In an emotive speech caught on video, Mr Qureshi told a crowd gathered at rally organised by Hizb-ut Tahrir, an Islamist group: “When we see the example of our brothers and sisters fighting in Chechnya, Iraq, Palestine, Kashmir, Afghanistan, then we know where the example lies. When we see Hezbollah defeating the armies of Israel, we know where the solution is and where the victory lies.
Mr Qureshi was in contact with Emwazi, the true identity of ‘Jihadi John’, for at least two years. Emwazi, 26, had contacted Cage for help after he was detained by MI5 over a trip to Tanzania amid allegations he was trying to join the terrorist group al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda affiliate.
At a press conference on Thursday, Mr Qureshi provoked outrage in describing Emwazi as “the most humble young person that I ever knew”, calling him “extremely kind” and “extremely gentle” and blaming his radicalisation on the British authorities.
Yesterday, a spokesman for David Cameron condemned the comments as “reprehensible” while Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, said: “It was incredible that people could stand up and pretend that somehow it was the fault of the security forces for trying to apprehend and impede these guys and that that could somehow cause them to be radicalised.
“I think that is beyond satire and amounts to nothing less than an apology for terror. I hope they will be rethinking their position.”
Cage insists it is a legitimate human rights group, serving the interests of Muslim victims of injustice, torture and illegal detention. But it has also been accused of supporting convicted terrorists and promoting the preachings of Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical al-Qaeda cleric, who was killed in a US drone attack in 2011.
Cage was founded by Moazzem Begg, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, who was charged with committing a Syria-related terrorism offence last year although the case collapsed when it emerged that MI5 had been in contact with him and was aware of the trip he was making.
Cage, which has its headquarters in east London, had also been working with Michael Adebolajo, the killer of Fusilier Lee Rigby outside his army barracks in Woolwich, prior to the murder and at a time when Adebolajo was complaining of being harassed by MI5.
Its bank accounts were frozen last summer and, according to the Cage website, its “funders and board” are under investigation.
On Friday, critics called on Cage’s backers to withdraw their support. The organisation has had funding from The Roddick Foundation and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and says on its website it works with a number of law firms and charities including the International Committee for the Red Cross The American Civil Liberties Union.
Robin Simcox, research director at Henry Jackson Society, a think tank which has previously investigated Cage, said: “Asim Qureshi has openly called for jihad in the past and makes no apology for it. It’s astonishing that anyone could view Cage as some kind of human rights group. They are not. They stand up for convicted terrorists and have long been associated with Anwar al-Awlaki. Recent events are finally allowing Cage to be exposed for what they truly are.”
He added: “Any reputable organisation that works with or supports Cage should seriously consider the kind of views they are giving legitimacy to”.
The Red Cross said it did not work with Cage as such but did have meetings with them from time to time. The charity said the comments by Mr Qureshi, who lives in a £500,000 house in Surrey, did not alter that position.