Background: Meet Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Islamic threat no one knows about

This Sunni pan-Islamic Party, which has more than a million members in at least 40 countries, is becoming increasingly popular in the Arab world.

Hizb ut Tahrir 88 (photo credit: )
Hizb ut Tahrir 88
(photo credit: )
While Israelis are preoccupied with threats from Hamas, Iran, Hizbullah, Syria and even al-Qaida, they pay almost no attention to a large, widespread Islamist movement whose goal is to establish a caliphate on the lands "occupied by Zionists." Hizb ut-Tahrir, or the Party of Liberation, is totally unknown to most Israelis. This Sunni pan-Islamic Party, which has more than a million members in at least 40 countries, is becoming increasingly popular in the Arab world. The party, founded in Jerusalem 54 years ago, is now returning to its birthplace, presenting a revived caliphate as a viable solution to the problems of the Muslim world. Hizb ut-Tahrir members are reserved about activities within their country of residence, occasionally condemning their own foreign offshoots. Thus, Britain has turned into a perfect base for Hizb ut-Tahrir operations abroad, whose goal is radicalization of Muslims all over the world, especially in the Palestinian Authority and in Central Asia. Although Hizb ut-Tahrir does not admit to employing violent means of "persuasion" such as those used by Hamas and Osama Bin Laden, it does use terrorism as a tool, assisting other "holy warriors." The British suicide bombers who killed three people and wounded more than 15 at Mike's Place in Tel Aviv in April 2003 were recruited by Hizb ut-Tahrir for Hamas, according to The New York Sun. Despite being banned in Russia, Hizb ut-Tahrir is rapidly growing in the country's eastern areas. More than least 50 cells that were distributing radical literature, converting locals and preaching for jihad, were arrested by the Russian secret services in the past two years, the head of the Russia's Internal Affairs Department said last week. Hizb ut-Tahrir also planned to assassinate St. Petersburg's governor early last month. Its activists are now spreading their influence to the north of the country, where relatively few Muslims live. Central Asia is another important areas for Hizb ut-Tahrir. Its activities took off in this region in the mid-1990s, trying to replace then weak governments and frail national ideologies with Islamic fundamentalism. Its first cells were in Uzbekistan, later spreading to neighboring Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and southern Kazakhstan. Initially, most of Hizb ut-Tahrir's members in these countries were ethnic Uzbeks, but they later recruited Tajiks, Kazakhis and Kyrgyzis. Hizb ut-Tahrir's missionaries targeted teachers, businessmen, and even police, attempting to spread their ideas at all levels of society. Kazakhstan was the only state in the region that managed to neutralize this threat, thanks to the activities of the secret services and the low susceptibility of the Kazakh people to Islamic extremism. Most Hizb ut-Tahrir leaders in Kazakhstan are ethnic Russians who converted to Islam or ethnic Uzbeks. Kazakhstan also assisted Kyrgyz in preventing the Party from gaining power through elections. Uzbekistan, in contrast, did not manage to stifle Hizb ut-Tahrir, albeit through no fault of the Uzbek government. According to the state security services, local Hizb ut-Tahrir members received support from Iran. Teheran sheltered fugitive members of the party, according to these sources, and assisted "human rights associations" that protested "unlawful arrests" of "Islamic activist" Hizb ut-Tahrir members. In 2004, the Uzbek General Prosecutor's office said that over the previous four years, Iran had created training camps for the party's "activists." Hizb ut-Tahrir has recently started boosting its activities in Middle Eastern countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and the PA. The organization's global leader, Sheikh Abu Yasin Ata ibn Khalil Abu Rashta, a Jordanian Palestinian, secretly resides in Lebanon, according to the Jamestown Foundation in Washington. The party is becoming increasingly visible within the PA, mostly in Judea and Samaria. According to Israeli security services, there are close to 1,000 Hizb ut-Tahrir activists living in east Jerusalem. A few years ago, the security services raided Hizb ut-Tahrir's office in Ramallah and seized vast stores of radical literature in Arabic, Uzbek and other languages. Hizb ut-Tahrir's activists organize demonstrations and meetings, competing with Hamas. The party called to boycott PA elections in which Hamas took part, distributing more than 10,000 leaflets at Al-Aksa alone. Today, as Hamas fights Fatah, Hizb ut-Tahrir's standing in the West Bank is on the rise. Unlike many Islamist movements, whose funding from abroad can be cut off at any time, Hizb ut-Tahrir's support comes from Western countries, where their activities are monitored, but not banned. The Party of Liberation is waiting for the right opportunity to come out from the shadows and replace the current dominant Palestinian factions.