They Tried To Make Me A Suicide Bomber
THREE years ago Muhammed Yusuf was approached by two strangers who tried to recruit him as a suicide bomber.
The 18-year-old has already informed anti-terrorist police about his encounter with the hardliners at a North London mosque. Here he tells MATT ROPER what happened:
THEIR words, spoken with calm and conviction, were powerful and persuasive. But as I realised they wanted me to become a martyr for the cause of Islam I felt sick to the stomach.
"You'll go instantly to heaven," they repeated. "All the problems and pain in your life will go away. You'll be rewarded for all eternity."
For two weeks two men had befriended and groomed me. I was just 14, naive yet idealistic, and I had no idea why they were so interested in me. But after days of observing me, the moment had arrived to finally come clean.
They wanted me to avenge the deaths of my Muslim brothers and sisters around the world.
And they cynically exploited a time of turmoil and confusion in my life to convince me to end it - not shamefully but gloriously - by blowing myself to bits in a terrorist attack.
I was prime recruitment material. I was young and malleable, I had never been in trouble with the police and I'd never had anything to do with extremist groups.
I attended a good Muslim school and came from a respected family from north London.
But my father, a pillar of the community and a regular at our mosque, had recently passed away suddenly and I was trying to come to terms with my grief.
After my father's death I had started attending the local mosque more regularly. I wanted to know my dad better and lead the same exemplary life he'd lived.
I started going to prayers five times a day, even getting up early to attend the 6am prayer meeting.
I also got involved in many other activities at the mosque, such as teaching groups and day trips.
One day there was a conference at the mosque attended by many Muslim men coming from all parts of the country. It was after one of these meetings that two bearded men approached me. They only gave me their first names and said they were from outside London.
I was a little baffled as to why they were so interested in me, but in the conference's spirit of fraternity I didn't think too much of it.
Over the next few days I would notice them watching me as I prayed and recited passages of the Koran in the mornings. They observed the way I treated my elders and the respect I held for the Imam and his teachings. I also saw them talking to my friends and others who knew me and my family.
Then one evening I attended a gathering in a home in London. After everyone else had left the two men took me aside and asked me if I was angry about the West's persecution of Ummah, the Islamic nation. They pulled out a video cassette and slipped it into the machine. The tape started with masked men talking in Arabic. I didn't understand everything so they paused the tape to translate and explain what was going on.
Then I watched in horror as grotesque footage was played of Chechen fighters being executed by Russian soldiers. The men were shot in the head, with blood going everywhere. It was the first time I'd seen such horrific things and I felt physically sick, hardly able to watch.
"You see what's happening to your brothers and sisters?" one of the men told me as other images of Muslims being killed in Palestine and Iraq flashed up. "But these people are going instantly to heaven." The other added: "Imagine how it feels to be one of these brothers, to know you are about to be rewarded with eternal life and the highest place in Jannah."
After the video had ended the two men sat on either side of me and began to discuss how glorious it would be to die for the great cause.
They promised that if I died that way I would get 70 virgins in heaven and even talked about how I would be given a place to have sex, covered in diamonds and pearls, where even angels couldn't see me.
Then they started talking about my personal life. They'd obviously found out about the difficulties I was going through and how I'd lost my father. They told me the government didn't care about me, that I'd never get a good job and that I'd go through life as a failure.
They asked me if I'd ever contemplated suicide and if I wanted to end the pain and turmoil in my life.
I was a teenager, with all the fears and insecurities of my age, with the added anguish of having just lost my dad. I was vulnerable and easily manipulated.
They said: "If you commit suicide for your own reasons you'll bring shame on your family and go straight to hell, Jahanam. But if you end your life fighting for the cause of Islam, you'll be rewarded for all eternity. And you'll see your dad again really soon."
For a moment what they said made sense. I am a deeply committed Muslim, prepared to give my life for my faith. What happens to me in eternity is far more important than this mortal, transient life.
I began to get drawn into their discourse, feeling the pain of my Muslim brothers and sisters around the world who were being killed and maimed unjustly. Then they seized the opportunity and asked if I would become a suicide bomber.
"The Western crusaders are trying to take over the Muslim world," they said. "But we have a weapon they don't have, an effective weapon that really hurts them.
"Many courageous brothers have become martyrs for the fight... are you willing to join them?
But as I remembered my father's life of prayer and peace, and the teachings I had grown up with, I knew these men had nothing to do with Islam.
Killing innocent people to prove a point wasn't going to change the world, and certainly wasn't a passport to heaven.
And as much as I felt for my fellow Muslims around the world, I knew I loved my country and its people.
I politely made my excuses and left - and I never saw those two men again. But I can't help wondering if other young, vulnerable Muslim men would have been as strong.
Muhammed's name has been changed to protect his identity