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“Abu Dhabi Secrets” reveals UAE’s smear campaign against Manchester mosque

A smear campaign orchestrated by the United Arab Emirates government targeted a mosque in the media spotlight after the 2017 Manchester bombing, according to an exposé titled “Abu Dhabi Secrets” by Middle East Eye. The campaign, conducted by a Swiss private intelligence firm hired by Abu Dhabi, aimed to falsely link the attack, the mosque, and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Manchester Islamic Centre, also known as Didsbury Mosque, was among numerous organizations and individuals across 13 European countries reportedly targeted between 2017 and 2020 by the Swiss firm, Alp Services.

The documents that surfaced after being leaked to the French newspaper Mediapart revealed the details of the campaign. Alp Services claimed that the documents were obtained unlawfully and partially falsified. The company had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publication.

Fawzi Haffar, the chair of Didsbury Mosque, expressed that he was not surprised to learn about the smear campaign, as the mosque and its trustees’ names had already appeared in leaked documents published in Arabic media, allegedly showing links to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The mosque came under scrutiny after the Manchester Arena bombing, and an official inquiry found that it played no part in the radicalization of the bomber, Salman Abedi. However, the inquiry criticized the mosque for displaying “weak leadership” in addressing a politically toxic environment fueled by unrest in Libya.

The campaign against Didsbury Mosque, initiated in 2018, involved publishing online articles falsely linking the attack, the mosque, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Islamic State group.

The campaign included editing the Wikipedia page on the Manchester bombing to add a section titled “Links with the Muslim Brotherhood.” While some articles were removed by Mediapart after they were deemed the work of a fake account, others remained and began appearing on Google search results about the bombing.

The impact assessment report indicated that people involved in the campaign were discreetly in contact with British journalists and tried to inform the Charity Commission about alleged connections they uncovered.

The smear campaign also targeted the mosque’s former imam, who stated that he had been “put on trial by the media.” Material produced as part of the campaign sought to connect him to the International Union of Muslim Scholars, an organization designated as a terrorist group by the UAE, which he denied being affiliated with.

Despite these allegations and campaigns, the Manchester Islamic Centre maintains that it is a mainstream mosque, and the only mention of the Muslim Brotherhood in the inquiry’s final report was as a “more moderately Islamist faction” in the Libyan political context.

The mosque expressed skepticism that Alp Services’ efforts to inform the Charity Commission would have had any consequences, as they had already addressed the regulator’s concerns and put in place an action plan to improve governance.

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