A RESPECTED Bolton religious leader was an “inspiration”

to men accused of recruiting terrorists, a court heard.

Manchester Crown Court heard yesterday that Sheikh Asif Farooqui was considered to be “a useful addition” to an alleged radicalisation process.

Sheikh Farooqui, who is not on trial, was referred to in the trial of Munir Farooqi, Matthew Newton, Harris Farooqi and Israr Malik, who face terrorism charges.

The 63-year-old sheikh, who lives in Deane, is known and revered throughout western Europe for his Islamic teachings.

He is not related to Munir or Harris Farooqi, and their similar surnames are a coincidence.

It is alleged that Munir Farooqi, his son, Harris Farooqi, and Newton, tried to recruit Israr Malik and two undercover police officers — known only by their codenames Ray and Simon—to become terrorists by going to fight violent jihad in Afghanistan.

Munir Farooqi ran an Islamic book stall, which, the prosecution says, he used to convert people to a radical “Islamist” ideology in preparation for jihad.

As part of the radicalisation process, the court heard, Farooqi was keen for potential recruits to meet Sheikh Asif Farooqui at the Khanqah Naqshbandia Mosque in Manchester.

Andrew Edis QC, prosecuting, said: “The defendants were eager to ensure that their converts met the most inspirational and charismatic imams.”

Referring to Sheikh Farooqui, he said: “It appears that he is an inspirational man. He was Introduced to Ray and Simon by the defendants.

“Whatever his intentions may have been, it appears that these defendants regarded him as a useful addition to their methods of radicalisation.”

He added: “The sheikh did not urge them to go on jihad, but he did tell them that Munir Farooqi was their teacher and that they should follow him.

“Given that at the time Munir Farooqi did not even go to that mosque, you will have to consider what that means.”

Munir Farooqi, aged 54, Harris Farooqi, aged 27, Newton, aged 29, and Malik, aged 22, are charged with preparing for acts of terrorism by trying to recruit others as terrorists.

Munir Farooqi, of Victoria Terrace, Longsight, is also accused of three counts of soliciting to murder and one count of distributing terrorist publications.

Newton, of Stockport Road, Levenshulme, also faces two charges of distributing terrorist publications.

Malik, of Bowdon Avenue, Fallowfield, faces two counts of soliciting to murder.

All four men have pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Sheikh Asif Farooqui does not face any criminal charges, and there is no allegation that he was involved in any criminality.

The trial continues.