Former Hamas head in the West Bank, Muhammad Qassem Sawalha fled to the UK to evade Israeli security forces in the 1990s, while still having an active role in the organization as recently as 2019.
According to The Times, Sawalha "ran the group’s terrorist operations in the West Bank." After fleeing Israel, he gained British citizenship in the early 2000s even though the Home Office guidance denies citizenship to anyone who "incites, justifies, or glorifies" terrorism or "seeks to provoke others to terrorist acts."
In 2004, the US Department of Justice said in an indictment that Sawalha had continued to work for Hamas and financially assisted the group in the West Bank and Gaza to conduct terror attacks on Israel. The department indicted him as a co-conspirator in a racketeering scheme to "illegally finance terrorist activities" in Israel.
The outlet notes that Sawalha was pictured with the leader of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh in 2010 and 2012, he served on Hamas's politburo from 2013 to 2017, and he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin's deputy foreign minister in 2019 as part of an official Hamas delegation.
He was even able to purchase a home with a £112,300 discount in 2021 using a "Right to Buy" scheme. Barry Rawlings, the head of the Barnet council, where Sawalha resides, told the outlet that he was "horrified to think [Sawalha] could be living in our midst."
"We will liaise with other stakeholders including the police and the government in reviewing the full history of this case and will take all appropriate action," he noted. "This has emerged at a time when communities locally are in desperate need of reassurance following the escalating conflict in the Middle East, and we have a responsibility as the council to ensure we can give that reassurance."
The counsel first reported Sawalha to the authorities in 2020, when they learned of his background, but no action was taken.
Hamas executed a terror attack on Israel on Oct. 7 that killed nearly 1,500, and there have been many pro-Hamas demonstrations around the world since. Israel has been preparing for a ground invasion of Gaza since that day.