Terence “Khalid” Kelly died last week after carrying out an Islamic State suicide bombing in Iraq, according to the jihadist group. In June, 2004, in an interview printed by The Irish Times, the Dubliner sat down with journalist Lynne O’Donnell in London to talk about his extremist views.
"Osama bin Laden is a good man, Osama bin Laden wants the same as me, he wants to see the implementation of God's law," says Dubliner Khalid Kelly (38), as he sips a cafe latte in a sun-filled London café and explains his allegiance to the man who has declared war on the West.
Kelly feels he cannot condemn the 9/11 attacks that claimed 3,000 lives in the US in 2001, nor the shooting dead last Sunday of an Irish cameraman working for the BBC in Saudi Arabia.
"Was that cameraman from Dublin?" he asks about Simon Cumbers (36),from Navan, Co Meath, who died instantly in the drive-by gun attack. "Yeah, someone said that, but I didn't know. And how is . . .?" he ventures, but stops himself from asking about the journalist Cumbers had been working with at the time, BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner (42). He is still fighting for his life, having yet to regain consciousness after the attack.
"I can't condemn it," he says of the shooting, which sources in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, say was a set-up, organised by militants co-operating with government officials to target the BBC pair.
“Just as I can’t condemn 9/11,” Kelly adds rapidly. “If it was a mindless, horrible act, then maybe so. But people have been warned to let Muslims sort out their own affairs. God knows what their ideology is, He will judge them (the murderers), as He will judge those reporters.
“I don’t want to seem heartless, but Muslims are being killed all over the world; Britain and America are causing it. What does one man matter? He should not have been there, there was time and a place for his death.
“Osama bin Laden and Muslims like him have to force the issue,” says Kelly, an unemployed nurse who converted to Islam two years ago while serving time in a Saudi prison for making and selling alcohol.
Since then, he has increasingly become the public face of an organisation, al-Muhajiroun, that most Muslims in Britain regard as a dangerous element, drawing fire to the whole community by claiming a morally superior position within the religion while distorting its true message.
Kelly joined al-Muhajiroun after being deported from Saudi Arabia to Britain in 2002. Although ostracised by the mainstream Muslim community, it garners enormous publicity in the tabloid press because of the outrageous stance of membership.
Members believe they are at war with all those, including fellow Muslims, who do not share their violent ideology.
Kelly has become an outspoken representative, what one Irish convert to the Muslim faith in Britain calls "the angel on the Christmas tree "for al-Muhajiroun 's leader, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammad.
“He (Kelly) is a presentable and articulate frontman for an unpleasant and unpopular organisation,” says Batool Al-Toma (49),from Co Longford.
She converted to Islam more than 20 years ago and works as a researcher and education officer with the Islamic Foundation in Leicester. Her conversion, she says, followed dissatisfaction with some of the theological aspects of Catholicism, and her preference for the Islamic conceptualisation of the unity of God.
Like most Muslims in Britain, she regards the message carried by Kelly on behalf of al-Muhajiroun as an influential factor in the disaffection and marginalisation of the Muslim community in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and the escalation of the war declared on the West by Osama bin Laden and his acolytes.
By any measure, Kelly has executed a sharp about-turn in his life. He is reluctant to provide detail about his family in Dublin, apart from saying that his mother still lives in the family home. It is to protect her that he won’’t give details about his early years, “when,” he lets slip, “I was normal”.
Born and raised in south Dublin, he attended Francis Street Christian Brothers School until he was 16,when he left to work in pubs. The one that stands out in his memory is Doheny & Nesbitt on Baggot Street, a favourite of the intelligentsia, politicians and journalists.
Then known as Terence, the young Kelly was disillusioned with the Catholicism of his upbringing, having asked a priest to explain the Holy Trinity and found the answer incomprehensible. He left religion behind as he pursued a life similar to many of his peers, of work and parties, and although he claims never to have missed a day ’s work due to drinking, he says alcohol played an important role in his life.
So, too, did the people he met at Doheny & Nesbitt. “These were highly educated people, opinionated and intelligent, and I held my own with them, so I thought I should go back to school, which I did, and I got my Leaving Certificate at 23,” he says.
Soon after, he left for London where he trained as a nurse, and met the woman who would become the mother of his now 10-year-old daughter.
In 1996,he took a job in Saudi Arabia, leaving his family to follow a path well-worn by those eager to earn high tax-free salaries while living in large homes in secure compounds, with swimming pools and domestic help.
Life in strict Islamic countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, has little to offer foreigners and many drink much more than they would at home out of boredom. To supplement his income, Kelly began distilling alcohol in his home, earning up to €6,000 a month.
“You get a 200-litre container, add yeast and sugar and leave it for 12 days. Then you have 12.5 per cent alcohol. If you distil it twice, you get 18 to 20 litres of pure alcohol. Some people add juniper berries to make gin for gin-and-tonics. It’s disgusting and really bad for you.
"I also started bringing in the real stuff, going down to the coast and buying cases of Johnny Walker brought in by boats; one trip will get you 60 cases. You're in the big league then. When I was caught I had about £40,000 (€60,000) worth of alcohol in my house, which was all smashed up, and £20,000 (€30,000) in cash."
Kelly said Saudi police told him the smell from his stills had given him away. “But I’m sure I was put in because I was young and was getting big very fast and it’s a small community in Riyadh.”
Brought down by the demon drink, Kelly spent eight months in a Saudi prison. It was here he found Islam.
“Someone gave me a copy of the Koran in English, and showed me where it says that you can only worship one God,” he says. The more he studied the Koran, the more answers he found to questions that had previously plagued and confused him.
“Before, I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel about alcohol, about women walking in the street half-naked, about homosexuality and paedophilia, but now I know, now I have all the answers. The Koran answers all the questions, it tells us how to live, how to conduct our lives.
We all have the instinct to worship – the sun, alcohol, family, money. God sends his guidance and tells you how to follow that instinct.”
According to Inayat Bunglawala, a spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, "Al-Muhajiroun are well known for their notorious antics, including publicity stunts on the 9/11 anniversary, calling it a 'towering day in history 'and the perpetrators 'the magnificent 19 '.
“They clearly set out to create a rift between the Muslim community and white society, and part of their agenda is to destabilise society. They don ’t run a single mosque in Britain and can only be found outside the mosques handing out pamphlets because this is not the message that the Muslim community wants.”
While Kelly does not think he has been co-opted by al-Muhajiroun, the message he delivers is peppered with contradictions and his knowledge of Islam, its history and application appear to be based solely on what he is told by al-Mujajiroun ’s leader, Bakri, whom he refers to as “my teacher”.
His apparently stolid lack of humanity cracks a little when it comes to the beheading in Iraq last month of the US businessman, Nick Ber (26), allegedly by the senior bin Laden lieu- tenant, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Kelly watched the videotape of the atrocity on the Internet and appeared to have been moved by its brutality.
“It was terrible,” says Kelly of the show, which even the al-Jazeera television editors found too graphic to put on air.
Indeed, so horrible did he find the footage of the murder – in which a man wearing a ski-mask pulls a knife from under his clothing and rams it into Nick Berg’s neck while the American screams for his life – that he says he asked Bakri if it was allowed.
“He (Bakri) said, ‘yes, it is allowed, because it’s a crisis situation’,”Kelly says. “There is a specific fatwah that says that under this sort of crisis situation this is allowed. Like dragging the people behind the truck in Fallujah – these are horrible things that no one wants to do, but they are only doing them so they can strike terror into their hearts. It’s to make a point.”
Kelly delivers his tirade of frothy-mouthed proselytising sprinkled with Arabic, amid explanations that he cannot see anything from any perspective now but that of God.
He appears to have suspended his own ability to rationalise and analyse, like a man brainwashed, and has instead given his life to what he fantasises is the word of God as interpreted by those he calls “real Muslims”.
Those who don’t believe as he believes, as Osama bin Laden and Omar Bakri Muhammad believe, will burn in the fires of hell for all eternity, their rightful and righteous punishment. Kelly says this is the fate of all people who do not worship and serve God and Muhammad – the prophet who fought in 27 jihads, or wars, and exhorted his followers: “When you kill, kill well,” according to the Koran.
Democracy and freedom of speech, expression and association – Kelly pinpoints these as “man made “and thus against the teachings of God.
Anyone who espouses these values, or votes in an election , is not a “real” Muslim.
Iraqi citizens who want militants to leave their country and allow them to build a peaceful democratic nation are not “real” Muslims.
Women who choose not to shroud themselves in black are not “real” Muslims.
People who do not sanction amputation as punishment for theft are not “real” Muslims, he says.
The airborne suicide attacks of September 2001 were “the most amazing thing that happened in recent times,” Kelly says. “It drew a line in the sand, where you are with the Muslim side or you are with the other side.
"George Bush said you are with us or with the terrorists. We have no problem being called terrorists. When you call us extremists it's okay because we are against all the pornography, drinking, homosexuality, paedophilia out there. When you call us fundamentalists it's okay because we stick fundamentally to our beliefs."
“Osama bin Laden speaks with the voice given to him by the Koran,” Kelly adds, his eyes burning with the intensity of the fanatic.
“He wants to see what I want to see, world-wide domination over all beliefs, secularists, pagans, Christians, Jews. Islam can be spread in two ways, by the word and by the sword.”
Despite his ardent beliefs, Kelly says he hates life in Britain, and wants to go to an Islamic country to live a pious Islamic life, adding that with foreigners being forced by terrorist attacks to leave Saudi Arabia, it would probably be easy for him to get a job there.
“But I ’m white, so they might kill me, too,” he says.