. Kelly flees back to his hotel room and, visibly distressed, expresses outrage that he cannot express his views openly in a Muslim country.
“I feel completely backed into a corner,” he says. “Where can I go that is a safe place? To be honest, I need to to be with people like the Taliban.” He says he would “feel more secure with them” and would have “more in common with them”.
It is at this point, Marshall says , that Khaild “became singularly focused on one thing... and that was to join the Taliban”.
As the film ends he is learning to shoot an AK47 in an area of Pakistan that was just about to fall entirely under Sharia law and he makes it clear his ties this part of the world have been severed forever.
He did, however return to Ireland and was arrested in 2011 for threatening to assassinate the US president, Barack Obama, on a visit to his ancestral family home.
Last year it is believed he left the country for the last time bound for Iraq and the ranks of Isis.