The Manchester Islamic Centre, also known as Didsbury Mosque, found itself thrust into the media spotlight following the tragic 2017 Manchester bombing. However, recent revelations have shed light on a smear campaign orchestrated by the United Arab Emirates government against the mosque. A Swiss private intelligence firm, Alp Services, hired by Abu Dhabi, sought to falsely link the mosque, the bombing, and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Alp Services reportedly targeted hundreds of organizations and individuals, predominantly Muslims, in at least 13 European countries between 2017 and 2020. The leaked documents, initially obtained by the French newspaper Mediapart and later shared with journalists across Europe and the Middle East, revealed the extent of the orchestrated campaign.
The smear campaign against Didsbury Mosque began in 2018, shortly after a BBC news report alleged that former imam Mustafa Graf had called for armed jihad in a sermon. The campaign aimed to connect Graf and the mosque to the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), a Qatar-based organization designated as a terrorist group by the UAE due to its alleged links to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The campaign involved creating online articles in multiple languages using fake identities, falsely linking the mosque, the bombing, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Islamic State (IS) group. The articles sought to portray the Muslim Brotherhood and IS as two sides of the same coin, with the former acting as a discreet recruiter for the latter. Additionally, Wikipedia pages related to the Manchester bombing were edited to add sections titled “Links with the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Didsbury Mosque officials vehemently denied any links to the Muslim Brotherhood. Fawzi Haffar, the mosque’s chair, expressed his non-affiliation with the group and dismissed the Emirati smear campaign as a baseless attempt to tarnish the mosque’s reputation. Mustafa Graf, the former imam, attributed the campaign to his support for democracy in Libya, which clashed with the UAE’s backing of Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar.
The campaign aimed to discredit Didsbury Mosque and other targeted individuals and organizations, accusing them of alleged links to the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar. However, the mosque had already undergone scrutiny following the Manchester Arena bombing. The official inquiry concluded that the mosque played no role in the radicalization of the bomber, Salman Abedi.
The UAE’s attempt to inform the Charity Commission about the mosque had little impact, as the regulator had already visited the mosque and put in place an action plan for improved governance. Didsbury Mosque’s officials expressed skepticism about the commission’s reaction to the UAE’s attempts to tarnish their reputation.
The smear campaign extended to Wikipedia, where articles were edited to propagate false connections between the mosque and the Muslim Brotherhood. The Wikimedia Foundation, the organization behind Wikipedia, maintains safeguards to address disinformation and harmful content on the site.
The revelations of the UAE’s smear campaign against Didsbury Mosque have brought to light the extent of covert efforts to tarnish the reputation of Muslim organizations and individuals across Europe. The mosque’s officials have adamantly denied any links to the Muslim Brotherhood and emphasized their commitment to promoting peace and understanding. The impact of such campaigns raises concerns about the manipulation of public opinion and the need for vigilance against disinformation and smear tactics.