Muhammad Kazem Rashid Maruf Sawalha (born 1961), also known by the name Abu Abada, is a senior Hamas activist. He is the president of the British Muslim Initiative (BMI) and currently resides in London, to which he fled from the West Bank in 1990, using forged documents to escape Israeli security authorities.
Before emigrating to the UK, Sawalha was Hamas’s West Bank military chief. In addition, he supervised the allocation and supply of large amounts of money to Hamas operatives, an activity that led to his being named in a 2004 U.S. indictment against Hamas operative Muhammad Salah.
In addition to his work with Hamas and BMI, Sawalha is a frequent guest on the Islamist Al-Hiwar television station, and is affiliated with numerous Palestinian and Islamic charities. He has had a hand in organizing several of the flotillas and land convoys attempting to reach the Gaza Strip, through which he has transferred financial aid to Hamas. Sawalha helped found the Muslim Association of Britain and is also a trustee of the Finsbury Park Mosque. In addition, he signed the 2009 Istanbul Declaration, which reaffirms jihad as the proper means to achieving goals such as unifying Israel under Palestinian control.
Early life and education
Early activities in the West Bank
In 1988, after studying at Amman University, Sawalha returned to the West Bank, where he lived in Al-Bireh until 1990. He taught at a religious school in Al-Ram and later at the Islamic college (Kuliyat al-Da’wah) in Jerusalem and in Beit Hanina.
Sawalha was a senior Hamas activist in the West Bank, and helped establish Hamas' West Bank headquarters in 1989-90. He also instructed regional Hamas commanders to set up military networks, establishing links between local operatives who had not yet been detained and operatives in the United States. After the exposure of his Hamas infrastructure in the West Bank, Israeli security forces declared him a wanted operative. Wanted by Israel, in October 1990 he used forged documents to escape to Jordan, and from there moved on to Britain. He continues to carry out anti-Israeli activities from there.
Activities in Britain
During his first years in Britain, Sawalha continued his operations and sought to consolidate his position as a senior external operative for Hamas. He maintained contact with operatives in the United States, Syria and the West Bank.
Later he would see his active role in Hamas diminish, although his pro-Hamas and anti-Israeli activities have continued. He was a founder of the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), and ran it from 1999 to 2007. Later he served as chairman of the British Muslim Initiative. He was described on a Hamas website as head of the International Committee to Lift the Siege on the Gaza Strip. In 2009 he reportedly was named deputy chairman of the Popular Committee in Support of the Palestinian People. He also signed the 2009 Istanbul Declaration.
Sawalha has been involved in organizing flotillas and land convoys to the Gaza Strip while in Britain. Additionally, a BBC program alleged that he had directed funds both for Hamas' armed and missionary wings.
2004 U.S. indictment of Salah
A Department of Justice press release names Sawalha as a co-conspirator in the 2004 indictment of Muhammad Salah. Among the aliases mentioned in the indictment are “Muhammad Khadhem Sawalha,” “Abu Obeida,” “Abu Ubada,” “Abu Ubaydah,” “Abu Ubeida,” and “Abu Obadah”. It was reported that Saleh met and spoke with Abu Marzook and Sawalha, who had been in charge of Hamas operations within the West Bank, regarding the need for a resurgence in Hamas operations in the West Bank. During the meeting, Sawalha identified specific Hamas members who could be used to revitalize Hamas's activities, including Awadallah and Saleh al-Arouri. Sawalha told Salah on several occasion to provide money to Hamas operatives on the West Bank, and Salah passed along information to Sawalha as well. Around December 1992, a U.S.-based Hamas member gave pictures of co-conspirator Adel Awadallah, who was on the run from Israeli authorities, to Salah so that Salah could have a false passport made for Awadallah. Sawalha reportedly told Salah explicit instructions as to how to dress and behave when distributing funds to local Hamas operatives.
On January 13, 1993, en route from the U.S. to the Middle East, Salah met in London with Sawalha, who instructed Salah to provide money to various Hamas members. Salah was eventually indicted for his Hamas role, and in January 1995 pleaded guilty to participating in Hamas affairs, admitting that he had represented Sawalha and had been appointed head of military operations in the West Bank at the request of Abu Marzook and Sawalha. Another report mentioned in the indictment noted the provision of $400,000 to one 'Brother Mohammed Kadhim,' an alias for Sawalha.
Assassination of Sheikh Yassin
Sawalha spoke out in 2004 against Israel's assassination of Sheikh Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, saying that Shaykh Ahmad Yassin “lived with his people and died in the service of their cause.”
British Muslim Initiative
Sawalha is one of the founders of the BMI, which describes itself as follows: “Formed by justice, peace and human rights campaigners, the British Muslim Initiative (BMI) is an organisation which seeks to fight racism and Islamophobia, combat the challenges Muslims face around the world, encourage Muslim participation in British public life, and improve relations between the West and the Muslim world.” The BMI supported the Global March to Jerusalem.
In 2009, demonstrators protesting the Gaza attacks clashed with police, and nearly all those arrested were Muslims. Sawalha questioned this disproportion, and also questioned the detainees' treatment. He said the BMI “encourages Muslims to express their feelings and ambitions and frustrations only through political and legal processes. But if anything sends the message that Muslims cannot express themselves through political processes, and they will not be dealt with like others, it will give more strength to the fringes within the community who say democracy and the political system doesn't apply to Muslims in this country. This will only increase the frustration and sense of alienation among these people.”
After the 2009 Gaza flotilla, Sawalha said that the next convoy would avoid the type of confrontation that had occurred with Egypt: “the confrontation will be directly with the Zionist enemy itself on the high seas.” Interviewed on Iranian PressTV about the 2011 flotilla, Sawalha said: “Now the Israelis have to understand that their policies and crimes will not make us turn away and go back. We will continue under any circumstances until we break the siege on Gaza.” Sawalha organized the autumn 2010 LifeLine 5 convoy to Gaza, which reportedly delivered $5 million of aid to the Hamas government.
- "Hamas continues initiating anti-Israeli activities in Europe" (PDF). Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center.
- "British Muslim Brotherhood Leader Is Resentful Of "The Evil Jew In Britain"". The Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Report.
- "Sawalha: The Siege on Gaza must end now". The Palestinian Information Center.
- Doward, Jamie (7 March 2009). "British Muslim leader urged to quit over Gaza". The Guardian.
- "Interview with Mohammed Sawalha, Gaza aid flotilla coordinator, London". Gaza TV News.
- Rich, Dave. "ONLINE Only: The Mavi Marmara Metaphor". Standpoint.
- "Aid convoy sets off for Gaza". Al Jazeera. 22 May 2010.
- "Faith, hate and charity: Transcript". BBC News. 1 August 2006.
- "Chicago and Washington, D.C., Area Men Among Three Indicted in Racketeering Conspiracy in U.S. to Finance Hamas Terror Abroad". Department of Justice Documents. 20 August 2004.
- "IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS EASTERN DIVISION" (PDF). investigativeproject.org.
- "Assassination". IRNA. 24 March 2004.
- "Sent to jail for throwing a single bottle". The Guardian. 12 March 2010.
- "BMI condemns state-terrorism in Bangladesh and arrest of prominent leader Ghulam Azam". BMI.
- Fendel, Hillel. "Turks helping Hamas prepare Gaza port for "protest flotilla"". Arutz 7 Radio via BBC Monitoring Middle East. May 6, 2010. Missing or empty
- "Activists determined to break Gaza siege". PressTV. 26 June 2011. Missing or empty
- "Sawalha: The Siege on Gaza must end now". The Palestinian Information Center. 22 October 2010.