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Militant writer is sentenced amid debate

December 07, 2007|Kim Murphy | Times Staff Writer

LONDON — She was a sales clerk in a WH Smith bookshop at Heathrow Airport, and when she wasn't ringing up newspapers, paperbacks and chewing gum, she was penning militant poetry on the backs of used sales slips.

"The desire within me increases every day to go for martyrdom," Samina Malik, a slight, soft-spoken 23-year-old, wrote on one receipt.

A judge Thursday sentenced Malik, known as "the Lyrical Terrorist" for her Internet name and her poems celebrating beheadings, to a nine-month suspended sentence and 100 hours of volunteer work. She was convicted for possessing material that included an Al Qaeda manual, a reference work on "mujahedin poisons" and bomb-making instructions, which prosecutors said suggested that the British-born woman was linked to violent extremists.

"You're 23, of good character till now, and from a supportive and law-abiding family who are appalled by the trouble that you're in," said Judge Peter Beaumont, who at an earlier hearing had acknowledged that Malik remains "a complete enigma to me."

The case comes amid a mounting debate in Britain over where to draw the line between terrorism and those who merely applaud it. Radical Muslim clerics have been sentenced to years of imprisonment for calling for the deaths of infidels. In July, three men were jailed for six years each for statements they shouted -- including "Bomb, bomb the UK" -- during an emotional demonstration over a cartoon depicting the prophet Muhammad.

Malik, who wears a black head scarf, was convicted for possessing terrorism manuals, not her poetry. But it is her verses that have both captivated and horrified the public and sparked the controversy over when radical statements cross the line into inciting terrorism.

In a poem titled "How to Behead," she wrote:

It's not as messy or as hard as some may think. It's all about the flow of the wrist. Sharpen the knife to its maximum. And before you begin to cut the flesh, tilt the fool's head to its left. Saw the knife back and forth. No doubt that the punk will twitch and scream. But ignore the donkey's ass. And continue to slice back and forth. You'll feel the knife hit the wind and food pipe. But Don't Stop. Continue with all your might.

Malik sat silent in court as the judge read out her sentence, twisting a tissue in her fist. At one point, she buried her teary face in her hands.

She has claimed that she was seduced by the violent sermons of radical clerics as she began exploring Islam, and that she adopted the Internet moniker "Lyrical Terrorist" because it "sounded cool." Though her writings appeared to revel in violence and condemned the nonbeliever as a "stinking kuffar ape," she never meant any of it, she told the court during her trial.

"This doesn't mean I wanted to convert my words into actions," she testified. "This is a meaningless poem, and that is all it ever was. To partake in something and to write about something are two different things."

She said she had been exposed to the teachings of Abu Hamza al Masri, an Egyptian-born cleric who preached in support of Al Qaeda but was dismissed from his post at Finsbury Park Mosque in 2003 after police opened a terrorism investigation. He eventually was convicted on charges of encouraging the killing of non-Muslims and inciting racial hatred, and was sentenced to seven years in prison. He faces separate charges in the United States in an alleged attempt to establish a terrorist training camp in Oregon.

"We youngsters were so hyped," Malik wrote in a statement to police after her arrest last year. "Preachers would openly preach, and we young ones would get sucked in. We'd take the preachers' word for it."

Inayat Bunglawala, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said he downloaded the same material for which Malik was convicted after doing a 60-second Google search.

"I think this case should raise alarm bells in the minds of all people who value natural justice and understand there is a world of difference between thinking something and actually acting upon it," he said in an interview.

"The police should have by all means placed Samina under proper surveillance and gathered factual evidence as to whether she was really involved in a terror plot or not. But this particular case can only be described as a thought crime."

The case has prompted an outcry among many in Britain who dismiss Malik as a deluded young woman whose conviction is one of a growing number in which Britons and Muslim immigrants have been held criminally liable for what they say and think.

"There is a parallel legal system operating in the UK with a much harsher set of standards in place if you happen to be young and Muslim," Bunglawala said.

Independent columnist Boyd Tonkin resurrected the violent lyrics of the French national anthem, "La Marseillaise," and its calls to "let impure blood drench our fields!"

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